ERP users are facing a great number of trends at the moment: The experts tell us that „Cloud ERP“ is ultimately unavoidable because it guarantees a flexible and cheap ERP usage; „Big Data“ is the means of mastering the continuously growing flow of data, „Business Intelligence“ transforms these data into useful information. „Business Apps“ and Smart Phones or Tablets render ERP usage mobile and makes it possible to access one’s ERP software from everywhere at anytime. „Social Networks“ (LinkedIn, Facebook etc.) open up new opportunies for marketing and sales and also have a positive influence on the loyaly of customers and employees. Beyond these hypes, current practice reveals that more and more business areas are „digitalised“. Thus, software landscapes are growing further into areas like CRM, ECM, BI and SCM. The aim is commonly agreed upon: smooth cross-departmental order processing without problems caused by media discontinuity, multiple data entry and inconsistent data maintenance. However, there are two opposing trends: One is the trend towards increased integration with one-stop software packages which meet all requirements. The other is often envisioned as a „best-of-breed“ solution, where the best specialist softwares are combined freely to get the optimal result. The protagonists of „integrated ERP solutions“ stress the benefits of continuity and uniformity which are to be expected from a single software manufacturer. The representatives of the „best-of-breed“ approach highlight the benefits of specialisation and, when asked for interfaces etc., refer to the available software technologies and standards. Finally, legal matters come up in connection with ERP: New regulations, like SEPA, e-invoicing and e-balancing, for example, create new requirements with regard to ERP support.
Orientation is Necessary
Against the background of this flow of trends, companies that want to invest into their ERP infrastructure – be it the modernisation of the existing software or the acquisition of a new one – should concentrate on the essential: An ERP solution is a tool which helps to inject some life into a company’s strategies to increase their power to compete. Thus, the Trovarit survey „ERP / Business Software: Nutzenbeitrag der Modernisierung“ („ERP / Business Softare: Benefits of Modernisation“) identifies the most important strategy with relevance on IT as „implementation of more efficient and faster business processes“, closely followed by strategies which aim at an efficient re-design of processes. Of course, the essential goal of a company’s ERP system and , indeed, its IT infrastructure will always be to supply the best support for its business processes by means of a complete and mature set of functions. However, against the background of increasing process dynamics and cross-departmental information networking, the ability to adjust business processes and the relevant business software to changing conditions becomes more and more important. Vorteile moderner ERP Lösungen
These developments raise new requirements both on the strategic and on the daily operative levels which should be considered for ERP selection. Amongst others, these are:
- Openness for adjustments due to a suitable modern software architecture. Service-oriented architectures and adequate models with clear rules for customisation by manufacturers, suppliers of industry templates, implementation partners and users make customisation easier and protect the releaseability of the customised installation.
- Good modular add-ons with additional functions. An integrated solution (e.g. for CRM, ECM or BI) as an additional module of the ERP software already in use is usually easier to implement and to maintain than an additional stand-alone solution connected via interface.
- Easy connection via existing standard interfaces. The availability of standard interfaces reduces expenses and avoids the risk of individual development.
- Ergonomic user-guidance. Intuitive, clear and easy useability is important for an ERP software’s efficiency when it comes to dealing with everyday tasks. It also makes the training of employees easier and leads to high acceptance among users. The software is used sooner and more comprehensively, while workarounds based on excel etc. are become more rare.
- Tools for the implementation and management of customisations of processes, data structures, user interfaces and forms.
Recommendation for Mid-Sized Companies
The trends discussed above lead to a virtually unmanageable range of software solutions targeting the market of mid-sized companies. The evaluation and selection process can be quite arduous for a company and – considering the incurred costs and expenses as well as the long-term impact of a new ERP implementation on the business – it is not without risk. Therefore, even mid-sized companies should use a structured methodology which indicates a clear path from requirement specification (processes, requirement specification sheet etc.) to market search (tradeshows, magazines, internet etc.), to a feasible short-list. Afterwards, presentations and system tests are suitable means to identify the best candidate for contract negotiations. Some points which should be considered:
- Functional fit
- Knowledge and expertise of the implementation partner when it comes to one’s own industry and general project management
- The vendor’s size and local representations
- Modern technological basis
- Ergonomic user-guidance
- Adequate flexibility
- Suitable provision concept
However, a new implementation is not the only time when one has to look into one’s business software. ERP software is often used for up to and beyond 15 years and with new technological developments respectively changing business ERP and processes almost inevitably drift apart. If one wants to keep benefiting from one’s ERP software, it is essential to regularly modernise the software and – if need be – adjust the business processes. The Trovarit survey clearly proves that ERP installations which are up to date technologically are assesed far more positive by their users. Especially with regard to simple, transparent and fast processes more up to date installations get very good marks. It becomes clear that a regular maintenance of the solution landscape can be as effective when it comes to the mastering of one’s processes as a successful new software implementation.