Traditionally ERP, or enterprise resource planning software was seen to be the domain of big business, in particular manufacturing organisations. Over time, the systems have developed bringing in other functions such as HR, finance and marketing but what benefit can the principles of ERP bring a small business and is it cost-effective?
I have a CRM, What Can ERP do for me anyway?
Over the past 20 or so years, many SME business leaders will have experienced the pain of a new business system implementation either in their own business, or in those businesses they have cut their career cloth from. On-premise systems were configured for the business concerned and occasionally custom-designed. Typically, businesses would be waiting a year or 18 months for implementation and that was after they had out-run their existing contract (often running for a number of years) with their current provider. Then there was training for the tech team and the end-users and all of a sudden, updates would be needed.
It was a painful and expensive process and one which has coloured the expectations and applied the brakes of many a senior business manager when the word ‘software’ was muttered. The irony also remained that those businesses continued to run parallel systems and tools resulting in duplication of work in many areas. Take as an example, finance teams utilising excel, Microsoft access and more, to simply run a report.
The key strength to an end-to-end business process management system is that it pulls your whole business together in one place. A CRM will simply focus on contacts, sales and orders but for speed and efficiency in a 21st century business, automating business processes through one system has massive benefits.
ERP Software Options for Small Business
More systems have come onto the market for small business and each has its strengths depending on the core competency they are based on. SageOne, the accounts system now expands into other business functions as well, but still does not cover all requirements, or have true customisation; ZohoOne, the biggest supplier in collaborative tools is limited by difficulties in customisation and implementation for a true, end-to-end business system; or Workhorse, a modular system designed specifically to create a true, end-to-end system easily customised to the unique needs of the business.
A good small business ERP software will have as many of the features below as possible. Remember customisation is key to fully capitalise on these systems:
• Cloud software now means that businesses do not have to be tied to legacy, on-premise software that is costly as well as inflexible. Cloud enables instant updates and software that moves with the big changes in the sector such as AI. Smaller businesses will soon start seeing the benefits of low-level AI in systems, or find they are pushed towards it by larger partners.
• Pan-business integration – one system, one order process, standard reporting, all in one place creating time-savings and efficiencies.
• Realtime reporting – everything you need to report on your business, or to know where your client project is, in one place and easily accessible. Transparency rules.
• A single database. A common database simplifying data management and improving your compliance for security and GDPR and avoiding the errors frequently experienced with spreadsheets.
• Streamline financial information. Allow orders to be automatically dropped into your accounting software without double-keying.
• Speeding up order management and processing – process orders quicker and funnel them into the teams that will deliver quickly.
• Inventory & procurement – Knowing what you have in your business in terms of stock can become easily managed. What if you could simply and easily integrate inventory and purchasing? Automated procurement driven by stock levels can ensure that you always have the stock you need. You can even reserve stock for certain clients or orders.
• Develop as you grow. Choose a modular system that enables your system to grow and change just as your business does. If it is too constrained in the way the developer ‘chose’ to build it, the system will become more ill-fitting for your needs over time. Systems such as Workhorse are designed for this purpose and provided dedicated account managers to ensure the system continues to deliver full benefit on a daily basis, no matter how the business changes.
It should be noted that even large enterprises are still struggling with multiple processes, lack of integration and are drowning in spreadsheets. They are also constrained by the size of their businesses and the systems available to them that are typically a significant investment and slow to implement. SMEs and micro businesses, however, have an advantage. With typically no legacy systems, or simple ones, they can easily implement the latest technology without the constraints of what has gone before. Their businesses are no less complex, they simply have an unrivalled opportunity to design a system that works for them. Whatever the choice, customisation and full business, end-to-end systems are now available without breaking the bank and delivered faster than traditional bespoke software.
For more interesting articles on ERP software check out www.cio.co.uk