Ten Ways Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Can Answer Your Business Needs

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is such an all-encompassing field that it can be completely overwhelming to even decide on a solution, much less implement it and drive adoption across the organization. However, there is no better tool for managing all major lines of your business at both the macro and micro levels. Here are 10 ways ERP can help.

ERP vendors and independent software vendors (ISVs) come in all shapes and sizes, much like the heterogeneous businesses they serve. At their core, though, all ERP applications are simply databases designed to provide modular, but integrated, views of everything from finance to customer relationship management (CRM) to supply chains and logistics. Here are 10 ways that ERP can address your business needs in ways that other software solutions can’t.

1. All of your data, all in one place

It isn’t a terribly big deal for the sales and marketing teams to log into a standalone CRM system, the engineering group to log into a system to track manufacturing or support issues, and IT to have a separate IT management system, to name just a few of the tools an average company might use to track daily activities. What is a big deal is pulling all of the data from these systems together to be able to make strategic decisions and coordinate resources across business lines.

2. One license, one install, one training

How many systems should IT staff be maintaining? Here’s a hint: As few as possible. Every new system added to support a particular business need is a new procurement hassle, new licensing costs, new overhead, and new training. If a single system can do it all, you’re not going to get many objections from either IT or end users who can make lateral and vertical moves and still feel comfortable with a familiar system.

3. CRM for everyone

Customer Relationship Management isn’t just about Marketing driving leads and Sales closing deals. Creating, nurturing, and maintaining relationships with customers often involves members of technical teams for pre-sales, IT for data or web systems, support staff for existing customers, and so on. An organization-wide ERP implementation ensures that all stakeholders have access to appropriate customer data when and where they need it to provide excellent customer service at all stages of the funnel.

4. Breaking down silos

The old stereotypes of the nerdy engineer grumbling about promises made by slick salespeople is only a thinly veiled caricature of the divisions that exist between groups in many organizations. A system that actually facilitates cross-group sharing of information and development of shared processes is never a bad thing.

5. Driving adoption

To that end, as silos come down and more staffers rely on collaboration tools to do their jobs well, the pressure will be on late adopters to make use of a great platform. So when Mary Marketer wants to keep using her homegrown spreadsheet to track AdWords campaigns, Barry BI  will have much more visibility and push for widespread adoption in the Marketing department so he can make adjustments to AdWords spend.

6. The basis for BI

And right there, we have the basis for business intelligence and analytics: A unified, integrated view of data from across the enterprise that lends itself to both strategic and tactical decision making. Without a unified source of information, this sort of decision making can’t get off the ground.

7. Financials aren’t just for accountants

Why should expense reports get submitted on paper forms or via email to accounting reports? And why should management need to request financial data for their divisions? They shouldn’t. Instead, they should have role-based, transparent access to the financials that matter to them and manual, labor-intensive processes should be streamlined to ensure accurate, up-to-date financial data is available organization-wide.

8. Helping employees help themselves

The idea of self-service, and at a higher level, empowerment, is an important one for ERP. Opening up information (both for reporting and input, as with the financial data in number 7) lets employees track down the right data when they need it. No waiting for the weekly logistics report to make adjustments next week. No waiting for sales numbers when they come out at the end of the month. Get the data and take action with your colleagues.

9. Project management doesn’t happen in a vacuum

It wasn’t so long ago that project managers were the ones who could figure out how to use Microsoft Project and threw around terms like GANTT and PERT with little thought to their non-PMP colleagues. Now, though, all stakeholders need real-time access to timelines, deliverables, budgets, etc. Since most ERP systems include web-based project management software and role-based access to documents and assets, new workflows and processes are much easier to implement.

10. Integration made easy

Single systems are obviously easier to integrate with existing enterprise directory services and data systems than multiple tools. Many ERP solutions ranging from third-party Google Apps implementations to Microsoft Dynamics ERP give users single sign-on capabilities and a single point of management for IT.

This list isn’t just for large enterprises, by the way. There are many ERP applications focused on the needs of SMBs, even from the biggest names in the Industry like Microsoft, SAP, and Oracle. Regardless of the size of your business, there are real advantages to simplified, integrated views of your business data and solutions abound, whether from the big 3 or from many smaller, more specialized vendors.

author pictureChris Dawson is a writer, speaker, and analyst with particular interests in educational technology, healthcare IT, and the intersection of the two with the cloud and BI. He is a contributing editor at ZDNet, Ziff Davis, and UBM Channel, and a senior editor at Edukwest. You can follow him on Twitter (@mrdatahs) and Google+ (+Christopher Dawson).

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