ERP: What do you really need?

ERP has come a long way from the early days of the 1980s. Back then, ERP was a revolutionary idea that promised to reduce IT complexity, enhance productivity and increase profitability by replacing multiple in-house systems with a single off-the-shelf solution.

The software was big, cumbersome and, despite the promise, complex. The cost and resources required to license the software made ERP suitable only for the largest of enterprises.

Over the next few decades, information technologies underwent a major transformation. The world shifted from green screen terminals to more friendly Windows computers and later still, smartphones and iPads. 

The internet ushered in an era of e-business and increased expectations of business immediacy. As all of this occurred, the amount of data ERP systems were expected to deal with grew exponentially.

Evolution has benefited us all
In response, ERP software architectures have become more open. Ease-of-use is a priority, and the introduction of new, interchangeable modules is providing businesses with the flexibility to deploy the solution they most need.

ERP systems today are more evolved, more useful and more accessible than ever. They also work in ways never originally intended. After all, who in '80s really thought about collaboration, social media or big data?

But perhaps the biggest change is that there are now ERP solutions available for every size of manufacturing business, and every budget.

This breadth of choice can sometimes make it difficult to be certain which ERP system is right for your business. As a process manufacturer, you'll no doubt want to make sure your operations run smoothly. But what are the other “must have” requirements that you should be looking for?

Make it configurable
Process manufacturing encompasses many different processes and vertical markets, so it's rare that a company will find a single solution that instantly meets all of its needs. If you want something that works the way you do, you'll need to select an ERP solution that has the capacity to be configured to suit your processes, your industry and your business approach.

It doesn't matter how large or small your operation might be, an ERP solution should fit seamlessly into your organisation and make it easier to overcome business challenges.

You should also carefully consider what you want from an ERP, and compare your operations with the modules and functionality that each ERP solution offers.

At a minimum, standard functionalities that should form part of any ERP solution include: production schedule management, inventory management, regulatory compliance, lot traceability, batch control, make to order, quality control and supply chain management.

ERP will keep evolving
ERP solutions are fast becoming one of the most popular means of dealing with industry-specific business processes – and it's easy to see why.

Decades of continual evolution, advancement and improvement have led to ERP solutions that combine utility with innovation, that enable companies to obtain greater control over their business without incurring high levels of investment.

As the screws continue to tighten, it's fair to say that the popularity of these solutions will only grow further. Environmental, safety and regulatory requirements are on the rise, particularly for process manufacturers, so it's wise to take proactive steps to get these areas of your business under control now, rather than being forced into a reactive mode further down the track.

Yes, there's a lot to consider when comparing ERP offerings, but making the right choice is essential if you're hoping to see a real effect on your operations, so make sure you first weigh up your needs, then choose wisely!

[Mike Lorge is Managing Director of Sage Business Solutions.]

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