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Overlooked Aspects of ERP Software

The major benefits of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software are well known. The automation of routine transactions, the integration of critical business functions, and the linking of different departments, plus the capture and centralized storage of data are all things you may expect to gain from a successful selection project for a new ERP solution.

In most cases, ERP systems available today are also comprehensive in what they offer. In other words, you’ll find that ERP solutions have good coverage of functions such as finance/accounting, sales management, inventory management, customer relationship management, business intelligence capabilities, and other such business mainstays. In other words, each function has a sufficient number of features built into the software.

In this post, we'll direct your attention to three less-obvious aspects of ERP systems that can be overshadowed by functional categories and the incorporation of new technologies. These are harder-to-quantify aspects of the software, or “soft factors”, that nevertheless matter a great deal for the long-term success of an ERP system adoption.

Aspect #1: User Experience (UX)

How employees feel about using ERP software, while it is a subjective impression, is actually important. The user friendliness of any ERP solution ranks up there with how well the functions and features align with your company’s business requirements. This is because even the most comprehensive, feature-rich piece of software will turn out to be a poor investment if would-be users find it confusing, or they take a long time to learn how to use it, or some of them outwardly refuse to use it altogether.

So how do you judge something as subjective as UX? The answer lies in having a properly chosen selection team—not just one or two individuals. The selection team should be made up of employees from every department or stakeholder group that will be using any new ERP system.

Besides consulting these stakeholders when gathering your requirements, you’ll want to include them when it comes to comparing competing ERP solutions. A particular UX may seem intuitive and user friendly to you, or to the information technology (IT) manager, or someone else at your organization, but when that person from accounting, or inventory, or sales, etc, tries it out, they may find it’s far from ideal.

People today are used to using consumer apps and websites that make things easy in their personal lives. Most people will bring similar expectations to their workplace, so they may run out of patience if they encounter software with a substantial learning curve. Keep in mind that most users will not need to understand how to configure or set up the new software—they’ll just want to be able to perform the tasks they need to accomplish quickly and easily. In the case where the screen they land on is not the one they need, they expect a quick swipe or click will take them to exactly what they’re looking for.

More and more, ERP software vendors are focusing development time and effort on providing consumer-grade user experience. This is a trend we expect to continue, meaning most companies ought to be able to find an ERP system that both meets their functional needs and passes the UX test.

Aspect #2: Scalability

Most businesses hope to grow and expect their ERP software to accommodate that growth. ERP solutions are expected to have a working life span of at least 2 to 3 years before a major upgrade is required. A lot can happen in that time frame.

Most modern ERP solutions offer scalability—defined as a solution’s capability to handle an increasing amount of work or to be expanded to accommodate more users and demands.

As with most things, scalability comes with additional costs. Ask your ERP vendor to add 50 additional user licenses, and it’s reasonable to assume there will be some additional fees. While negotiating to purchase a new ERP solution, it’s wise to ask about scalability. Ask how growth would be handled, including the cost of adding additional licenses. In some cases, there may also be some need for additional hardware. Hardware is less of a consideration if the chosen ERP software is based in the cloud, but even cloud ERP systems depend on the customer having reliable and fast internet connectivity with sufficient bandwidth. That may not seem like a problem for a smaller business, but may require some upgrades for, say, a company with a couple hundred users or more.

Even if your plans don’t foresee any definite growth, it’s still wise to ask the vendor about various “what if” scenarios. Sometimes the question of scalability can be a decisive factor when it comes to selecting from competing ERP systems.

Aspect #3: Vendor Support

While this is actually an attribute of the people behind the software rather than the software itself, it is too important to overlook. It also straddles the middle ground between something that’s a subjective perception, such as UX, and something that can be backed with some numerical values, like scalability. For example, the average length of time it takes for a vendor to resolve a service ticket issue is a quantifiable measure and hence an indication of the vendor’s level of responsiveness. But even though the overall perception of whether a vendor is responsive and supportive is not something that can be quantified, it can still be as important to a user group’s level of satisfaction.

Working with a vendor that stands behind its ERP solution and is eager to nurture the relationship with your organization—the customer—after the sale, can be a vital aspect of whether your new ERP system lives up to the expectations and offers a good return on investment (ROI).

The quality of vendor support is arguably even more important than it was 5 to 10 years ago. That’s because cloud-based deployments have become so common. When most ERP software was on premise, the front-line of user support was often provided by in-house IT staff or hired consultants who often worked on-site. In the age of the cloud, however, support is most often delivered via help screens, online chat applications, and phone. In most cases, it also involves vendor staff other than the sales engineers your selection team was likely to interact with during your software evaluation and demo.

So, how can your selection team possibly evaluate the quality of vendor support before you make the decision to purchase a particular ERP system? The best way is to talk to other customers, much like yourself, who have already experienced this vendor support firsthand. Be sure to ask the vendors of the ERP solutions on your shortlist to provide you with a list of client references. If possible, those references should include companies that are similar to yours in terms of industry, size, or preferably both. Most importantly, contact those people and get as much relevant information as you can from them. This means not settling for a vague and general comment such as “the service has been good.” Press for some details.

Getting Qualified Help

ERP software is far from one-size-fits-all. Most vendors would be loath to turn away a new client simply because the vendor lacks experience in that client’s particular industry or the vendor’s solution has many but not all of the features and functions the prospective client requires.

However, even though a solution may lack some needed features, it may still represent a good fit for an organisation’s requirements. The best way to ensure your organisation spends its time giving careful consideration only to those ERP solutions that are fairly well aligned to their needs is to go into the selection process with a clear idea of your business requirements, priorities, and goals.

You don’t have to go it alone. The software selection process has well-defined and proven best practices, and independent consultants and online resources are available that can help guide you through the process. Just be certain that such guidance comes from an impartial source that is not obliged to recommend some vendors’ ERP software while ignoring others’.

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