A buyer's guide to the top ERP systems
A collection of articles that takes you from defining technology needs to purchasing options
ERP systems come in many different forms, so it is important to find the best ERP software to help you achieve your business goals and optimize your systems and processes. Since ERP is one of the most difficult systems to implement because of its end-to-end impact on corporate systems and operations, the success of your ERP implementation becomes as important as the ERP system itself.
Not every company is the same. Choosing the right system isn't just a matter of looking at the features and offerings of different vendors. It's a matter of looking at those features and seeing how they best fit your company. While every ERP vendor has essentially the same functions, each one caters to certain industries and company types. Here are several common ERP use scenarios one might find themselves in and the products that might help resolve issues and achieve goals.
Limited internal resources
A company has limited internal resources, and wants an ERP system that already has features and functions that are attuned to its industry.
Infor, Epicor, Microsoft Dynamics AX and Oracle JD Edwards all offer industry verticalizations of their ERP software, so a good place to start is by checking out the specialties of each vendor. Infor has a strong reputation in ERP for process and discrete manufacturing, distribution, food and beverage, and consumer goods. Epicor supports all modes of manufacturing and distribution organizations, and also companies in the retail and service industries. Microsoft Dynamics AX supports manufacturing, distribution, services, and public sector organizations, but has particular strength in the retail/e-commerce industry. Oracle JD Edwards has industry vertical offerings in consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, companies that are asset-intensive and must track their assets through asset lifecycles, and projects and services industries. If your internal resources are constrained, it is equally important to check out the vendor's support network and resources in ERP planning, implementation, training and ongoing technical support. You might also consider a cloud-based ERP system so you can avoid purchasing hardware and software.
Midsize international operations
A midsize business has international operations and needs an economical way of handling the financial, taxation and compliance requirements in the different countries that it operates.
In this case, a cloud-based ERP that relieves your company of investing in on-premises software and hardware might be a great approach. NetSuite OneWorld is a cloud-based offering with a "sweet spot" in financial and compliance software. OneWorld supports financial, currency, taxation, and compliance functionality and reporting in over 160 countries, and has the ability to roll all of these different finance localizations into a single, consolidated financial statement for a global organization. NetSuite OneWorld has optional modules for customer relationship management and e-commerce, so if you start with the financials, you can always extend into these other systems later.
If you are anticipating rapid and continuing growth for your company, another option is Sage 100. Like NetSuite, Sage has an established reputation for strong financial software in multiple countries. Sage offers both on-premises and cloud-based systems, and the systems are scalable into a more robust accounting version of Sage (Sage 300), or even to enterprise strength (Sage 500), which offers a fuller integration of the financials with manufacturing operations.
Internal ERP business and IT experts
A large enterprise has a core of internal ERP business and IT experts, and it wants the ability to configure ERP to its business without having to take on the risk of developing its own customizations.
You might want to consider an ERP suite that offers a broad spectrum of pick-and-choose modules and functionality so you can build your own ERP package. SAP Business Suite ERP is a strong choice in this case. It offers over 80 different modules that can be configured into a suite for a specific business. Clients can also choose how they want new ERP enhancements delivered -- continuously, quarterly or by major software release.
Acquiring other companies
A large enterprise has an ERP system and is actively engaged in acquiring other companies.
The acquired companies must be onboarded to your company's ERP, so one option is to bring them all into the existing on-premises system. Unfortunately, continuous integrations of this nature can prove costly, risky and labor-intensive. An alternative is a two-tier ERP strategy where corporate continues to run its on-premises ERP, and the newly acquired companies get a cloud-based version of the system or of another brand that can integrate with headquarters ERP. This cloud-based version can either be cloud-hosted (your own staff or the hosting provider manages the system in the cloud), or software as a service (SaaS), where the vendor runs a shared system for you. Epicor, Microsoft, SAP, Oracle JD Edwards/PeopleSoft, Sage and Infor all offer ERP in both on-premises and cloud-based versions.
Your company is multinational, and needs an ERP that can support business operations in multiple countries.
Most ERP vendors can localize their ERP systems to support different languages and currencies, so a more important question to ask vendors might be what are their resources for supporting ERP in multiple geographies. Both Oracle (JD Edwards and PeopleSoft) and SAP (Business Suite) have extensive global consulting and support networks and technical support. Another option is Epicor, which hosts tech and application support centers around the world, delivering support in 20 languages. You could also consider a SaaS version of ERP if your organization is multinational, because SaaS can provide consulting support in addition to software.
Monitor service activities
A service organization wants ERP to monitor its service activities and tie them into central administrative systems like finance and human capital management (HCM).
There are ERP systems that can monitor people and service performance internally, in the field and on service contracts. Oracle PeopleSoft's sweet spot is HCM (or human resources), and comes with functionality that supports activity and project tracking and resource monitoring. The system is particularly adept at assessing how well your company's human resources are being utilized. Epicor has ERP that supports in-field workforces, as well as functionality that supports the end-to-end professional services cycle -- from winning a contract, to staffing and managing projects, managing deliverables and tying back into financials. Another ERP option with field service functions is Infor's SyteLine ERP.
A midsize company wants an ERP system that can support business processes in a one-off project environment.
There are ERP systems designed for project-centric companies. SAP Business Suite has a commercial project management option, as does Epicor, which has functionality for planning and executing single and multi-phase projects with project costing and billing guidelines. Microsoft Dynamics AX can track projects and match them to contracts and purchase orders. Sage has particularly strong ERP offerings for large enterprises engaged in the construction industry.
The key to selecting the best ERP software for your company is to first understand your company's business model, goals and business processes. It is equally important to have a good sense of how flexible IT and business users will be in adapting to change, because the installation of any ERP system brings about change, which people may find uncomfortable. Your ERP partner should be able to meet your company's present and future business and IT needs, but it should also have strong ERP implementation, training and consulting resources. ERP is one system where people factors are as important as process and IT factors. Your ERP vendor should be able to deliver value in all of these areas.
This is part four of a four-part series examining ERP software. Part one explains what ERP software can do for an organization. Part two provides use cases for ERP. Part three goes over the main features to consider when looking at ERP vendors.
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Mary E. Shacklett asks:
How do your organization's ERP needs compare to the seven scenarios in this article?
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