My boss once said to me that nobody wakes up in the morning and cries “I’m going to implement an ERP system!”
It’s a fair point. Apart from a few business process masochists that I’ve met over the years, few people out there really go out of their way to implement an enterprise system. Enterprise systems are costly and they drain a lot of time and energy from key resources within a company. They can be generally…painful to implement. And yet I’ve seen so many companies make the move to enterprise systems and benefit greatly from the transition, in spite of the challenges. This raises a question that I’ve had more than a few prospects ask me: “Why on earth do I need an ERP system?”
Pundits have long noted that the “E” in “ERP” is the most important of the three letters. The value in an ERP system comes in its applicability to the entire enterprise and not just to a few selective functions within the organization. And while ERP has been around now for many decades, there continues to be ample opportunity for better enterprise-level integration among companies. Quite often, the “why” of ERP comes in a quick analysis of a Company’s current-state application architecture.
With many of the customers that I’ve helped migrate to Epicor’s ERP platform, I’ve observed a current state application map to include one or more of the following:
- The utilization of stand-alone financial modules such as QuickBooks for financial management. Such systems are good for counting waves, but not for making them.
- The use of manufacturing oriented work order systems for managing the shop floor. Job Shop-oriented systems can be effective in defining product structures and working them through the shop-floor, but are less effective in managing the selling and shipping of manufactured products and in comparing the resultant revenues to costs.
- 1980s-era ERP systems, with one or more bolt-ons for managing product configuration and/or the shop floor. First-generation ERP systems are generally solid when it comes to inventory management, and basic order-to-cash cycles, but are limited in many areas, and are a burden to maintain.
- Paper-based systems for inventory management & time card entry—some customers are still pounding the paper when it comes to basic warehouse and shop floor transactions.
- Varieties of macro-enhanced spreadsheets for doing one of many things. Spreadsheets are a great gap-filling tool, but their limitations quickly become apparent as multi-user capabilities and large data requirements become a necessity.
Based on the above, it is no surprise that companies come to us looking to implement Epicor because their current state is a drafty quilt of poorly-stitched and poorly-patched legacy applications, homegrown boondoggles, and siloed modules. Customers come to us believing that there must be a better answer, and in most cases there is. The problem is, most companies took a lifetime to grow into their patchy ponchos. At certain early stages in their relative existence, most companies can get away with the above scattershot array of systems and pseudo-systems. But these same systems become hindrances as the company looks to scale up, expand its offerings, ramp up its output, or better integrate with customers, suppliers or best-of-breed applications. As these challenges become clear, the “why” of ERP begins to take shape.
Our work as Epicor partners quite often has to do with explaining the “why” of ERP. My own “why” came to me many years ago. At the time, I was still a customer and still quite naive regarding the ERP space. Working on a process-improvement project with my company’s Vice President of IT, I asked him point blank whether our recent ERP implementation had been a success. “Yes!” he replied, emphatically. “Why?” I responded. I was a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt at the time and was practicing my “5-Whys” methodology. I only needed one of them, for his answer changed the way I’ve seen enterprise systems ever since. By implementing an ERP system, we were laying the foundation for everything that was to come. In our case it was configurability—we were an engineer-to-order company, living in an increasingly configure-to-order market, and needed to make moves toward configurability before our old methodologies priced us out of that market. By implementing an ERP system, we set in place the building blocks for product configurability, and our subsequent initiatives took these building blocks and reshaped the way the company did business. Fifteen years and an ERP system later, my old company is still successfully competing in its target markets, proffering configured products, and doing so profitably.
Now every company owns its own specific point in time, and faces its own set of unique challenges, as it tries to grow and thrive in changing markets. I’ve seen a lot of good reasons for moving away from a patchwork of solutions to a more integrated and comprehensive system. My own story may resonate with some, or there may be other stories that better answer the question as to why a company might make the move to an enterprise system. This is all to say that there are a lot of reasons for implementing an ERP system. And everyone here at the EstesGroup would love to hear your story. And if you don’t think you have a reason for implementing ERP, we’d love to talk to you about that as well.