How to choose a business management system
JOHANNESBURG – Selecting a business management (ERP) system is a decision that will affect any business for many years. Most products offer the same or similar features and it could be extremely confusing to decide what features are important or not.
One should use a checklist to compare the features and benefits of each product across various categories. These should include productivity, functionality, technology, flexibility, value and risk.
Firstly, the product must make staff more productive, it must be intuitive and easy to learn and use. More importantly, it must offer access from any device, anytime, anywhere - to facilitate field staff and staff working from home.
The product also needs to be multi-language so that staff can work in the language that best suits them. It is also essential to print documents like invoices in the language of the customer. Furthermore, multi-currency is a definite requirement, staff needs to work in any currency and convert as needed.
One also needs to look at workflow, does the product automate business processes, approvals and notifications. Document management is a basic requirement, documents should be accessible to all key personnel and users should be able to share information and company documents with various teams and departments.
There should be no need to maintain integrations between applications, the product should offer a single database with one version of the truth. This will ensure better, quicker decisions and fewer mistakes. It also allows for comprehensive reporting to make informed decisions without the guesswork.
The product should have features and functions that actually perform the daily accounting and business management functions. It should support multi-company, multi-warehouse, and international companies, including financial consolidations, intercompany eliminations, and reconciliations.
Its basic financial management and accounting functions should include General Ledger, Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, Cash Management, Tax management, and more. Users should easily be able to create quotes, convert to sales order, check inventory availability, perform credit check, pick, ship, invoice, and collect payment.
Additionally, they should be able to create requisitions, obtain approvals, convert to purchase order, receive inventory, receive invoice, match and pay.
Modern products should support specific industries including e.g. professional services, business, repair and field services, wholesale distribution, manufacturing and retail. There should also be strong third-party software support to extend product functions. A library of enhancements should be available to extend the functionality of the product to meet one's unique business needs.
CRM should be a standard feature and combined with the ERP system to ensure they share a single database – no need to synchronise two databases with the same information. Integrated business intelligence means users go beyond spreadsheets and use integrated BI to understand what the financial and customer data is really telling them so they can make informed, actionable decisions.
It should include integrated eCommerce to link online orders to the ERP and CRM. Once should easily be able to track all sales and manage inventory in real time.
This is probably the most important point. Don’t invest in ‘analogue’ technology when we are in the midst of the Digital Migration. The product must use technology for usability, customisability and maintainability.
All functionality must be accessible through the internet using a standard browser without the need for any software installation on the user’s device and without any additional software licensing required. It should be 100% available via a Smartphone App – Android or iOs are the most important ones to check for.
It should be a responsive design where users can view and interact with every page of the application on any device with a minimum of resizing, panning, or scrolling. The user interface should have a modern look and feel with customisable screens and dashboards. They must have easy access to tasks with minimal clicks and intuitive workflow.
The product must be customisable and flexible with the ability to modify and customise business logic to meet a company’s unique requirements. Users must be able to perform customisations using industry standard tools and programming languages without requiring the use of proprietary languages or compilers.
The product must also allow for all system data to be stored in a full relational SQL database, users should be able to query data for reporting, BI, financial statements, audits, and more. Furthermore, users must be able to access and export relational versions of all data for reporting, backup, and transfer.
It is crucial that the solution allows the company to move to the cloud whenever required. More importantly, not everyone wants to operate in the cloud so the product should support both on premise and cloud deployments, and let users switch deployment models if and when they are ready.
It is critical that the product maximises features and functions versus cost for the usable lifetime of the product. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) should reduce over the foreseeable lifetime of the product (at a minimum 3-5 years), including licensing, support, hardware, upgrade, and hosting costs.
Be sure to add the cost of additional products required to run the system (web server, eCommerce platform, database server, collaboration tools, CRM, etc.), which includes all required hardware, licensing, and support costs.
The product must scale as the company grows and it should have the ability to accommodate heavier volumes, more resources and more users. The most important aspect is the cost, companies should only pay for what they use and they should be able to add more resources when they need them.
Choose a product that charges by resources used, not by user count. This makes the benefits of ERP available to all employees companywide. Charging by user penalises growing businesses.
It should also have flexible licensing options, offering subscription or perpetual licensing (depreciable capital expense versus an ongoing operating expense). There should also be multiple deployment options like on premise, private cloud or public cloud e.g. Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Companies should preserve capital for other business initiatives. Cloud deployments reduce the need for initial cash outlay for hardware and software purchases. Cloud deployments reduce the amount of internal IT staff required for hardware and software support and maintenance.
The product must minimise risk and facilitate security, both network and financial security. Monthly costs must be predictable and not vulnerable to spikes in IT costs. Standardising on a platform allows one to predict monthly cost for the system.
The product must be fast and easy to deploy in the Cloud and run natively on the big popular Cloud platforms. Cloud solutions eliminate time delays and risk of unplanned costs by deploying quickly. Companies should leverage global technology leaders by utilising the resources and security of large cloud hosting providers like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure as well as big local data centres such as Seacom.
Reduce risk by choosing a software vendor that has specific industry knowledge and customer references in that industry. They must also offer best-in-class security at no additional cost.
Consider saving data in the cloud with backup and disaster recovery. Cloud deployment is safer, cheaper, lowers costs for backup, failover and disaster recovery.
Bernard Ford is chief executive of One Channel. The views expressed here are his own.
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