Super-charging your ERP system for the future

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By Nicola Hannay, HSO.

In an ideal world, most organisations would choose to keep their technology up-to-date, especially their ERP software which typically drives their entire business. But, for mid-range companies fighting for market share, there are so many demands on budget. Having made a large investment in their legacy systems, they may have other priorities – or wonder how long it will be before any further spend on the systems will be repaid.

At the same time, they may be struggling with change-related challenges. Typically, one of the most significant is the need to deliver coordination across systems, processes and teams, either to support the business or within a specific project. The key will be the ability to achieve seamless connectivity across these functions and use that to drive collaboration, while providing cost savings and enhancing operational efficiencies.

In the age of big data, data management and analytics are often key challenges. To address them, organisations will need to ensure data is integrated across the organisation and business intelligence extracted from it. These are issues that can be addressed by ERP. Yet, many businesses are failing to upgrade existing systems and not capitalising fully on the opportunity ERP provides.

Those companies that seek out the latest versions of ERP software are best able to improve processes and ensure information is updated across the organisation. This in turn enables them to run operations more efficiently, respond better to customer and market demands and drive competitive edge.

The potential benefits mid-sized businesses can achieve by upgrading their ERP systems are clear, but what are the key factors that drive their success and how can ERP help them be achieved?

Coping with upheaval

The fact that the business world has been facing waves of technology-led disruption in recent times is well-documented but many organisations are also facing their own individual transformations. The servitisation of products has caused a shift in processes for some, while others have felt the impact of rapid expansion through mergers and acquisitions and are now running projects across multiple international borders and legal systems. Retailers are turning stores into showrooms at the front-end of an ecommerce operation. Products and portfolios have grown both in size and complexity to meet new customer expectations and aggressive competition.

It's tough in the middle

It's not easy being a mid-sized organisation. While there is often help available for start-ups, there is typically very little funding to enable organisations to fulfil their potential. Instead, businesses often have to rely on their own resources. The most successful are often those best able to invest in product innovation and in their people, and those that have the ambition and operational agility to grow into new markets, streamline their processes and rapidly respond to new market demands.

Key success factors

The above factors are the broad brush strokes. When it comes to detail – what do organisations need to do to achieve success in this volatile environment? Here are my recommendations:

  • A straightforward way to integrate silos of information to create an accurate view of company performance across an entire worldwide organisation
  • The ability to access data in real-time for fast remedial action when necessary
  • One single, centralised view of each individual customer
  • The knowledge that their data is solid, reliable – and totally secure
  • The flexibility to change the business model as markets demand
  • Secure access to current company data when mobile
  • Complete scalability through the cloud
  • A hybrid set-up to enjoy the benefits of the public cloud where possible but the security of a private cloud where necessary
  • The ability to introduce social media into mainstream sources

Ultimately, the key success factor here is having access to the right information at the right time to enable a fast response.

How to achieve these goals

This is where we return to ERP. A report by Forrester into its future, 'Global, Industry and Technology Forces Shape the ERP Landscape', points out that traditionally, ERP stayed true to its name and was used to plan operations in terms of process management and cost retrenchment.

However, recently vendors have been more creative. They have incorporated up-to-the-minute capabilities to drive new business models and revenue streams. As a result, even those firms already running ERP will benefit from upgrading. By being able to achieve the success factors wish list given above they may well also see a fast ongoing return on their investment.

Vendors recognise that a 'one size fits all' approach is no longer adequate. But, choosing the right partner - one that understands both the technology and the business - can significantly consolidate the gains. This will enable an organisation to select an industry-standard solution such as Microsoft Dynamics AX – and then tailor the solution to fill in any gaps and meet specific industry needs.

Of course, putting the right technology and upgrades in place is only part of the challenge. There are many business issues to consider too. For example, is the organisation preparing for growth or trying to move into multi-channel operations. Or both?

ERP systems such as the new Microsoft Dynamics AX are robust, rich and highly valuable. But this potential won't be realised without the individual approach. It will take a consulting and implementation partner with the right in-depth expertise in the technology, the industry and the business to understand the needs of each individual organisation and customise the software accordingly.

The reputation ERP projects have for being protracted and expensive is becoming a thing of the past. With the right methodology and support in place, these risks can be minimised and a fast return on investment made much more attainable.

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