What can your Business Gain from using ERP?
The concept of ERP or Enterprise Resource Planning has been around for more than two decades, when the term was first used by technology industry research firm Gartner.
It’s a term that often misused, widely misunderstood and can be difficult to define in any meaningful way.
Much more than simply an accounts or finance package, an effective ERP system should allow the business to capture, manage and interpret data from a range of activities.
However, it shouldn’t stop there. At the same time as informing key business decisions, the system should create operational efficiencies and help colleagues across departments to work and collaborate more effectively.
Sadly, a poorly implemented system can act like a straightjacket and become counter-productive.
All businesses, large and small
At one time, as E for Enterprise suggests, ERP was the preserve of large organisations with their scale allowing them to invest the large sums required to develop a solution.
Thankfully, that’s no longer the case.
As technology has evolved, significant levels of functionality are now accessible and within reach of relatively modest sized businesses.
In fact, a skilled and experienced partner can now configure and customise a standard software package to replicate many of the sophisticated features typically only offered through highly specialised solutions in the past.
Equally, mobility is now readily available, allowing data to be captured and reviewed in real time at the same time as eliminating the need to re-key information.
Don’t be afraid of change
A fundamental principle underpinning any ERP project is that it shouldn’t simply replicate existing working practices, but always look to improve, enhance and add value.
That makes change management critical, with the people who will use the system placed at the heart of the project and clear about the benefits it will bring.
Return on investment needs to be clear and measurable and in many cases that will relate to time – introducing automation to eradicate routine manual interventions and paper-based processes.
Colleagues will be freed up to focus on more productive tasks.
Other measures might include accelerated sales, optimised inventory and improved cash collection, all of which have a direct impact on the bottom line.
Everything that happens ‘because that’s how we do it’ should be open to challenge and a considerable degree of imagination applied to what might be possible – guided, of course, by a partner who has implemented many comparable systems.
In the past implementing a new ERP system, or taking on a system for the first time, would inevitably involve a radical shift even when upgrading from one version to another.
One major advance in the ERP industry is that the best software solutions on the market have now adopted an evolutionary approach to product development, making the jump more manageable. And importantly, facilitating ongoing adaptions and improvements with far less disruption.
The art of the possible
Whilst the numbers are always likely to be the starting point for most ERP deployments, especially as the FD is likely to sign off the budget, there’s far more that can be achieved when you understand what’s possible and what others have done.
Linking the front end with the back office, operations and supply chain can be incredibly powerful.
That might be through integration with a transactional website with orders being processed automatically and creating workflows to prompt everything from fulfilment to invoicing.
Using digital signatures, quotations can be converted seamlessly into orders thereby cutting out several steps and facilitating great customer experiences.
The risk of errors is also greatly reduced.
Improved inventory management in the warehouse not only leads to fewer ‘out-of-stocks’ but also reduces the level of cash tied up in stock and provides sales with a real-time view of availability.
Using mobile devices to capture proof of delivery and for cash collection not only removes unnecessary paper-trails but also helps to improve cash-flow.
Real-time information becomes just as critical as long-term analysis in driving decision-making, budgeting and strategic direction. Not to mention building competitive advantage by responding more effectively to customer expectations.
Building on a standard software platform, it’s also possible to build sophisticated features such as visual warehousing.
Dashboards, role centred interfaces and integration with daily essentials such as spreadsheets and email help to make life for users across business functions straightforward and that’s essential when user-adoption is critical for any successful deployment.
Do or die
There are numerous high profile examples of projects, involving big players such as the UK NHS and the BBC, that have failed spectacularly although naming too many names is probably not wise considering the litigation that has resulted in a number of cases.
To a certain extent that’s not surprising considering the level of complexity and the vast array of data and processes involved. Not to mention the fact that huge projects can take years to complete and involve hundreds of consultants.
Regardless of the size of the project, it’s important to consider a number of key factors.
Senior management must be involved from the outset and be confident that the aims of the project align with the strategic direction of the business.
Planning is an essential element and can’t be overlooked.
Consultation with users not only helps to illuminate areas for improvement but their buy-in to the process is central to achieving a smooth transition when the time comes for go-live.
Your partner needs to have demonstrable experience in your sector and also invest time to understand the specifics of your business. Working with the right partner will allow you to tap into best practice.
The software platform should allow you to evolve your systems as the business grows or the market environment shifts. Standing still is not an option.
Test. Test. Test. Whilst it’s rarely possible to replicate the full operational scope of your new system, testing is essential. Bug fixing, sense checking, the application of rules and conditions. Quality assurance should be built in to the development process to ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises when it comes to making the transition.
Ask yourself whether the business could fulfil orders, keep customers happy and maintain cash-flow if everything doesn’t go smoothly.
After all, your ERP system sits at the heart of your business and if you’re not confident that it’s beating effectively then maybe you shouldn’t switch off the life-support!
Dave Rawes is Microsoft Dynamics NAV & Pegasus Product Leader at TSG – Technology Services Group – UK IT specialist.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”