Why Businesses should Take Advantage of 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.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”