Has ERP's time in the spotlight passed?

In the wake of recent advances in technology, Manufacturing Digital asks: is ERP still relevant to the modern manufacturing environment?
 Cloud can be a good thing for both users & ERP itself

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Before the advent of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), regardless of whether the company in question was a small start-up or global organisation, many were forced into using several different IT programmes to handle the various facets of the business.

ERP quickly became popular because it placed all of the roles necessary to a business – marketing, sales, quality control, production processes, finance/accounting and customer service management, all onto one IT system. Not only did this allow a previously unprecedented level of interaction between departments, it allowed an uninterrupted flow of information, accessible by anyone at anytime, and being modular by design, users could customise the system to their individual needs, adding or removing modules as the business evolved.  

ERP entered industry’s consciousness during the early 1990s, but experienced a huge boom in interest during the run-up to the millennium and the associated IT problems businesses were told to expect (such as the highly publicised ‘Millennium Bug’). Many took this as an opportunity to upgrade outdated, archaic systems with much more capable, modern software suites.

Now more than a decade later, with the advent of cloud computing and ever-more sophisticated technologies, does ERP still have a place in the world of modern manufacturing?

In a nutshell the answer is yes, thanks largely due to ERPs ability to constantly evolve and adapt itself to suit the user’s current needs.

Arriving less than a decade after many businesses had made the decision to invest large amounts of expenditure into an ERP suite, the onset of cloud computing seemed to signal the death toll for ERP systems, promising much the same benefits with a dramatically reduced price tag.

However, there are a number of reasons why the cloud can actually be a good thing for both users and ERP itself.

As is true for most software suites and programmes, the world of ERP provision is dominated by a handful of globally recognised companies, i.e. Microsoft, SAP and SAGE. The cloud is changing that, levelling the playing field between large and small developers, and putting the decision-making power back into the hands of the consumer.

Rather than having to outlay considerable expense on an entire system, much of which may not be of use; developers, via the cloud, are offering more tailored solutions at a more affordable cost, with the option of adapting it further down the line. The knock-on effect of the success these smaller developers are realising is a faster and easier delivery of ERP in stark contrast to the complex, feature-heavy and expensive alternative, making the bigger players reconsider their own delivery.

The cloud can also help centralise, analyse and distribute data in a more efficient manner. Much of the data being harvested through ERP is currently being either discarded or its existence is unknown (some have suggested as much as 30 percent). Cloud-based providers can offer a greater understanding of this information, coupled with more-tailored analytical software meaning businesses can improve their reporting, decision-making and operational efficiencies often at no, or little extra cost. 

In conclusion, if you have already invested in a substantial ERP solution, to abandon it now could be considered foolhardy as improvements and upgrades are continually being launched, with cloud actually augmenting ERP’s potential, rather than replacing it entirely. For those who haven’t yet invested in ERP, the cloud is changing the way systems are being offered, providing more equal opportunities for developers and affording a greater analysis of data; so though deeper research will be needed, ERP could still be a viable option. The bottom line is that while ERP still meets the requirements being asked of it, it will still be relevant; and with the changes taking place at the moment, that isn’t likely to change for many years to come.  

Case Study: Scattergood and Johnson

With six branches and a portfolio of more than 35,000 products, England-based Scattergood and Johnson saw its previous process management systems struggle with an increasing stock catalogue and a growing distribution network. For two decades, isolated management systems had been maintained and update by the company’s in-house team of developers, an approach which had served S&J well.

However, to remain competitive, S&J decided to replace the various systems with a single, integrated business management software solution, accommodating all aspects of financials, commercials, stock control, customer relationship management and business intelligence. The solution chosen was Intact Software’s fully-customisable and scalable Intact iQ.

“We wanted a solution that would dramatically increase our productivity, efficiency, inter-departmental communication and processes; and which could be scaled-up without the need for continued investment in additional software. We spent extensive time researching a solution and looking in detail at a number of options that, we concluded, simply didn’t fulfil all of our requirements. In the end, it was a customer recommendation that led to the Intact Software solution.

“It was a complete success. The speed and simplicity of implementation saved us a great deal of time and money. Intact iQ delivered on all its promises. The fact that it can be moulded to replicate existing processes means that employees were subjected to minimal stress and disruption. User interfaces were designed to resemble the ones they were comfortable with, with improved commands and processes. This not only meant that employees were happier, it also meant that they readily embraced the change and were able to remain efficient and productive throughout what is often a stressful and resource-draining time for a business,” Robert Hargreaves, Chief Executive Officer, Scattergood and Johnson.

Though allocated 24 months, Intact iQ was fully installed, operational and with all users trained in less than 13; with S&J not only maintaining its 800 orders-a-day processing level throughout the pre-implementation, implementation and launch phases, but actually growing 15 percent during the same period.

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