There are five major reasons why companies undertake ERP.
- Integrate financial information—As the CEO tries to understand the company’s overall performance, he may find many different versions of the truth. Finance has its own set of revenue numbers, sales has another version, and the different business units may each have their own version of how much they contributed to revenues. ERP creates a single version of the truth that cannot be questioned because everyone is using the same system.
- Integrate customer order information—ERP systems can become the place where the customer order lives from the time a customer service representative receives it until the loading dock ships the merchandise and finance sends an invoice. By having this information in one software system, rather than scattered among many different systems that can’t communicate with one another, companies can keep track of orders more easily, and coordinate manufacturing, inventory and shipping among many different locations at the same time.
- Standardize and speed up manufacturing processes—Manufacturing companies—especially those with an appetite for mergers and acquisitions—often find that multiple business units across the company make the same widget using different methods and computer systems. ERP systems come with standard methods for automating some of the steps of a manufacturing process. Standardizing those processes and using a single, integrated computer system can save time, increase productivity and reduce head count.
- Reduce inventory—ERP helps the manufacturing process flow more smoothly, and it improves visibility of the order fulfillment process inside the company. That can lead to reduced inventories of the stuff used to make products (work-in-progress inventory), and it can help users better plan deliveries to customers, reducing the finished good inventory at the warehouses and shipping docks. To really improve the flow of your supply chain, you need supply chain software, but ERP helps too.
- Standardize HR information—Especially in companies with multiple business units, HR may not have a unified, simple method for tracking employees’ time and communicating with them about benefits and services. ERP can fix that.
In the race to fix these problems, companies often lose sight of the fact that ERP packages are nothing more than generic representations of the ways a typical company does business. While most packages are exhaustively comprehensive, each industry has its quirks that make it unique. Most ERP systems were designed to be used by discrete manufacturing companies (that make physical things that can be counted), which immediately left all the process manufacturers (oil, chemical and utility companies that measure their products by flow rather than individual units) out in the cold. Each of these industries has struggled with the different ERP vendors to modify core ERP programs to their needs.
To help address industry-specific problems and customization needs, ERP vendors have recently begun to offer specially tailored application sets to take care of each vertical segment’s needs. There still is customization work to do to satisfy each and every customer, but packaged applications now target such industries as: retail, media, utilities, high-tech, public sector, higher education and banking. In addition, ERP vendors have further tailored application to address the individual concerns within the broad manufacturing space. These range from consumer products to construction to HVAC to aerospace and defense companies.