Business Technology

Getting the most from your enterprise resource planning software

9 min read

06 March 2017

Enterprise resource planning software has a nasty reputation for over running deadlines, exceeding budgets and failing to meet expectations.

However, enterprise resource planning plays an instrumental role in an organisation’s growth and success – often acting as the catalyst for improved operational processes, increased administrative efficiency, more timely management information and therefore better decision making.

This means enterprise resource planning implementation done correctly will actually save you money, time, and result in an overall increase in value to an organisation.

Sadly, one in five enterprise resource planning implementation projects end in failure, so what steps can you take to decrease the likelihood of failure and ensure you’re fully benefiting from investing in enterprise resource planning software?

Remember – making the most of your enterprise resource planning software requires a positive attitude, considerable level of commitment and patience, plus the banishing of any “sacred cows” or “no go” areas within the organisation. With this in mind, here are five ways to make the most of your enterprise resource planning software to maximise efficiency and effectiveness.

(1) Undertake a detailed business process review

Review all operating processes asking “why is this done this way?”, and if the answer is “because we’ve always done it this way” then be receptive to making operational improvements and process efficiencies. Every company should conduct a business process review annually to document what has changed and how technology can help streamline processes even further.

For example, supplier invoices are approved for payment by branch managers, but only when they visit the finance department at head office once a month. This archaic procedure could be simply replaced by an efficient electronic invoice approval process; resulting in improved operating processes and savings in both time and money. 

It’s worth remembering that most enterprise resource planning software processes have been refined over time, through extensive customer feedback, which means they can act as a stable platform for initiating improvements.

(2) Introduce workflow and automation

Over time, enterprise resource planning systems are supported by inefficient manual tasks, often spreadsheet based. Spreadsheets are error-prone and easy to accidentally corrupt or delete, so where possible remove these tasks and make them enterprise resource planning system based.

An integrated enterprise resource planning system provides up to date information across the whole organisation; however, failing to set up proactive alerts can cause critical information to be overlooked, resulting in costly mistakes and reduced customer satisfaction levels.

Workflow rules allow conditional warning alerts to be generated, or critical business processes to be initiated, resulting in improved levels compliance and staff responding proactively to prevent problems occurring, instead of reacting to a crisis.

For example, purchase order approval rules can vary based upon the order value. Orders below £50 may not require approval, between £51 and £4,999 needs the budget holder’s approval and over £5,000 needs approval from a director.

Another example might include when a service engineer records the use of a controlled substance on a job, it will automatically trigger the initiation of a statutory form to comply with the legal requirements.

Continue on the next page for details on how to define a roadmap, as well as the efficiency that can come from your integration.

(3) Define a roadmap for continuous enterprise resource planning improvement 

Most enterprise resource planning software is continually developed through customer feedback and pressures from competitive enterprise resource planning products.  However, after the initial implementation phase and when the enthusiasm for the project wears off, the enterprise resource planning software becomes passively used and often becomes taken for granted. 

It is important to keep reviewing the enterprise resource planning in the context of the organisation’s objectives. By maintaining an enterprise resource planning roadmap detailing ways to optimise the use of the enterprise resource planning, as well as ways of broadening the scope of the current capability, it promotes a culture of continual system improvement.

Implementing a proactive plan of continuous improvement leads to:

  • A much higher level of user acceptance and approval
  • Optimisation of business processes and operating efficiency
  • A better understanding of what the solutions can do for the business
  • A much greater return on investment

(4) Integration is key to operating efficiency

Many businesses make use of other specialist software applications to help manage aspects of the business, typical examples being:

  • Customer resource management (CRM) for sales and marketing
  • Document management systems (DMS) for document storage and retrieval
  • Warehouse management systems (WMS) for day to day warehouse management
  • Computer aided design systems (CAD) for design and documentation
  • Electronic point of sale systems (EPoS) for point of sale
  • Ecommerce systems for online information and sales

It is advantageous to seamlessly integrate these specialist applications with the centralised enterprise resource planning to:

  • Remove the need to re-key data more than once
  • Reduce data inconsistencies and errors
  • Improve operating efficiency and data congruency
  • Provide visibility to data across all systems
  • Improve timely decision making

 A common feature of legacy enterprise resource planning systems was their lack of user friendliness and the level of difficulty in retrieving relevant information quickly and easily.

Operational intelligence (OI) is the process of providing real-time visibility and insight of relevant data during the day to day operation of a business.  The higher the quality of operational intelligence provided by the enterprise resource planning the more efficient and enlightened the business will appear.

Providing users with personalised “Active” desktops can deliver a 360-degree view of relevant operational information. For example: on retrieving a customer account, it might be helpful to have visibility of:

Contact names and their key details including a picture

  • Recent communications across all departments
  • Recent sales history with products and pricing details
  • Outstanding sales orders
  • An aged debt summary with a highlighted list of overdue invoices
  • Recent customer service issues showing the ones that are still in progress

Should attention transfer to products then on retrieving the details it might be useful to have visibility of:

  • Inventory levels at each warehouse
  • Picture of the product
  • Suppliers with their cost and lead times
  • Outstanding purchase orders with expected delivery dates
  • Sales orders with requested due dates
  • Recent product transactions
  • Quotes for the product

Being able to provide instant access to context sensitive information empowers users to provide the highest level of customer experience thereby improving customer satisfaction and retention levels.

(5) Management needs business intelligence

Enterprise resource planning systems are great repositories of valuable information which in the past has been notoriously difficult to capitalise on.

Most enterprise resource planning software includes some form of Business Intelligence (BI) capability, providing a “self-service” approach to querying, analysing and presenting the enterprise resource planning information, using clear and simple visualisations rather than traditional tabular reports.

Organisations that make use of Business Intelligence are able to improve their decision making, forecasting and planning through being able to interpret the wood from the trees.

Many enterprise resource planning software installations do not fulfil their expected potential, especially in the medium to long term, because the project is under resourced or neglected over time.

These points should help businesses make the most of their enterprise resource planning software investment and realise more of the software’s true potential. 

Martin Craze is founder and MD of Applied Business Computers, a UK business management consultancy

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