What is ERP software?

An introduction to ERP and how it can benefit your business

A well built ERP system can be an invaluable tool for reducing repetitive, manual tasks and procedures within your business – as well as enabling management of your resources, customers and assets. Increasingly, smaller companies are discovering the benefits of integrating ERP software into their internal workflows - modernising their business and creating efficiencies.

But what is an ERP? How do you determine which is the right system to employ?

Introduction to ERP

ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning and at its core is a system of integrated applications that help manage and automate the different tasks and actions within an organisation.

This could include human resource planning, inventory management, sales tools, invoicing, supply chain, communication and insight. By rolling all of these actions into a single system you can achieve unified processes, company departments can better collaborate with each other and senior stakeholders are able to get a complete overview of how their business is performing.

Automating repetitive processes such as data management, customer communications and resource tracking bring essential efficiencies to your business, reducing costs and improving your bottom line.

Requirements of a successful ERP

Every business is unique and has processes built up over years of operation. A well-constructed ERP system should integrate seamlessly into these processes and enhance them considerably.

It needs to be smart and reliable – your staff will depend on it on a daily basis. It must perform all actions consistently with no downtime. Users must be able to access the system securely from a range of devices, often off-site. Common actions should be easy to access and undertaken by users with a range of abilities and technical experience.

Data access and reporting should be extensive, ensuring you have the business intelligence essential to managing your company. The system must be adaptable to the changing needs of your business and enable meaningful communication between departments.

Before employing an ERP system you first have to decide whether to use a common off-the-shelf product or commission custom-built software.

Off-the-shelf ERP platforms

Businesses of all sizes benefit from integrating a third party, off-the-shelf ERP system. This usually takes the form of a browser-based Software As A Service (SAAS) application that is billed on a subscription basis, per user, per month. There are many systems to choose from with differing price points. They are developed from the requirements of successful organisations and often reliably meet all the needs of your business or organisation.

All the major software providers offer subscription-based ERP applications: Microsoft, Sage, SAP. They are feature rich, performing a large range of functions with additional modules that can be integrated when required.

De-risking the employment of a third party system requires extensive investigations into their features - you will need a complete understanding of how they function, how they will integrate into your business and how the pricing structure will work in practice. Subscription payment models mean the costs can vary greatly depending on the size of your business and as your company grows, and more departments emerge, running costs can increase dramatically.

There may be hidden costs beyond subscription that you would need to watch out for. Integration could require a specialist developer, staff may need extensive training, custom features might require additional specialist development and support may be charged in addition to the base subscription price.

Custom ERP software

An effective alternative to the off-the-shelf model is commissioning a custom-built application from an experienced software development provider.

There will be no compromises on features and it will only have the functionality that you require, resulting in a lightweight and easily adaptable system. The user interface will be tailored to your requirements, common actions will be easy to undertake, essential information will be easy to access, day-to-day efficiencies will be improved.

The resulting application will be suited to the unique operations of your business and sector, you won’t need to adapt your internal processes to meet the actions of the ERP. User training will be minimised and there should little disruption to internal processes.

Naturally there will be significant up-front costs but when you commission custom software then you own the rights to it, there are no ongoing subscription charges, you can have a limitless number of users and new features / customisations can be integrated quickly and inexpensively. You will own the codebase and can bring in new teams to continue development or even set up an internal department to handle maintenance and feature development.

Production can be de-risked by starting small and only building in the essential requirements at first, adding additional features over time - moulding the system to the requirements of the business and only paying for the features you need. Costs can be spread out and it can soon become more cost effective that an off-the-shelf subscription model. As your business grows and new departments arise additional modules can be developed and integrated into the core system.

Finding the right custom software developers

You need a team of web and application developers who are experienced in building both complex software platforms and user-friendly interfaces.

It is essential that they spend considerable time understanding your business, getting to know the requirements of individual stakeholders and building that insight into a well specified production plan.

Experience in your sector is a bonus but more important is that they have the enthusiasm to create a system that fits your requirements and is a pleasure to use by your staff.

Building a healthy relationship with a competent supplier is essential, they need to be responsive to feature requests, offer extensive technical support and bring new ideas to the table.

Ember Interactive - Tailor-made ERP development

We specialise in partnering with SMEs to create a range of web applications and business software to meet very unique requirements. Our custom built CRM and sales tools have contributed to huge growth for an adventure travel company. We have worked with a leading energy management company to build cloud based applications that can be used on-site to manage complex resources.

From our base in Bristol our experienced team of web developers and user interface specialists have employed agile working methodologies to create a range of complex interactive products for all sorts of clients. Customer facing websites, e-commerce solutions, tailor-made CMSs and custom CRM / ERP applications.

Most importantly we invest in a thorough discovery processes, understanding what is right for your business and making informed decisions that result in detailed specifications, smooth production and highly successful end products.

Visit our business software development page or read some of our business application case studies to find out more about what we offer – or just get in touch for a no-obligation chat to talk through your requirements.

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Looking to grow your company with a custom-built ERP / CRM platform or other business software application?

Contact us today to see how we can help you.