You really can have an ERP system up and running in a month
Steven Cohen, Softline Pastel MD.
It's remarkable how often, when two differently resourced organisations tackle the same problem, the one with fewer resources will deliver a product that is as effective as the other, but is easier to use and also less costly.
Operating in the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector, we've never had the luxury of supplying business solutions to a market that could afford complex offerings that take years to implement and entail months of intensive user training.
So when our customers started growing and asking for a system that could go beyond accounting and give them the benefits of enterprise resource planning (ERP), we knew we had to keep the system both simple - in terms of being easy to implement and use - and affordable, in terms of minimising consultancy requirements and total cost of ownership.
We succeeded so well that the system can happily scale up to 1 000 users while being operational within a month and costing less than half of competitor products.
And we achieved that by ensuring that the basics that had always worked so well in our accounting products - financials, payroll, human resources, and purchase order and procurement management - formed the heart of any additional functionality we provided. To use a piece of jargon, we ensured that the best practice we had perfected in accounting was transferred into the broader ERP solutions we developed.
That, in turn, meant that additional functionality was automatically based on best practice without complicating the use of the software in any way.
Then, we created a software development kit (SDK) that third party software developers could use to develop niched, customer-specific applications to run on our products. That way, customers could get what they wanted without having to pay for functionality in the main system that they would never use.
And we created separate, pre-integrated modules covering universally applicable disciplines, such as business intelligence, that customers could acquire when they were ready.
In other words, through the sheer necessity of keeping our installed base happy (and, thereby, ensuring continued organic growth for ourselves), we unwittingly stripped the mystique out of ERP. We acted on our belief that ERP is just a single system for running the whole of your business.
It doesn't have to be complex. It doesn't have to be time-consuming. It doesn't have to be expensive. And it certainly is not something mysterious to which only certain software vendors have the magic key.
You see, there's money to be made wherever there is mystery - and for too many years ERP systems have been shrouded in awe. And with that has come an enormous price tag and the myth that ERP is suitable only for very large organisations - those that are able to afford them and have the extensive internal information technology (IT) resources to manage and maintain them.
The great irony is that we proved the opposite to be true not because we set out to do so but because we just got on with doing a job our customers needed us to do. Common sense prevailed - to the benefit of our customers as well as ourselves.
So, the next time you're in a conversation with a vendor about implementing ERP for your SME, think twice if the implementation is going to take longer than a month.