7 Must-Haves for every (ERP) Enterprise Application
ERP applications are made to serve a specific purpose — running your business. People use them every day, and their value lies in the depth of service they provide your business.
While they help run your business, most ERP packages these days are in really bad shape. They can be the least friendly and most difficult to use.
But still, people have to use them every day. And if they don't like them, they gripe. The huge battle between functionality vs. cost to replace them suddenly looks pretty small compared to dealing with unhappy employees. No enterprise application can last forever in the face of employee dissatisfaction, regardless of its value in the enterprise.
All those employees, including C-level management, have consumer items that they are comparing the business ERP application to: Cell phone, big screen TV, PDA, tablets, etc. They begin to expect the company's ERP to employ the same features and functions, and wonder why they don't.
The whole concept of any software application, ERP or consumer, is to increase a user's productivity, or make their life easier. If it makes someone's job harder, or relies on the user to do things in a specific order, then the software application has failed the business.
Here are seven things that every ERP application should have going forward. If you do not include the majority of these, if not all of them, then your application is going to have an uphill battle in the next five years.
1 - Choice of UI Delivery Model
It is no longer about the User Interface (UI) , and what it looks like. It is all about the User Experience (UX). Part of the UX is providing the user a choice of interfaces: Desktop GUI, Web/Browser, or Mobile/Tablet. But that is not all of it.
A user expects the same experiences in the ERP application as they have in their consumer products like QuickBooks, Microsoft Office, and their local bank. They want to be able to do their job, or access their information, from where ever they are and from whatever they are in.
They demand the ability to do things their way, and they expect the ERP application to do just that.
If part of their job is to be notified that something needs to be done, they want to choose their preferred notification method: Email, SMS, Push Notification, Social Media, or Instant Message. Or any combination of those.
If part of their job is to manage things away from a desk, then they want to access the information they need away from the desk by using mobile devices.
They want to use their own cell phones, their computers, and work from home just like they work from their desk at the office. An ERP application should provide the user a choice so they can do their work when and where they want, in the manner this is most productive for them.
2 - Collaboration
Everything is about Social this and Social that, but when it comes down to what people really want to do, it is collaboration. Let's talk, let's share. This isn't just internally. It is also with vendors and customers.
Vendors would like to see your sales information for their products. They would like to share with you the orders and status of their products. Their whole goal is to encourage you to buy more, if they can provide you with information about why a product will sell better in your area than another. But they need information to make these recommendations.
Accessibility of data by your suppliers and customers through self-service portals and feeds allows them to see more value in your company than in others. Not only that, but by providing sales information to them, many times they can provide you better costs because they know what you are likely to sell or manufacture in the future.
3 - Flexible and Modifiable Platform
This has always been a key feature of our MultiValue ERP applications, but in many ERP applications, modifying and enhancing can't be done, at least not done easily.
Even the best, more flexible, ERP package won't fit every business out of the box. If it did, then the setup and configuration would be so complex it would become almost unworkable. Most ERP packages only handle 80% of what your business needs "out of the box." The remaining 20% is the difference between you and your competitor.
Companies should not sacrifice that 20% (it's your profit margin) by having to conform to the way an ERP packages wants you do to do business. The ERP package should be conforming to the way you do business.
Flexibility doesn't stop at the ERP software. The business should be in charge of deciding what hardware they want to run their ERP package on, not the ERP software package. If they want to run on in-house hardware, then let them. If they want to outsource to a Cloud server, then let them. If they want to use Windows over Linux, or AIX over Linux, they should have that option.
4 - Push Based information
Traditional ERP applications require a user to ask for the information they need to do their job. Whether this is working with a menu tree, or favorites and short cuts, it all comes down to the user having to ask for information.
ERP should be pushing the information to the user when something needs to be done, not requiring the user to constantly pool or ask for it from the computer. This concept has been what is successful about social media — push the information to the user, do not wait for the user to enquire what the status of something is.
5 - Anytime, Anywhere access
Mobile, Mobile, Mobile… If the user does not have access to the ERP information away from the their desktops, then your users are not being productive.
Users now expect to be able to see information on their tablets, smartphones, and laptops. This goes back to UX (User Experience) as well. While users now expect this, most ERP applications don't even have a basic read-only mobile interface.
Most don't even have a web portal to ERP information or generated reports.
6 - Improved Business Intelligence
Business intelligence is a must, and we have been doing this for years, but they have been simple, static, and "here is the answer, don't ask for more" type reports. The new C-level execs are now very computer literate. This means they expect to be able to take the raw information from these reports and run it through the BI tool of their choice.
At the bare minimum, they want to be able to manipulate the reports and information provided by the ERP system to a limited degree: add a new calculation, filter the data, sort the data, export into Excel.
7 - Works with Existing Applications
It's a fact of life, there is no such thing as only one application that does everything these days. Most enterprises have a minimum of three applications that help run the business. Most are specialized routines that do specific tasks, but they are "islands" unto themselves most times.
It is the ERP application's job to exchange data with them so that the user doesn't have to do double enter or live with "out of date" information. Your ERP application should be the hub of all your data and business, not just another system that data exists in.
It's important that it can exchange information, even if it's one-way.
Most of these points are easy to implement, and do not always require you to purchase not software. Spending a few hours to implement even one of these to a very limited degree would provide a big bang and boost to your IT departments.
I will repeat this, because it the best way to think of your ERP application:
Your ERP application should be the hub of all your data and business, not just another system that data exists in.