Tony Pey, Head of Product Marketing at Kerridge Commercial Systems, examines how the role of an ERP system is changing. It’s still the engine that drives a business - but today merchants need to choose even more wisely to ensure their system not only delivers the functionality they need now and in the future, but that it can also co-exist in the new technology landscape.
ERP solutions have expanded over the years to encapsulate many core business functions. You might be thinking about importing timber or contemplating offering a kitchen design service. It will be useful to know now if there is the functionality and the ability to interface with third party solutions ready and waiting to support these goals when the time comes. You will also benefit from being able to transform the data your ERP holds into intelligence; integrated CRM and sales intelligence for your management and sales teams are essential requisites in today’s business environment.
ERP solutions are constantly evolving and integrate many areas of the business including sales, finance, manufacturing and supply chain & logistics.
- Study any potential partner’s roadmap – it may not be relevant to you now but it will give you a good indication of where you may be able to take your business in the future.
- Avoid bespoke elements to a solution unless necessary, as these can restrict your options for upgrades and moving your platform forwards in the future.
- Be mindful too that you will be collaborating for the long-term so a good cultural fit between you and your ERP provider is essential.
While all of the above continue to be crucial aspects in the choice of a solution to manage and record your business processes, you should also be asking if that solution could support your business’ digital transformation.
Historically, an ERP solution would manage all the processes within a business, but the emergence of web and mobile technologies is leading to the implementation of solutions for specific business areas that have the potential to drive greater efficiencies, to improve internal communications and greatly enhance customer service. Consequently, this is creating a new way of working with apps that work both online and offline, in a showroom, yard or warehouse. It will enable your team to undertake tasks such as picking, receipting goods or building an order anywhere in your premises on a smartphone or tablet. This type of app effectively allows them to ‘take technology to the job’, rather than having to retrospectively update an ERP system after doing the job manually.
Digital transformation is also revolutionising the way you can manage deliveries. Historically, an ERP system could only be updated once customer orders had been delivered and paperwork returned to the branch. Any problems encountered on the delivery run were then resolved. Today, the trend towards the use of apps across all industry sectors, and in the consumer environment means that customer service standards are being reset. Customers are also expecting any problems with deliveries to be dealt with immediately. Of course, this is only possible if the technology used by the driver can be integrated with the ERP system and the right people are notified as soon as the problem is reported. An ERP system that offers ‘interoperability’ with this type of app will give merchants another way to differentiate themselves in this new digital age.
It is clear that in the future enhanced communication, customer service and more efficient working practices within a merchant operation will depend on its ERP system’s ability to co-exist with mobile technologies. Its ability to integrate with them is key and a challenge that software providers are currently facing. It is also important to appreciate the need for a merchant’s staff to be supported as this type of new technology is adopted within a business. For example, eBusiness creates a significant opportunity but it also creates many challenges. The new working practices initiated by the increased integration of mobile apps and online technologies can be a daunting experience for many individuals. Whilst adopting new methods of working and communicating will come more naturally to the millennial generation, it is not a given and change management needs to be a core part of a merchant’s digital transformation plan.
Essentially, however we are describing a way that businesses can take advantage of cloud computing to better analyse and utilise their ERP data to better service the business and its customers. I therefore recommend merchants ensure they choose an ERP system that’s ready to embrace all the opportunities this new way of working represents, because those who are ready to adopt the new digital technologies will be the ones poised to steal a march on their competitors.
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