Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is about as sexy as dried-up mucus, and user hatred for these systems is legendary. No large business can function without one, though. Why does ERP go wrong so often, and what can we do to fix it?
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ERP is often targeted as a source of potential savings. In this week's Federal Budget, there's a prediction the government will be able to save $31.4 million over two years by consolidating the ERP systems used by different agencies. "The number of Enterprise Resource Planning Systems will be consolidated, to reduce the costs from running multiple platforms and to deliver more common business processes," the budget notes suggest.
It's telling, though, that these savings aren't anticipated until the 2017-2018 financial year. Planning for that kind of consolidation takes time, and the effort required often leads to ancient ERP systems running well past their use-by date.
At a media briefing in Sydney yesterday, Telsyte analyst Rodney Gedda discussed recent Australian research into how to effectively modernise ERP. The study, sponsored by ERP vendor Epicor, highlighted six typical reasons why ERP still bites.
It's too inflexible
"Most ERP apps don't support change well," Gedda noted. Attempting to alter the fixed processes used by most ERP platforms can cause its own problems. "Some customers have implementation fatigue and don't want to change," said Epicor's regional VP Craig Charlton.
How to fix it: If you can't get the system to do what you need, firstly check that you actually know how to use it properly (a point we're about to return to). If you're confident you know its capabilities, consider an upgrade or a migration
It's too complex
"ERP feature use is languishing below 50 per cent," Gedda noted. "ERP is the core of your business, so if you're not getting the most value out of it, you're potentially missing out on business."
How to fix it: Invest in training. ERP software is not something that you can simply sit down and learn. While you can design simplified interfaces for inputting data — a point we'll return to — it's foolish to assume that you can install it and forget it.
It doesn't play well with others
Data integration between ERP platforms and other applications is often poor. "People just expect that they'll have access to whatever they'll need," said Charlton. The reality is frequent rekeying.
How to fix it: Investigate using APIs to import data, rather than relying on manual processes. "Data entry should be the last resort," said Charlton.
The user interface sucks, especially on mobile
Honestly, there are limits to what you can do about this. Financial systems and tracking applications are always going to involve a degree of complexity, and what works on a laptop or desktop is unlikely to translate well to a mobile device. "You can't put 100 business process into a mobile app," Gedda said. "You have to pick the key four or five."
How to fix it: If you're trying to move ERP apps and processes, focus on very specific needs. "Build apps that are aimed at specific verticals," Charlton suggests.
It isn't aligned with business processes
None of these tools are likely to be well-loved if they're not actually useful. You can't choose the format for a general ledger, but you can streamline the processes involved in collecting data.
How to fix it: Survey your staff and find out what they actually do and where the pain points are.