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How Great ERP Helps Address the Challenges of a Post-COVID World

November 16, 2020

 
Smija Simon

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Digital transformation initiatives have been around for the better part of the past decade; however, COVID-19 was the catalyst for many organizations to take the leap in embracing technology and changes in traditional ways of work. Teams around the world instantly became proficient at joining conference calls and using online meetings to stay connected and keep businesses ticking along. Overnight, accounting departments were cleaning up customer email addresses to allow for electronic invoicing and trying to move them to ACH and credit card payments from checks.

Whether you are an organization that was able to seamlessly transition to the ‘new norm’ or an organization who is taking the opportunity to future proof your business systems, we would like to share some considerations on what to look out for in core business systems, such as your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems, to further enable this post-COVID way of doing business.

Digital workflow for a remote world

It would seem that the reality of remote work will be with us for the foreseeable future, and with that comes the need for digitally facilitated business processes. The more processes that require paper-to-digital transitions or people to execute the movement of data across systems, the harder it is for the business to work remotely.

Businesses with leading technology have been able to get more efficient. These companies were fortunate to have upgraded much of their core technology and once they were (forcibly) freed of the habits and inertia of office life, the technology capabilities took flight. Digital approvals and workflows were unleashed. Processes that required paper, mail, and physical document review moved exclusively to virtual only. Processes that used to be tracked on spreadsheets and uploads that were done to network drives suddenly craved integrated project management systems.

Integrated ERP systems – and the systems they are built to integrate with – enable these sorts of efficiencies. They make it easier to make sure jobs are created from orders, automatically create invoices from shipping or time entry records. They create purchase orders automatically when inventory levels drop below minimum thresholds and they will update the factory schedule when the backlog changes.

Good, modern ERP – when implemented appropriately – makes the business more efficient, and it makes that efficiency easier to transfer from office to field to factory to coffee shop to home.

The ability to generate business insights

A great ERP system will provide you with the data needed to drive business insights. Having access to  real-time information on your business is key to improving your ability to be responsive to changes. It is of minimal value to make decisions off data that represents activities that occurred days or weeks before. Before COVID-19, it may have been okay to receive your KPIs and financials in week three of a month and drive decisions off of those; however, in the more fluid business conditions that currently prevail, it might be important to be reviewing cash flows and financials weekly (or daily in some cases). You should look for systems with:

  • Flexible reporting capabilities
    • Many solutions come with predefined reports that are not easily customizable and rely on specialist skills to perform the needed customizations
    • Look into whether the data can be queried or filtered through the user interface itself. If not, evaluate how easily the data could be exported and manipulated in Excel
  • Open architectures that can push data to a specialized Business Intelligence (BI) reporting tool (e.g. QlikView, Tableau, etc.) where you can merge data sets from different systems and derive cross-functional insights.
                                                                                                                                                                          

Create a core for crucial third-party systems to integrate with

It is very rare that a single software application is able to meet all of an organization’s business requirements well. This often results in the core business applications having to be augmented with specialized tools. For example, the ERP might have native functionality to support basic process automation. Let’s say there is a feature that allows you to input orders from Excel or CSV files through saved imports, but the reality is that you receive your orders as PDFs from your customers which do not easily convert to neatly formatted Excel spreadsheets.

In this case you might want to consider an OCR (Optical Character Recognition) solution that can be ‘plugged into’ your ERP solution. A vendor’s application marketplace page is often a good starting point to research what specialized solutions exist out there that may meet your specific requirements. These solutions vary from being add-ins, to connectors that have been prebuilt to quickly connect two or more peer systems without the need to spend time and effort on custom integration.

Construction companies may need project management tools in the field, SaaS companies need subscription billing solutions, engineers need design software, and services companies need scheduling and project management tools. When these integrate well with the ERP system they add tremendous value to the business and improve efficiency. When they don’t, they can create duplicate entry, silos of information, and fragmented (and often inaccurate) reporting. 

Flexibility to grow and change as your business evolves

When COVID-19 hit, one of the hardest hit sectors was retail. If your business was able to divert your customers from bricks and mortar stores to e-commerce portals, you had a better chance of surviving through the pandemic. When selecting ERP solutions, it is important that you include requirements not just of your current business model, but also any alternate business models that you are considering in the next three to five years.  

The ability to work remotely

A fundamental consideration of all technology investments should be whether the solution is compatible with your organization’s remote working requirements. In the case of ERP solutions, the default option is a cloud-based ERP solution that is accessible wherever there is an internet connection. One of the key advantages of cloud-based solution is your team is not dependent on having a machine with the software application installed to take with them. An employee who has a desktop machine at the office need not worry about not having a laptop – as long as they have access to the internet and a web browser, they can work remotely with minimal disruption.  

We understand the value of balancing vision with execution in creating value. Whether you need help with defining your requirements, selecting the right systems, or architecting the transformation journey, we can help. Contact us today if you would like to find out more on how we can assist you on your road to ERP success!  


Want to learn more about enterprise resource planning (ERP)?

Check out our webinar, "The Modern ERP Landscape," to discover how to identify the ideal ERP system for your business. Click here to watch the recording.