The decision has been made. It is time for your company to adopt a full Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system across the organization. You have looked at off-the-shelf solutions and found them expensive, and they would require massive customization to deliver the workflows you need. Your next step is to find a software development company that can create the solution you and your team have envisioned, and that senior management is now expecting. This company will be the team in the trenches with you for a long time designing, coding, implementing, supporting, and then improving your ERP solution. This is a crucial choice.
That is why it is essential to understand what makes ERP unique in the world of business software and what skills are needed in a development organization to deliver the considerable benefits of an integrated system. This article will discuss the differences and then suggest what to look for in the firms you are evaluating.
ERP software is big and complex
What makes choosing a software development company for ERP complicated are the unique challenges faced when developing this type of software. Reviewing what ERP software does is an excellent place to begin to understand the problem. Gartner, who coined the term ERP, define it like this:
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is the ability to deliver an integrated suite of business applications. ERP tools share a common process and data model, covering broad and deep operational end-to-end processes, such as those found in finance, HR, distribution, manufacturing, service, and the supply chain. – (Gartner Glossary, Information Technology)
The phrase that should give pause to anyone looking for an ERP development service provider is “common process and data model covering broad and deep operational end-to-end processes.” ERP systems are, by their very nature, large, complex, and created to manage a wide variety of business needs. ERP essentially combines business software tools like CRM, HRM, customer service, supply chain management, and many more in one interconnected system.
Because an ERP system is a collection of applications, it produces five unique challenges:
- Separate software modules
- Multiple, often conflicting business needs
- Shared data across applications
- Individual user needs, terms, and workflows
- Complex project management for each module and coordinating modules
Take some time to think about these challenges and how critical each one is to your project. This will help you prioritize what is essential in your software partner.
Creating ERP solutions requires skills beyond software development
Knowing the unique challenges of ERP software development, you can now evaluate service providers to see if they have what it takes. They must, of course, have the skills required by any development team, but equally important is how they fit in with your unique project goals.
Business.com provides a straightforward guide to choosing a software development provider:
- Know what you want.
- Partner with a company that understands you.
- Understand their areas of expertise.
- Make sure they are good: Visit their content, review case studies.
- Check on references.
- Know their capacity.
- Know your budget and make sure the proposal lines up.
- Make sure they are a stable company.
- Understand their software development model.
- Get a free consultation or sample.
- Talk to customers about the quality of their after-project support.
The most critical item in this list for an ERP software project is to “understand their areas of expertise.” If you tie this back to the unique challenges an ERP project faces, you can develop the following five characteristics that should describe a company creating an ERP system.
Understands multiple business cases
Remember, an ERP system addresses the needs of many different departments in a company. A software development company may have a good understanding of sales or inventory, but that is not good enough. They need to have the ability to listen to their clients and understand the underlying business justification for any feature within an ERP system—across your company. If they don’t understand the business cases, they will struggle to provide software that meets your needs.
Expertise in data integration
Even though one of the advantages of ERP software is that they have a single database for multiple applications, that data still needs to be integrated across the system. In addition, there are always external applications that need to be connected to your ERP system, and they often have their own set of requirements. You should use a software development company that understands data and how to integrate it within the various modules in an ERP system, legacy systems, and external applications.
Handles multiple types of users
Proper user interface design is one of the most important predictors of the adoption of a software product. With ERP software, developers need to design the user interface for a wide variety of users. Hourly maintenance workers have different expectations and needs than data scientists. Accountants need a set and predictable set of screens that avoid human error and are reliable every time. Your software development partner should not cater to one type of user. They must be able to flexibly identify the proper user interface for each kind.
Tools, people and process in place to manage large projects
Every software company has some type of project management—they could not survive long without one. But do they have the processes, people, and tools in place to manage a project as complex and varied as developing ERP software? Ask them about their most extensive projects. Dig deep to see how many modules it had, how many development teams were deployed, and how long the project took. Try and get a feel for how they capture specifications, turn those into work assignments, and then test the software. More importantly, ask them to explain to you how, from a project management perspective, they design the interface between different modules.
Shows the ability to communicate efficiently and accurately
You are looking to have a custom ERP system developed because you want a solution that enables your processes and meets your unique business needs. The best developers in the world will not be able to achieve these goals if they do not understand what your procedures and requirements are. Gaining that understanding requires outstanding communication skills. A company ready to take on a full ERP project must be able to listen to clients, understand what they are saying, and turn that knowledge into code. They must also be able to communicate their plans, progress, and challenges back to the customer continuously. If communication is slow or painful during the investigation period of your search, that is not a good sign.
Take your time to find the right partner
Creating an ERP software solution is a significant investment in time and money. You should take your time finding the right company to help you achieve your business goals. As discussed above, ERP systems are large, complex, and have a lot of moving parts. You want to make sure you find a partner that not only writes good software, but that can take on the unique requirements of ERP solutions.
The development team of Zibtek has faced the challenges of ERP software development and has put processes and people in place that understand how to manage large projects and carry out constant communication between development teams and users. Yes, we know how to write good software. We also know how to identify different user types and design the right user experience for each. The best way to get a feel for our capabilities is to reach out for a free consultation.
Creating ERP Software may be the most significant investment your company makes in business software. It means you’re ready to move beyond point solutions and spreadsheets to tie things together. Creating a software tool that will take your company to the next level is challenging in scope and complexity. But the unique challenges of creating Enterprise Resource Planning software can be met with the right software development partner leading the way.