With so many different ERP systems to choose from, identifying the right software package can be a daunting and time-consuming task. However, given the cost, integration and long-term impact of ERP systems, you can’t invest too much time in the evaluation process.
The best approach involves using one of several online tools to sift through all the different vendors and narrow the list down to three to five finalists. Once you have a short list of finalists, conduct extensive interviews with each company and “demo” their software to see which one best fits your needs. Be sure to ask each company to come to your location for a test run. If they insist that you demo the software at their site, it should raise a red flag about their approach to customer service.
When evaluating different packages, look for the “four C’s” of an ERP system:
- Complete. The software should integrate all aspects of running a manufacturing business, everything from bidding on jobs to purchasing and materials management to invoicing accounts receivables and producing financial statements. Anything short of that and you’ll wind up with a cobbled together system with bolted on subsystems that may or may not work as intended.
- Comprehensive. Look for software that incorporates the latest technology and offers the most advanced features and menu options but is also intuitive and easy to use. One of the easiest ways to assess a system’s ease of use is to spend time moving through the system’s screens. Are the screens visually uncluttered? Does the system’s flow make sense intuitively?
- Customizable. The software should allow users to create custom reports and use a variety of custom options without requiring vendor modifications to the software. Make sure the system has easy customization features built in from the start.
- Cohesive. Some ERP systems are actually a series of different software programs slapped together into one package. The best ERP applications are written from the ground up by the same company, so that all the different functions work together as an integrated system rather than a patchwork of loosely connected programs.
In addition, ERP software should be:
- Flexible. The software should adapt to the way you do business. If it requires you to change your structure or mode of operations, look for another product.
- User friendly. Menu items should be self-explanatory, and the screen layout should make it easy for users to navigate. Learning and using the software shouldn’t require extensive reading of user manuals. However, the software should include a detailed online help system that makes it easy to find the desired information.
- Fully integrated. When you make a change at one point in the system, the software should automatically make the change throughout the entire system. Do not invest in software that requires you to manually input the same change on multiple screens.
Finally, select a software that is strong at your weakest point. For example, if scheduling represents your biggest bottleneck, make sure the software has a robust scheduling module.
Although most ERP applications offer similar features and functions, some are stronger in certain areas than others. When conducting your research, look for an ERP system that delivers maximum performance in your areas of greatest need.