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What is ERP? A guide to enterprise resource planning systems

Thomas Wailgum | July 28, 2017
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software doesn’t live up to its acronym. Forget about planning — it doesn’t do much of that — and forget about resource, a throwaway term. But remember the enterprise part. This is ERP’s true ambition. It attempts to integrate all departments and functions across a company onto a single system that can serve all those different departments’ particular needs.

These different departments all see the same information and can update it. When one department finishes with the order it is automatically routed via the ERP system to the next department. To find out where the order is at any point, you need only log in to the ERP system and track it down. With luck, the order process moves like a bolt of lightning through the organization, and customers get their orders faster and with fewer errors than before. ERP can apply that same magic to the other major business processes, such as employee benefits or financial reporting.

That, at least, is the dream of ERP. The reality is much harsher.

 

5 reasons companies implement ERP

 

  • To integrate financial information — As the CEO tries to understand the company’s overall performance, he may find many different versions of the truth. Finance has its own set of revenue numbers, sales has another version, and the different business units may each have their own version of how much they contributed to revenues. ERP creates a single version of the truth that cannot be questioned because everyone is using the same system.
  • To integrate customer order information — ERP systems can become the place where the customer order lives from the time a customer service representative receives it until the loading dock ships the merchandise and finance sends an invoice. By having this information in one software system, rather than scattered among many different systems that can’t communicate with one another, companies can keep track of orders more easily, and coordinate manufacturing, inventory and shipping among many different locations at the same time.
  • To standardize and speed up manufacturing processes — Manufacturing companies — especially those with an appetite for mergers and acquisitions — often find that multiple business units across the company make the same widget using different methods and computer systems. ERP systems come with standard methods for automating some of the steps of a manufacturing process. Standardizing those processes and using a single, integrated computer system can save time, increase productivity and reduce head count.
  • To reduce inventory — ERP helps the manufacturing process flow more smoothly, and it improves visibility of the order fulfillment process inside the company. That can lead to reduced inventories of the stuff used to make products (work-in-progress inventory), and it can help users better plan deliveries to customers, reducing the finished good inventory at the warehouses and shipping docks. To really improve the flow of your supply chain, you need supply chain software, but ERP helps too.
  • To standardize HR information — Especially in companies with multiple business units, HR may not have a unified, simple method for tracking employees’ time and communicating with them about benefits and services. ERP can fix that.

 

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