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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.

Needless to say, the move to ERP is a project of breathtaking scope, and the price tags on the front end are enough to make the most placid CFO a little twitchy. In addition to budgeting for software costs, financial executives should plan to write checks to cover consulting, process rework, integration testing and a long laundry list of other expenses before the benefits of ERP start to manifest themselves. Underestimating the price of teaching users their new job processes can lead to a rude shock down the line, and so can failure to consider data warehouse integration requirements and the cost of extra software to duplicate the old report formats. A few oversights in the budgeting and planning stage can send ERP costs spiraling out of control faster than oversights in planning almost any other information system undertaking.


What does ERP really cost?

One of the most often-cited studies of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of ERP was completed by Meta Group in 2002. (Gartner acquired Meta Group in 2005.) This TCO study accounted for hardware, software, professional services and internal staff costs. Costs included initial installation and the two-year period that followed, which is when the real costs of maintaining, upgrading and optimizing the system for your business are felt. Among the 63 companies surveyed — including small, medium and large companies in a range of industries — the average TCO was $15 million (the highest was $300 million and lowest was $400,000). While it’s hard to draw a solid number from such a wide range of companies and ERP efforts, Meta came up with one statistic that proves that ERP is expensive no matter what kind of company is using it. The TCO for a "heads-down" user over that period was a staggering $53,320.

Results from a 2007 Aberdeen Group survey of more than 1,680 manufacturing companies of all sizes found a correlation between the size of an ERP deployment and the total costs. Therefore, "as a company grows, the number of users go up, along with the total cost of software and services," states the Aberdeen report. For example, a company with less than $50 million in revenue should expect to pay an average of $384,295 in total ERP costs, according to the survey results. A mid-market company with $50 million to $100 million in revenues can expect to pay (on average) just over a $1 million in total costs; a much bigger mid-market company, with $500 million to $1 billion in revenues, should expect to pay just over $3 million in total costs. And those companies with more than $1 billion in revenues can expect to pay, on average, nearly $6 million in total ERP costs.


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