Best Software Automation for Manufacturers
Small to midsized businesses and full scale automotive industry enterprises alike will benefit exponentially from a well-chosen manufacturing enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. ERP systems are the key tool to increasing sales, revenues, and market shares efficiently while maintaining the capacity for future growth. No matter the company’s size, a manufacturing ERP can help with every aspect of operations, from the planning and execution of manufacturing projects, inventory management, accounting, and much more.
When choosing a manufacturing ERP, consider your particular needs. You should have a clear idea of your software needs for now and in the future as sales and revenue grow. Especially if you’re making the first step into an ERP as a pencil and paper firm, it’s important to understand the key features of a manufacturing ERP system, as well as differences between various software options, to get the most out of your investment.
Managing resources is what ERP systems are all about. At its most basic level, an ERP tracks supplies, materials, human resources, and production costs. If this is about where your needs lie, Fishbowl Manufacturing is a great low-cost system solution. Easy to implement and affordable, entry-level ERP systems like Fishbowl are flexible enough to meet the needs of companies seeking to streamline inventory control, material requirements planning (MRP), and job shop floor control and manufacturing execution. Fishbowl also integrates directly with Intuit Quickbooks. With extensive training and support resources, a system like Fishbowl is a sure bet for companies earning up to $100 million in annual revenues.
Customer relationship management (CRM) functionality essentially manages all of a company’s customer data and interactions. Even as a small business, this can be the most useful aspect of a potential ERP. If you are a small business, beginning with a CRM with less functionality but some flexibility might be the best option so as to not get bogged down with the complexity of potentials. If your greatest need lies in a CRM, a product like WorkWise that specializes in CRM and ERP solutions is worth considering.
Or if you’re just starting out with a CRM, you might consider a simple, low-cost, standalone CRM like Capsule. You won’t be able to export your interactions when switching to a new system in the future, however you will be able to export all contacts.
Cloud Vs. Network / Hosted
The current technology trend is to move every software program to the cloud. Cloud based programs offer seamless synchronizations, eliminating lost data and saving time by negating the need for backups. They are scalable and affordable without added hardware costs. Flexibility is probably the greatest strength of a cloud-based ERP. It can be used anywhere and at any time. A web-based software is the necessary partner to a cloud-based ERP.
Hosted ERP solutions, by contrast, are off-site and are something a business typically owns as an asset. Although accessible through a virtual private network (VPN) or remote desktop server, the software client must be installed at whatever workstation is being used. Hosted software applications are normally not web enabled and will require certain network infrastructure necessary to run the software.
If you’re thinking of choosing a cloud-based ERP, here are some things to keep in mind. Biggest thing to consider is, are you willing to run your business through an Internet connection? Other considerations within the cloud choice include:
- Multi-Tenancy: If the main reason to use a cloud based ERP is the need for multiple users, a multi-tenancy option which can reduce the cost of upgrades and product updates may be a good alternative.
- Internal Clouds: If your corporation is large enough to own infrastructure with as many servers as a cloud datacenter, a cloud based ERP can be replicated internally.
- IT Maintenance: Hosted solutions that require on-site servers, will also require on-going management and maintenance. You can either hire an IT staff in-house, or outsource these operations to an IT company of your choice. Cloud solutions can be easier when it comes to IT, as the software vendor normally takes responsibility of the server infrastructure.
One versatile cloud solution with lots of room to customize is Sage ERP X3. Sage is available in the cloud but can also be deployed on premise. Its cloud-based infrastructure can be configured to manage complex organizations and reporting structures. It also comes with tools to adapt and extend software capabilities as the organization changes and grows, geographically or internally. Its specialty solutions include customer relationship management (CRM), WMS, ecommerce, and more.
In comparison, Lead Commerce Software is a cloud based system offering a SaaS model for order management with both B2B and B2C ecommerce. With no software on-site, it’s easy and fast to implement.
For companies looking at complete enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution functionality, complete with core accounting, invoicing, reporting, real-time shop floor control, CRM, supply chain management, scheduling, and production planning, an ERP system like IQMS’ flagship product, EnterpriseIQ, is the solution for companies ranging from $1 million to $500 million in annual revenue in repetitive manufacturing.
For “made-to-order only” companies, as well as companies seeking a lot of flexibility in their ERP system, Global Shop Solutions is the One-System ERP SolutionsTM system. Its focus is straightforward: to boost growth and allow manufacturers to increase the overall visibility of their business. It was designed with maximum flexibility in mind, featuring simple ways to customize the software at each step of the way. It is appropriate and flexible enough to serve the needs of business of all sizes, from start-ups to enterprise-level organizations.
When companies are functioning with disparate systems and databases that house production control data, an essential step towards efficiency and increased revenue is the ability to synchronize and centralize data; along with the ability to quickly share that data with external business partners such as suppliers and distributors. This is where you’ll want to look at the types of analytics that each of your potential new ERP systems can provide. You’ll want to decide on the main key performance indicators (KPI’s) are important for your business, and then make sure that the software you choose can generate easy-to-read reports which keep you updated at any moment’s glance. Some software will allow you to set business goals, which you can use to work backwards; to ensure a strategy where daily progress enables you to meet or exceed certain milestones.
Collaboration Tools & Integration
When departments across an entire business can view and access consistent and accurate data in real time, it enables smoother coordination and execution of all aspects of the production process. From engineering teams to the production floor, from purchasing and finance to shipping carriers; integration and collaboration tools are some of the most important aspects of an ERP to take into consideration. Would a live chat work better to keep department heads in constant communication with each other?
Integrating other 3rd party software into your ERP might also be necessary, in the case that you cannot use the ERP of your choice for a certain business function. Many cloud based software applications are designed to be more equipped for direct integration into other systems, by using some type of API communication. Above all else, you’ll want to have as many of your core business practices and daily tasks to be covered under one system. This helps to minimize the need for daily synchronizations, eliminate human errors, and save time by only needing to access one software.
While some ERP systems offer the capacity to integrate with Quickbooks, others will replace Quickbooks and Excel with their internal accounting systems. A system like Exact JobBOSS Software has the strength of offering seamless integration with Quickbooks or its own accounting module. If your business uses something other than Quickbooks, such as Peachtree/Sage 50 or XERO, you’ll want to take the available built-in integrations and compatibility into consideration.
There are many reasons a company might begin using a new ERP system. Whether you are transitioning away from manual methods and new to ERPs, outgrowing an older system and seeking additional functionality, or simply needing a system that is more user friendly, you should consider the level of support available from your software vendor. Some software offers customization to create exactly what the company needs in order to generate easy transitions; some offer extensive tutorials and web support to help along the way. Once again, knowing what your needs are in advance will help you to choose the best ERP for your organization. While JobBOSS is known for its ease of set-up, Global Shop Solutions is known for its customization capacity, and Fishbowl is known for its online training and additional support. Overall, be sure to ask all potential new vendors about how they can help support initial and ongoing implementation.
Research All Options & Make the Move
Next to cost, flexibility, and features, ease of use will be the number one deciding factor regarding which ERP is appropriate for your company. Do your homework on all appropriate types of ERP systems for your business. Be sure to ask each vendor about all the areas listed above. Jot down your findings into a single document so that you can easily compare all options before making the plunge. Also, ask each vendor to put you in contact with some of their existing clients, so you can get unbiased reviews from other companies like yours. The process of choosing a new ERP for your business can seem like a headache at first, but after you implement a solid solution, your company will reap the benefits of lower costs, more streamlined operations, and overall a more profitable business.
Photo Credit: Cory M. Grenier / CC BY-SA 2.0