The Search for ERP Integration Starts with a Map

We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with midmarket manufacturers and distributors about their current ERP implementations, the challenges they face and their future plans related to investment in enterprise software.

As part of these conversations, we’ve been informally tracking some of the reasons why midmarket manufacturing and distribution companies begin pursuing an ERP selection project.

In many cases, we hear teams discuss compelling business reasons to improve the level of integration between their current ERP system and other mission-critical applications such as CRM, e-commerce, warehouse management systems, supply chain portals, quality, reporting and other applications.

Common Challenges

Here are a few snippets from recent conversations that illustrate typical challenges:

  • “Our company has an over-reliance on 3rd party applications, which means we have to hassle with custom programming and manual workarounds.”
  • “The biggest frustration with our current ERP system? We have too many 3rd party applications.”
  • “It’s a spreadsheet nightmare – we maintain data in multiple places and in multiple formats.”

What these complaints have in common is that the companies can’t easily link between multiple modules and functional business areas. This forces them to support and maintain complex interfaces, programming and custom coding to achieve a workable level of integration. This impacts precious IT resources, creates multiple data directors, and drives inefficiencies throughout the organization.

Start with a Map

In our experience, companies achieve the best business outcomes when they take a close look at their current state of business processes, and map out the bottlenecks and waste that occur from lack of data integration.

The current map gives the company an indication of “you are here.”

As an example, business process mapping might reveal a lack of quality management integration with supply chain management, compliance, manufacturing, shipping, receiving, and other key areas.

Current state maps often reveal other areas of data integration challenges include:

  • Ecommerce
  • CRM
  • Shipping, Freight
  • Reporting, Business Intelligence
  • Multi-currency
  • CAD integration

The current state mapping effort results in an understanding of the weaknesses in the current process, and an understanding of what is possible with improved technology that integrates mission-critical data.

Integrated ERP and CRM

Of special note is the integration of ERP and CRM. This is especially important for companies seeking to gain complete visibility from prospect to opportunity to close to invoice to paid.

Those companies that can’t easily integrate ERP and CRM from a single source have a harder time anticipating customer demand, managing the supply chain, managing the right levels of on-hand inventory and safety stock, managing lead times with manufacturing partners as well as other factors.

Final Thoughts

All told, an ERP project is a platform for continuous improvement. Data integration can help companies achieve key business outcomes such as improved customer service, reduced lead-time, improved quality, reduced asset turns, higher productivity and improved, timelier decision-making.

That’s why we advise our businesses to start at the beginning of the ERP journey: map out the current state of processes to understand the waste and limitations.

Then, the next equally critical task is to devise the “Future” or desired state, to see how integrated enterprise technology can connect and improve business performance.

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Jeff Carr

About the author…

As Founder/Managing Partner of Ultra Consultants, Mr. Carr brings over 35 years experience helping manufacturing and distribution companies improve their information systems.

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Jeff Carr

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