Putting ERP at the centre of business

If data is the heart of business operations, then enterprise resource planning software should sit at the core of business

Brendan Geraghty, business solutions practice director, Storm Technology: ERP helps to manage and integrate core business processes, such as accounting, procurement, human resources and inventory management

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software sits at the core of most large businesses and other organisations, touching the lives of billions of people around the world. Despite this, to those who do not work with it directly, it is an opaque black box – if they have even heard of it at all.

So what is ERP? What does it do for a business? And who is responsible for it?

Brendan Geraghty, business solutions practice director at Storm Technology, said it is often mistaken for accounting software but, in fact, ERP is a lot more.

“I'm a reformed accountant. I started doing the books, went into financial services, did a lot of ERP stuff, and eventually went into consulting. In a lot of businesses, it [ERP] ends up being the accountant’s problem,” he said.

In reality, ERP, he said, is an all-encompassing software system that sits at the centre of a business, helping to manage and integrate core business processes, such as accounting, procurement, human resources and inventory management.

“It covers the end-to-end operations. It's not just one thing,” he said.

Despite sometimes being seen as the preserve of the largest of companies, at least outside of manufacturing where it is ubiquitous at all levels, there are benefits that can be realised through ERP at small and medium enterprise (SME) level. Naturally, then, there are packages aiming at that market.

“It's like Formula 1; it trickles down. What the SMEs are getting now is what the bigger guys had for some time,” he said.

Most ERP today is cloud-based, taking advantage of not only economies of scale, but also the ability to offer remote connection, using any device, as standard.

Storm Technology provides Business Central ERP from Microsoft. Consulting with customers is a large part of Storm’s role, helping them to get over fears of migration.

“You do get resistance to change, that’s true. That fear of migrations is real; however, there are also early adoptees,” he said.

Storm Technology itself has grappled with trying to assess the cost to benefit ratio of upgrading and, consequently, has learned a lot from the process.

“We’re a business ourselves, so we have been asking ‘how do we remote work?’ and ‘how do we get these products to do exactly what we need them to?’,” he said.

The cloud, specifically software as a service (SaaS) brings a level of seamlessness to ERP, he said, allowing businesses to get a running start on making use of their data.

“You need to be quick with data capture, you don’t want to touch things twice. Where small and medium businesses can really benefit from it is because there is a lot of automation in things like data capture,” he said.

“You hear terms like ‘data lake’ and ‘one source of truth’. All it really means is the ability to really drill down into the data and get value out of it,” he said.

Key to this is getting rid of the manual interventions and error, but businesses can also customise their ERP with plug-in or add-on modules tailored to their exact needs.

“The ERP is the base, and you add stuff on as you need it. SaaS makes that much easier as there are people all over the world with the same problems and there are people solving those problems,” he said.

This way the level of complexity involved depends entirely on the business and its needs.

There is another facet to simplicity, though, and to some degree it is a choice. How much old information should be migrated over?

Importing old data is one aspect of migration that strikes fear into many a heart. Geraghty said that it can be done, but he flipped the question on its head, asking: does it really need to be done?

“It depends. Is there any benefit to the data? It depends on the data. Unless you really need it, I would say ‘do you want to lug this weight around with you?’. It’s a better approach to get up, get the next processes working and then see where you are,” he said.