Is your data all over the place? You might have marketing information in a spreadsheet, client addresses in your PDA, sales and financial information in an accounting program and inventory in yet another program. Having your critical business and customer information in separate places that don't communicate with one another can have a big, negative impact on your business. It can reduce the efficiency of your business and does not permit you to better manage grow your companies growth.
Here's one example: Imagine your favorite customer telling your phone customer service representative that they no longer want peanut butter in the mix of nuts that they regularly order due to an allergic reaction. Since your new sales person does not have access to the database where this information was entered (by the customer service employee), they include a peanut butter mix in the next nut shipments! This kind of mistake could be literally deadly for customers with allergic reactions -- and for your business.
Daniel Carr, President, Computer Decisions International, LLC notes that companies could be losing money due to uncollected receivables. Better communication between your systems can make a huge difference on your bottom line and customer satisfaction.
Another benefit of integrated information is the ability to up-sell your customers on additional products. If you purchase pens or anything from Office Depot online you are also presented with a list of related items, such note pads that you might be interested in purchasing. Imagine how much money you are leaving on the table by not offering your customers complimentary services or products based on their existing purchases.
To get more out of the software you use, consider taking an integrated approach. This is often referred to as enterprise resource planning (ERP).
Resistance to Change
As you consider moving from silos of information to a more integrated approach it is important that your sales, customer service, marketing and other staff support it.
Help your staff understand that integrated information will result in more satisfied customers, therefore more money for your business overall, making a better income opportunity for your staff.
Implement policies that will help you reward individual contributions while embracing the importance of team work. For example: Staff who contribute the most helpful updates to customer profiles should be recognized. The sales person who passes the most leads to others could be rewarded.
Eric Worth, a managing director of American Express', Tax and Business Unit with more than 25 years of experience in the ERP business suggests you first pose the following questions before you consider an ERP approach:
- Can I do more for less? Can I answer more phone calls with fewer employees? Can I pay my invoices faster? Can I sell more but reduce inventory?
- Will my business be more efficient? Maybe your staff wastes a lot of time going to a fax machine and faxing daily purchase orders to suppliers. Can an e-business tool do this for you automatically?
- Will our productivity increase? If it now takes you 4 days to process a customer order, can a new system help you do a new customer order in 1 day?
These are questions you should ask yourself as you pull together a strategy. If an ERP solution can give you positive answers to these questions, you can better determine the value such a solution would be for your business.
Know Your Stuff
An ERP vendor can easily blow you away with talk about their product's solution to all your problems, so know exactly what your business objectives are before talking to them. A vendor's product may be able to make and cut bread and send it to your PDA - in 3 seconds. But if these features are not important to you and will not ease the points of pain you outlined - it's not for you.
Intimately knowing your business processes and how the parts of your business work together is important to ensure that the software you implement logically follows your business processes. The software should fit your needs, you should not have to fit the software.
Find a vendor who knows your particular business (retail, wholesale, agriculture, real estate, manufacturing, etc). Ask them to explain to you what implementations, in your industry, they have done in the past.
Mihir Karia, Managing Director of Searce, an ERP firm catering to the SMB market, advises that you look for a vendor that might have already mapped out the businesses processes for your industry or a particular process in your industry. Working with a company that already knows your business can save you money an time in the long run.
Carr also advises that it is vital to retain with the right consultant because software can only do so much. You need well-informed humans to maximize its use. However, you do not want a consultant who is more technically inclined but does not know about business processes. It is important that you work with a consultant who is experienced in business processes and can help you understand what solutions you really need.
Don't implement all at once, but in stages. By implementing in stages you can filter out any problems and get ongoing feedback from those who will be using the software.
Instead of tearing out your old software and implementing a new solution all at once, it's best to plan an evolutionary change. You might change the inventory system on Monday. The next week as things are working well, roll out the customer relationship management component.
Ensure you set up a training program for you staff. You want your staff to use the new software, get value from it and not be hampered in its use. Investing in quality training will ensure these goals are met.Resource List
These solutions provide a full suite of ERP solutions:
- SAP myBusiness
- Best Software
- Microsoft Business Solutions
These following solutions are not as comprehensive as the preceding solutions but may offer specific solutions to your needs as well:
- Centage Budget Mastro
- Pragmatix, Inc.
- Automation Centre Tracker Suite 65
- PFSweb Inc.
- Intuit Quickbase
- Groove Networks Project Edition
- Athenahealth (geared toward physicians)
- Interfacing Technologies Charter Standard