Strategic business software – avoiding costly mistakes

2 Sep 2010

BSM is a Galway-based adviser to small and large businesses considering investing in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Sean Jackson is joint managing director of the company.

ERP can sometimes be a massive IT investment that can go wrong. Why does this happen?

ERP, for a lot of firms, is one of the biggest projects they’ll ever do internally and if they don’t do it properly it can be expensive. The most common reason people fail with these projects is insufficient project management. Businesses treat it like an IT project, which it isn’t. If there’s a lack of project management expertise or resource allocation in a business, then it just won’t work.

ERP seems to be a technology that only large Fortune 500 companies can afford to invest in. Do you agree?

That’s not true at all, in fact with such a wide variety of ERP systems available there are systems that suit smaller companies. It is true that all the large Fortune 500 companies have ERP, but there are systems that many 30-person organisations use. It very much depends on what sector you are in and what business processes are involved. We have seen companies with as few as 14 or even 10 people deploying ERP.

Why would a firm invest in ERP if there are so many different pieces of business software available?

The most common reason is that if you don’t have ERP your information ends up in silos or buckets around the organisation. You might find financial information in one silo, customer information in another, or all your product information in a separate place. None of that makes sense.

To find out what’s happening in the business it’s very hard to do profitability reporting, but ERP puts all information in a business into one silo.

Consumerisation of IT means that in many businesses people are selecting what devices they want to use, whether it’s an iPhone, an iPad or a PC. Are there ERP apps available?

It is moving in that direction, but not at the bleeding edge. The leading products have ways of delivering information to handheld products, not on all the devices but things are moving that way.

Ten years ago, a big thing was to have a basic Windows interface on an ERP system, but what’s happened since is the products have become web-enabled and the devices will vary from handhelds to laptops or desktop PCs.

But surely mobility lends itself perfectly to ERP, for example enabling a managing director to know how his business is doing at any point, even when travelling?

Most ERP vendors offer products from a reporting standpoint, have reporting portals and most of them offer tools that do that sort of thing. Even with some of the midrange technologies, most of them have something in that line. Standards have improved and it is much easier. Even low-end systems offer capability around reporting to your mobile. Most ERP vendors would have relationships with leading reporting and analytic software vendors who provide business dashboards.

BSM will be holding an ERP HEADtoHEAD event in Dublin on 22 and 23 September next to pit six leading ERP products against each other.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years