It is not necessary – or attainable – for manufacturers to adopt every new technology available to stay competitive, but it is wise to continually explore areas that can be optimized. Even if a business believes they know how to tackle business challenges or economic headwinds, many lack the ability to adapt quickly enough – often hindered by the legacy nature of the industry.
Rather than looking at new tech investments, the first stop on the digital transformation journey should be optimizing the existing digital backbone that many organizations likely already have in place – namely, their enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution.
In today’s volatile supply chain ecosystem, manufacturers are actively looking for new and smarter ways of buying and sourcing for the upstream and more efficient and effective ways of distributing for the downstream – ultimately creating far more complex value networks. Yet, lack of visibility continues to stall progress in a time when businesses need to make data-driven decisions faster than ever with greater accuracy. The good news is recent technology trends have started an avalanche of fast changes in ERP.
Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and low-code/no-code applications, the era of “cognitive ERP” is upon us. But the issue persists that business decision makers “don’t know what they don’t know.” In fact, according to the most recent Epicor Industry Insights Report, nearly 70 percent of enterprises surveyed said they are looking to their ERP provider as an expert partner and resource to help them navigate a variety of data management and integration needs.
Every business is unique, and adopting new technology should not mean forgoing the technology currently in use. Businesses can make great gains by using the tools already available in their ERP solution, including advanced analytics, business intelligence, AI, eCommerce, mobile and more. The latest enterprise technology for supply chain management can be integrated with existing ERP systems. To understand the opportunity, start by asking the right questions to help build out a strategic roadmap. Questions to ask include:
- Where is the organization today in transitioning to digital capabilities?
- What are the biggest challenges the business faces?
- Where does the business want to be in five years and what are the biggest challenges to getting there?
- Where can the organization gain the greatest advantage from technology and automation?
Cloud and collaboration
The number one mistake in most digital transformation journeys is to let individual departments go off with their own budgets and buy their own individual job-specific systems. It is integral to think about the entire process from end-to-end to prioritize business flow. Uniting individuals from different departments and areas of expertise allows for a wider range of perspectives to be considered from the get-go. By involving representatives from different departments, the project lead gains a deeper understanding of the business processes and workflows. This helps to identify areas where the ERP solution can be optimized to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Cross-functional teams also help to ensure the ERP solution is adopted and implemented successfully.
Perhaps the most vital first step is to explore modernizing and upgrading to the cloud. The $64 million question when considering migrating to the cloud, or adopting a hybrid approach, is how to demonstrate time to value and measurable ROI. To help answer this question Epicor partnered with IDC, a global market intelligence firm, and fielded an independent cross-industry focus group study. The qualitative exercise set out to quantify the business value of deploying an industry-specific cloud-based ERP system as the digital backbone and it returned some encouraging findings:
- Average three-year ROI of 373 percent, with a break-even point occurring in nine months – which is worth an average of $6.77 million per organization – all delivered through better operations, improved customer satisfaction and inventory cost savings.
- An average of $7.13 million in additional revenues due to the ability to address business demand and ensure customer satisfaction through the creation and delivery of high-quality and relevant products and goods.
- 34 percent higher order volume by increasing manufacturing capacity through a more orderly and rationalized approach.
Let’s explore two key tenants to consider when beginning to build out a strategic roadmap.
First, find the right technology partner, not simply a software vendor. An ERP provider must deliver on more than just the technology itself. The Industry Insights study shows that customers want a provider that can not only tailor their solution to the industry-specific needs of the customer’s business, but also collaborate closely throughout the entire journey. Today’s complex manufacturing businesses require their providers to offer expertise beyond implementation alone, provide transparency, strengthen onboarding and continued training, ensure dedicated support teams and ultimately help realize meaningful business value. To do that, the ERP provider can’t just be a software expert, they must be capable of providing industry-specific knowledge and guidance.
The Industrial Insights study finds that 93 percent of customers agree that their ERP vendor is a partner to the point of purchase, but the value can deteriorate after that. To avoid this, consider acquiring ongoing support to maximize the investment in the solution. Also, ensure the vendor is inviting feedback on each piece of training content.
- The Tik-Tok’ization of learning: The biggest obstacle for most customers when it comes to training is that there simply isn’t enough time in the workday for it. And that’s why the software product must allow customers to learn how to optimize it while they are using it. Thanks to search engines and video platforms, people have become used to learning while they are doing. This is why ERP training needs to be seamlessly incorporated into the workflow, rather than being a separate, designated activity. Users want an intuitive learning experience embedded inside the product. Think of it like the Tik-Tok’ization of learning – today’s employees learn most effectively through relevant, immediate and bite-sized training modules.
- Understand the role of generative AI: Natural language processing has the power to bring data to life by allowing the workforce to simply describe the visuals and insights that they are looking for. Ask your ERP partners how you can combine the power of generative AI and tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT to deliver predictive analytics and contextual recommendations via intuitive virtual agents.
- Mobile ERP: We live in an era of instant access to information, and today’s mobile workforce expects large-company software to have a mobile app. Apps give executives and employees access to real-time business information and customer communications, wherever and whenever they need it. ERP mobile apps let the workforce send push notifications and create an event while also reviewing and approving time, sales orders and expenses from a local coffee shop or backyard patio table.
Second, identify high-return, low risk compatibilities to complement the ERP system. Many complementary solutions have been developed specifically to integrate with ERP systems. It is important to work with your ERP provider to understand and identify solutions that are designed to work seamlessly with what you have. For example, Epicor introduced Automation Studio, which allows manufacturers to easily customize their ERP environment without having to write custom code or rely on outside consultants. This means businesses can tailor their experience to meet their unique requirements without the risk of breaking the underlying software.
- Configurable ERP: ERP systems shouldn’t be rigid and limit the user to out-of-the-box features. Every business is different and has different aspects of their operations they need to track. That’s why you need to ask your ERP partner about the levels of personalization available, whether it be configuring pre-built features or being able to create custom dashboards and automations through low-code or no-code solutions. Industry-specific ERP providers should also be able to offer market-specific data that business leaders can pull into their own analysis for more effective benchmarking.
- Pre-built integrations: Ask vendors about the ability to plug into add-ons. Pre-built integrations allow businesses to easily connect their environment with other applications and systems to extend the functionality and continually optimize workflows to increase efficiency. In the case of Epicor, the company has a no-code, full-stack business intelligence platform with more than 150 pre-built data connectors across some of the most used platforms, databases and CRMs. The BI platform can import data seamlessly from the ERP system via APIs to continually update and refresh data. This is vital to ensure metrics are current and reliable when users need to make critical business decisions. These add-ons can be built on a scalable architecture, which also means businesses can easily scale their automation efforts as their needs grow.
- Improve prediction and automation: the ERP system can analyze the data it receives and provide business leaders with critical insights into where they can improve efficiencies and increase margins. But what if the ERP system could automate those adjustments, as well? That’s one of the areas where these systems are headed: monitoring and analyzing business and market data in real time – such as supply chain disruptions that may impact the production pipeline – then making automated adjustments to recalibrate accordingly. This transition will save businesses invaluable time, effort and money.
A solid foundation
In an ever-changing business environment, there remains one constant among manufacturers: The shop floor is being consistently relied upon to handle more complex operations – serving a wider range of products, with faster throughput and smaller lots, all at minimized costs. This demands that manufacturers have the proper digital foundation in place to succeed in this challenging environment.
Achieving these objectives without incurring higher operational costs requires establishing a digital foundation upon which a manufacturer can operate their business. Cloud-based ERP allows manufacturers of all types and sizes to gain the automation, integration and flexibility they require to operate efficiently and robustly to respond to business demand.
Check out this video for an extensive look at Epicor’s ERP solution for manufacturers.