A cloud-based management solution may be just what you need to take advantage of ‘ERP-like’ benefits without much of the complication. Focused on smaller shops, this flexible approach promises easy startup, functions tailored just for you, a free trial and minimal commitment on your part. It integrates with QuickBooks. And you can tap into it from anywhere.
For a lot of small manufacturers, including fabricators like you, the idea of enterprise resource planning or “ERP” is scary. Even understanding what the word “resource” refers to could be intimidating – after all, it could mean a million different things. Some of you may be more familiar with ERP but see it as a technology that’s meant only for larger companies. And you’re right, traditionally ERP solutions were designed primarily for large manufacturers and required extensive customization, which often leads to a very high price tag. You believe that ERP solutions are too complex, expensive and difficult to deploy. In other words, ERP is something very much out of the question for you. But now the competitive landscape is shifting and you’re being told you must embrace ERP and other technology to survive – to improve your bottom lines and to improve customer satisfaction. So, what do you do?
We’re here to tell you that there’s a solution for you and it’s not ERP. In fact, we’re going to be as bold as to say, forget ERP. You don’t need it. What you do need is “ERP-like functionality.”
So what is ERP-like functionality? In basic terms, it is technology that aligns your business information with your financial information and enables you to manage the many moving parts of your business. And, if this ERP-like functionality is delivered from the cloud, you can manage your business anytime, from anywhere. This technology should be easy to learn, simple to use, powerful, and most important, affordable.
It’s all about the cloud… or is it?
Like ERP, cloud computing has captured the attention of many and “freaked out” even more. Between fears of security and data loss to worries about learning complex interfaces, many have remained on the sidelines in fear. Meanwhile, all the cloud really involves is access. It’s about access to proven functionality – best practices developed for businesses just like yours, and access to a bank account (of data) where you make frequent deposits and withdrawals safely and securely. For most small businesses, the cloud will eventually mean nothing more than “the screen where I get info to run my business when I’m not fabricating.” Put another way, the cloud lets you offload the “technology burden” of aggregating business fundamentals and focus instead on making decisions and products.
Although simple in principle, cloud delivery of business software offers four powerful benefits to small businesses: ease of use, single view, accessibility and affordability. Let’s look at each one.
Ease of use: A cloud-based business software solution offers manufacturers fast and seamless setup: implementation requires no support from an IT department, and upgrades, when necessary, occur automatically at no additional cost. Your ERP-like solution can be up and running within minutes, and within days you’ll be making decisions supported by your own data. Essentially, the cloud lets small businesses scale up to the functionality they require when their business demands it. The functionality is always there; it’s up to the users to access it if and when they need it.
Single view: A well-designed, cloud-based business software solution offer manufacturers a single view into their businesses, allowing them to manage inventory, production, logistics and CRM through a single solution. What was once a luxury afforded only to early adopters of ERP technology is now available to all businesses: insight into a business’ performance that drives smarter decision-making.
Accessibility: A cloud-based business software solution enables manufacturers to manage their businesses anytime, anywhere. Like their counterparts using big ERP, small manufacturers no longer need to log 16-hour days at the office – if they prefer not to. Instead they can access critical data to run their businesses from any device with an Internet browser.
Affordability: Accessing business software through the cloud offers tremendous cost savings: there’s no expensive hardware to purchase and maintenance costs are built-in. In its earlier stages, ERP was on-premises only and costs were significant and unpredictable. Even traditional ERP is now delivered via the cloud with more predictable and flexible monthly subscription costs and a much less onerous requirement for maintenance and upgrades. And scaling up – or down – is possible in a few simple clicks.
From materials supplies, to machine scheduling, to finance and sales forecasts, a cloud-based ‘ERP-like’ solution can do the same things as a conventional ERP system, or it can just select the functions you need. For small shops, the modular nature of the system should simplify getting it up and running.
Cloud-based software designed just for you
At this abstract level, accessing business software through the cloud probably sounds pretty good. But how, you may wonder, would cloud-based software help your specific business? Is your business complex enough to require any software? If you’re like 99 percent of small businesses, the answer is yes. And today there’s cloud-based software built specifically for small business manufacturers like you.
Software is designed to manage aspects of your business that move in parallel and constantly. From production scheduling to inventory management, logistics and customer relations, your business is in constant motion. How do you take a snapshot of the activity today? With software, you can automatically track inventory on hand and map it to committed orders in the future, putting information at your fingertips that could, for example, improve your on-time delivery. And you can do all of this by simply logging onto the Internet on a PC or mobile device.
Once again, visibility into inventory, forecasting and costing sounds a lot like ERP, and that’s correct. But the similarities between ERP and business software in the cloud end after you see how easy it is to get started and, most obvious, after you see the first monthly invoice. What you can do with the data your business generates is significant, but the bills and learning curve are not – that’s why this is not ERP as so many others know it.
Your biggest challenges
Through our work with small business manufacturers, we’ve seen firsthand challenges many face, from how to grow revenue to managing capital equipment and human resources. You face shrinking margins, seasonality and delivery snafus, all of which conspires to eat into your profits and keep you up at night. But the cure to these all-too-common woes is visibility. And ERP-like functionality, delivered via the cloud, is how many businesses like you gain that visibility.
Big-picture sub-dashboards show many related details at once. You can then select the items you want for detailed information.
Throw out the acronym, not what it promises
ERP promised much and, after years of bad publicity for high costs and complexity, today many businesses run more efficiently and profitably because of it. But if the baggage of ERP is still holding some businesses back, it’s time to forget the acronym. Business software enabled by the cloud is here to stay, and it’s cost-effective, easy to learn and scalable. If you’re still not sure, tell us why. It can’t be because of cost – it’s easily affordable. It can’t be complexity – we know one-person businesses that are using ERP-like solutions right now. Go ahead, move past your ERP fear – it’s no longer what you think.