To Choose the Right ERP, First Choose the Right Platform

Kenandy-StewartFlorsheim-headshotby Stewart Florsheim

When you’re choosing software that’s going to be running your business—such as your enterprise resource planning (ERP) software—you know your choice is going to have far-reaching ramifications. It could help support dramatic business growth. Or it could be very costly: to IT, to overall productivity, to the bottom line… and even to the survival of your business.

The good news is that business leaders don’t need to evaluate every feature and function, because those will always evolve. The most important choice is fundamental: the platform on which the ERP solution is built. Software developed on a trusted platform can deliver the agility that your organization needs to thrive—while minimizing software risk and ensuring security, compliance, and scalability. The right platform can also facilitate fast development.

Many businesses today are considering a cloud-based SaaS and PaaS for maximum flexibility and cost effectiveness. They also have other requirements: In the Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study, analysts tallied responses from 400 companies of all sizes, across a broad range of industries, to ask what mattered most in an enterprise solution. Respondents cited the importance of:

  • Support for mobile development and mobile devices
  • Integration of social capabilities
  • Ease of configuration
  • Extensive ecosystem of developers and add-on products

All these requirements are delivered by the underlying platform, so when you research your options, make sure your ERP solution is built on a platform that can deliver in all these areas.

Does mobile matter for ERP?
If you already know it will be important to access ERP on mobile devices, make sure that the platform you’re considering supports your preferred OS and policies.

If your organization is one of the many that doesn’t have enterprise apps available on mobile devices today, consider preparing for it. Mobility is increasingly the expectation for all applications… and it’s not an easy add-on.

“If you expect to access enterprise data from a mobile device, preserving the native experience to which you are accustomed, don’t assume that will just magically happen without any effort from the developer,” cautions the Mint Jutras report. “That is, unless the platform takes care of it, freeing up the developer to add more features and functions.”

Social—for ERP?!
You might not think social capabilities matter to an ERP system. In the Mint Jutras survey, many business leaders had a knee-jerk response, ranking “social” at the bottom of a list of ten selection criteria for enterprise applications. But when asked to prioritize some of the actual capabilities of an ERP, 40 percent of survey participants stated that the ability to capture a conversation (chat) and associate it directly with a business object (such as an order, customer, product, or supplier) would be useful, and 21 percent said it was a “must-have” for an enterprise application.

In other words, they do want social capabilities. Such “chat” capabilities are traditionally outside the scope of an ERP application, but businesses are eager to connect these conversations back to transactions. This functionality would be extremely difficult either to build from scratch or to bolt on to an application after the fact. “Look to the platform to help make the connection,” advises the Mint Jutras report.

Get ready to change
Change is the name of the ERP game. Sometimes it’s internally motivated, as businesses seek special configurations of processes to reflect their unique ways of working. More urgently, when disruptive new business models emerge, companies may have to adapt ERP systems quickly to accommodate the model’s new ways of transacting business, or risk missing a critical opportunity.

With legacy ERP systems, change is usually a complex process that takes 12-18 months to complete. But there’s no longer any need to put up with these delays: with the right ERP platform, you can configure processes with a few clicks in a visual tool rather than an intensive coding exercise.

A good platform separates source code from the user interface layer, so business experts or IT staff can easily tailor what the users see and how they see it, without ever touching the underlying code. You can swiftly make enhancements, adjust configuration and extensions, all without building any barriers to future upgrades. A platform might also introduce a set of business rules that are created and maintained. Because this keeps some of the “intelligence” of the application out of the code, there’s less to change—and fewer barriers to slow you down—when business conditions alter.

Choose the company you keep
In looking for the perfect platform for your ERP, go with a popular choice that offers a busy marketplace for developers. You want to have a variety of proven options available when it’s time to extend your solution. You don’t want to have to hire a developer to reinvent the wheel so it can run on your platform.

If you’re wondering whether a developer ecosystem is really important, just think of Blackberry. Because developers preferred to code for iOS and Android platforms, those platforms offered more extensions and functionality, which won more customers, which attracted more developers, and soon Blackberry’s commanding market lead had evaporated. You want to make sure you can take advantage of the latest, most innovative features on your platform.

Go back to basics
As a business leader and decision-maker, you’ll almost certainly find the economic benefits of cloud ERP SaaS compelling. With no requirement for high CapEx spending, more rapid deployment, and greater ease of management, it’s a natural choice for most businesses.

But once you’ve narrowed your ERP selection down to cloud-based options, consider choosing the platform alongside the actual ERP system. It’s important that you select a platform with head room. That way, your ERP can immediately take advantage of any app services already built in to the platform, such as support for a multitenant SaaS environment (a key enabler in delivering more innovation, faster); workflow engine, access and ID management; standard user interface templates, object orientation, and mobile support; and the ability to tie social online chats back to biz objects.

“Speed matters,” concludes the Mint Jutras report, “and the right development platform can have a tremendous impact on how quickly software can be developed, enhanced, and extended. Moving to the cloud can further accelerate your ability to respond. A cloud solution supported by the right platform can help you get there even faster.”

Stewart Florsheim is the vice president of marketing at Kenandy.



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