What do you need to run a business? In the digital age, a “good business sense” no longer guarantees success. To remain competitive, many small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are adopting software to streamline operations.
There are several business management systems to choose from, designed to serve every type of user need, including specialized tools, industry specific software and products that verge on robust enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites.
We created this buyer’s guide to help you better understand how to select the right business management software for your organization.
Whether you’re looking to invest in business management software for the first time or looking to upgrade your current system, this guide can help you make a more informed purchase decision.
Here’s what we'll cover:
Business management systems help automate the administrative, day-to-day business functions that keep your company running smoothly, such as:
Typically, “business management software” refers to an integrated suite that includes several separate, but related applications within one solution. However, other systems will center around specific business area, such as customer relationship management (CRM) or accounting.
If the latter is the type of business management software you’re interested in, inquire about the integration capabilities with the vendor. It’s important that any stand-alone applications or other software currently in use at your company will integrate with your business management platform. This way, you can ensure seamless data transfer between systems, offering you greater oversight and control over operations.
As noted above, business management software is designed to automate the majority of day-to-day business operations. Business needs will differ by industry and the exact features of these tools can vary as well, so it’s important for prospective buyers to ensure the system they choose aligns with their organizational requirements.
For example, the needs of a retailer will differ from those of a manufacturer. As such, the retailer may need a business management system with point of sale, while the manufacturer will likely need material requirements planning (MRP).
The following are examples of common business functions that you should look for as you evaluate different systems:
|Accounting||Manage core financial data for general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable and bank reconciliation. Likely includes billing and invoicing and financial reports such as profit and loss, cash flow statement and balance sheet. Connect with modules for purchase orders, inventory etc. May also include additional, industry-specific features, such as fund accounting (for nonprofits).|
|Content management||Upload, store, share and back up business documents and files. Manage everything from purchase orders to client contact information to employee W-2s and performance records.|
|Customer relationship management (CRM)||CRM encompasses functions including client contact management, customer service and support, help desk, field service management and more. This application is often at the center of these systems, especially for service and sales industries.|
|Human resources (HR)||Manage core HR functions including benefits administration, personnel tracking and payroll. Includes workforce management capabilities such as employee scheduling and time and attendance. May also include strategic HR functions such as applicant tracking, performance review, talent management and learning management.|
|Inventory management||Automate processes for ordering, storing and tracking inventory. Monitor on-hand inventory balances, track raw materials and stocked items and manage lots. Features include product categorization, sales and purchase orders, electronic scanning and automatic ordering.|
|Marketing and sales||Attract new customers and visitors, build your brand, deliver promotional materials and nurture leads through the sales funnel. Features include marketing automation, lead generation and management, email marketing and social media management, resource management and analytics.|
|Reporting and analytics||Track key performance indicators (KPIs) and optimize performance across all business functions. Get actionable insights, flag issues and operations that can be improved. Features include dashboards, data visualization tools, scorecarding and report writers.|
|Scheduling||Create and maintain employee schedules, assign workers to shifts, track attendance, manage customer service delivery and dispatch schedules for field service workers. Features include calendar management, automatic reminders and time-clock management.|
|Workflow management||Define, control and automate business workflows. Features include task and time tracking, automatic notifications, graphical process modeling, role-based access and reporting.|
Depending on your business and industry needs, you may require additional capabilities not listed above. As such, when evaluating business management software, keep the following criteria in mind:
Deployment options. Business management software is available for both on-premise and cloud-based deployment. On-premise software is hosted in-house on the user’s servers. The business is responsible for installation and setup as well as performing ongoing maintenance and purchasing subsequent software updates.
Conversely, cloud-based software is hosted remotely, on the vendor’s servers. This means the vendor is responsible for managing maintenance, delivery and software updates. As a result, there are typically lower upfront costs associated with cloud-based software, although costs for each deployment option tend to equal out over time.
You can use our total cost of ownership calculator to estimate the immediate and long-term costs for each deployment option to see which makes the most sense, cost-wise, for your business.
Integration requirements. While many business management systems are designed to handle the entirety of a business’s operations, you may need or want to supplement your business management software with a stand-alone application. For example, a construction firm might need estimating and takeoff software that integrates with their business management suite.
It’s always a good idea to verify integration capabilities with vendors prior to purchasing a new software. However, as your business management software will be the central system used to house all your company data, and you likely won’t replace this system nearly as often as you would other tools, it is imperative that you carefully evaluate your integration requirements during the software selection process and review these requirements with vendors.
Industry needs. There are several industry-specific business management solutions that might be a better fit for your needs than nonspecialized, off-the-shelf software. For example, NetSuite is a vendor that offers several prebuilt solutions for a variety of industries, such as wholesale distribution, retail, health care and financial services.
Professional services firms, such as a marketing agency or software development firm, are going to have more project-centered needs that other industries. These organizations will likely need project accounting modules, resource management applications and project portfolio management governance as well.
Small businesses. Most small businesses will be well-served by a standard business management software, such as BizAutomation, that helps them manage the everyday tasks and operations to make their business more efficient. Alternatively, they can choose a solution focused on one critical area of their business, such as scheduling or marketing and sales, and integrate with standalone applications for less critical operations.
Niche industries, such as a martial arts studio or salon, might consider an industry-specific solution that caters to their unique needs, for example, managing members or appointments. Examples of these types of software include The Studio Director and MINDBODY.
Midsize and growing businesses. Midsize and growing businesses can also use most standard business management suites, such as SAP Business One, to conduct their operations.
However, as businesses grow, they’ll likely need to implement more controls over their business processes and better alignment between information and operational technologies. At this stage, they should consider investing in business process management software to help them standardize processes and workflows for multiple departments and improve operational performance. (Not to be confused with general "business managment" software, "business process management" software carries a more specific definition and set of technical requirements. Follow the link above to read our buyer's guide and learn more.)
As they continue to grow, they’ll require more than automation of day-to-day tasks and business processes and require long-term planning as well. At this stage, they might consider investing in an ERP system to help them manage their business goals.
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