3 ERP Integration Solutions to Keep Your System Agile and Efficient

By: on November 30, 2018

Small business owners crave both the agility presented by postmodern ERP strategies and the simplicity of a unified, all-in-one system—and they’re making these features top priorities. Gartner predicts that, through 2020, businesses will spend 40 percent of their digital business solutions budgets on software integration objectives.

Can you blame them? Software integrations offer flexibility that simply isn’t available in a monolithic system.

But the more integrations you introduce, your system becomes increasingly complex and requires more resources. Many businesses underestimate this complexity when implementing postmodern ERP initiatives, resulting in on-the-fly integrations with less-than-ideal functionality and frequent maintenance updates.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

If small manufacturers consult business leaders, identify scope and complexity, and modernize ERP infrastructure, they will avoid the half-baked integrations that stifle the agility and efficiency of their ERP systems.

Consult Business Leaders on Innovation and Differentiation Strategies

With any big decision, there’s one question to ask before anything else: Why are we doing this?

The “why” behind a particular business objective should be the guiding principle throughout its execution. And who knows that better than the CEOs, CIOs and CTOs of the world?

Postmodern ERP integration initiatives, as Gartner points out, are typically driven by a desire to differentiate and innovate, utilizing the freedom and flexibility of a forward-thinking ERP solution to help your business stand out from the rest.

Loop in your business leaders as early in the process as possible, ideally in an open, collaborative, conference-style setting. Pick their brains on why they want the business to stand out—its priorities, opportunities and corporate vision. Doing so will yield the optimal applications and functions to realize this goal.

Take, for example, a food and beverage manufacturer whose chief priorities include sustainability and waste-management best practices. A postmodern ERP solution designed specifically with these initiatives in mind ought to include the following modules:

  • Inventory management to optimize the supply levels of perishable goods.
  • Supply chain management to effectively procure and track materials to ensure maximum shelf life.
  • Manufacturing planning to manage the production of materials based on materials, labor and machinery.
  • Warehouse management to identify and locate stock at optimum efficiency levels.
  • Purchasing management to minimize waste of materials used throughout the production process.

An integrated ERP system that seamlessly integrates and consolidates those functionalities will be a lean, mean, money-saving machine.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Consulting business leaders to determine the “why” behind integration objectives will help you identify the right ERP components the first time.

Identify the Long-Term Scope and Complexity of Integration

Software integration is a long-term investment. And to get the most bang for your buck, try to anticipate the desired scope of integration one, five or even 10 years in the future.

Failing to identify prospective functionality will result in unnecessary patchwork down the line, diverting valuable resources and costing your business serious moolah.

Here are the specific capabilities you’ll want to consider:

  • Deployment models. Cloud ERP or on-premise ERP? It’s a debate that has raged within the business world in recent years, as each offers its share of benefits and challenges. But if future-forward positioning and flexibility is the goal of your small business, cloud-based ERP integration is a no-brainer, offering lighter, more accessible solutions that will only get better as the technology matures.
  • Endpoints. The days of accessing your ERP from a single endpoint—your desktop computer—are officially over. As the world becomes more and more interconnected and data-driven, forward-thinking businesses need to prioritize the Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile accessibility of their ERP integrations.
  • Integration domains. As the deployment and accessibility of ERP integrations evolve, so does the nature of the integrations themselves. Advancements in integration technology have changed how your applications communicate with one another, offering new ways to share data across domains, devices and an array of business processes. Take advantage of these enhancements to make your connections more secure, your data more accessible and your business more efficient.
  • User capabilities. Within the next decade, ERP software integrations in the SMB realm will be virtually ubiquitous. But rather than hiring a gaggle of specialists for each new integration, such tasks will be relegated to the end users themselves. Educate your team members on the nuances of ERP integration to ensure they’re adequately prepared.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Correctly identifying the scope of your integration objectives ensures that any agility or efficiency enhancements have staying power.

Modernize ERP Infrastructure With a Hybrid Integration Platform

One of the biggest challenges for forward-thinking SMBs lies in the underbelly of their ERP. Older monolithic ERP systems aren’t wired for connectivity. Even newer cloud-based systems need to be tinkered with to unlock the full potential of a consolidated postmodern system.

To effectively integrate disparate ERP applications, businesses should bolster the underlying architecture of their system by implementing a hybrid integration platform (HIP).

In basic terms, a HIP is an explicit framework for ERP assembly that ensures all current and future technologies from any provider will operate as a single unit.

SMBs need to first ensure that their existing infrastructure is compatible with these new technologies.

Then SMBs need to establish a series of criteria that all future technologies need to meet prior to integration. This will ensure that your ERP is equipped to get the most out of the application you plan to integrate.

For example:

  • First, your department heads determine that the HIP should include the utilization of mobile devices.
  • Then, you consult your IT department to determine whether such an initiative is viable.
  • If it is, any new applications being considered for integration must include mobile integration capabilities. If they don’t offer mobile integrations, they don’t get implemented because they don’t meet the standard for accessibility that you’ve set.

SMBs should apply this rule to all technologies within the purview of their postmodern ERP strategies, whether it’s IoT, API management tools or artificial intelligence.

Keep in mind that there’s no hard-and-fast HIP template to follow because all businesses are unique and will have different integration roadmaps. Consult your IT department as early and often as possible in the creation of this framework. You’ll want to consider the needs of the end user when determining which apps to consider, so be sure to also survey department heads and other key players to ensure all desired functionality is considered.

KEY TAKEAWAY: By implementing a HIP framework for ERP integration, businesses can establish a standard for future functionality that will ensure optimal agility and efficiency.

What to Do Right Now to Ensure Effective Integration

Before doing any of the above, there are things you should do to lay the groundwork for an effective integration strategy:

  • Evaluate the appropriate level of integration for your business. Make an ERP integrations wish list that ranks your desired long-term functionality and use it to evaluate how viable each is for your business. Whether robust or lightweight or somewhere in between, it’s paramount that you accurately assess your current and future needs before finalizing your integration approach.
  • Educate business leaders on the dangers of underestimating the complexity of ERP integration. Without adequate planning and resource allocation, your business will be hampered with the need for ad hoc integrations and routine maintenance that could have been avoided altogether. Set up bi-weekly or monthly meetings to examine the current state of ERP integrations, including pain points and opportunities for growth, and advocate for the involvement of IT professionals—whether in-house or external (or both). To fully grasp the scope of integration, frequent collaboration and communication between all involved parties is critical.
  • Give us a shout. If you’re looking for specific functionality or need help finding the right solutions for your business, why not give us a call? Our knowledgable advisors are here to help you find the right software to achieve your business goals. For a free 15-minute consultation, call (855) 998-8505.

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