ERP Fees & Installation Alternatives

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ERP vendors come in all shapes and sizes, offer varying levels of functionality as well as functional integration and offer different options for installation. On the face of it, there are three basic installation options, and each enterprise has to decide which the best fit is for their purposes: a traditional on-site one-time payment installation; an over the internet on-demand, software as a service (SaaS) model on a pay per-user/per-month basis; or an on-premise deployment, also on a pay per-user/per-month basis.

 

Traditional On-Premise Installation – One-time license payment

 

Although SaaS and hosted software are the buzzwords of the day, traditional on-site implementations provide some companies with the sense of security and ownership they require, with a one-time license fee instead of an ongoing monthly expense. There is often an additional yearly maintenance fee which must also be taken into consideration. While this model requires an investment in the purchasing and maintenance of hardware and infrastructure, it can sometimes be more cost effective in the long run then a per-user/per-month installation. Once you’ve paid the initial license cost, the service charges are usually fairly stable and hosting and other charges (including testing environments, which in on-premise installations can be a back-up or test server) shouldn’t surprisingly increase as time goes on.

 

To summarize some of the benefits of an on-premise installation:

 

  • Ownership vs. monthly fees: This might be most cost effective in the long run
  • Security: You control of the security of the environment including back-ups
  • Accessibility: Connectivity to the system is intrinsic, without the need for internet connections throughout the organization

 

Software as a Service (SaaS) – Hosted Option

 

The SaaS model provides an ERP option for companies who need the solutions provided in ERP software, without forcing them to make a capital investment in on-premise IT infrastructure: software, hardware and implementation.

 

The hosted option has a number of benefits over an on-premise installation:

                                                                                        

  • Fees: Ease of use, no costly set up fees, and no need to invest in IT infrastructure or personnel.
  • Automatic upgrade: Upgrades are handled automatically on the hosted platform so you are always using the latest version of the software.
  • Accessibility: Connectivity is available online, anytime, from any common web browser.
  • Low-risk: With no large up-front investment or long-term commitment, this model allows you to “try-before-you-buy,” as it were, though migration from an existing system does need to be considered.
  • Security: In general, data is protected by the platform security; systems and backups should be in place to ensure uninterrupted service.

 

When the SaaS model is offered a pay-as-you-go, per-user/per-month basis, with its own advantages:

 

  • Initial cost: No major initial outlay of capital
  • Stability: Your fees are ostensibly stable and on a regular basis with no surprises
  • Functional Scalability: Often, no additional fees required for most of the functionality (e.g. begin using ERP software for CRM and expand to Accounting, Inventory Control etc., at either scalable or no additional cost, depending on the package)

 

On-Premise Installation – Pay-As-You-Go

 

For companies that want to take advantage of the pay-as-you-go per-user/per-month basis model, while maintaining their ERP system in-house, many companies now offer the option to do so, though it’s a mixture of both benefits and disadvantages or each approach. The benefits are, as above for the SaaS option:

 

  • Initial cost: No major initial outlay of capital
  • Stability: Your fees are ostensibly stable and on a regular basis with no surprises
  • Functional Scalability: While often no additional fees are required for most of the functionality (e.g. begin using ERP software for CRM and expand to Accounting, Inventory Control etc., at either scalable or no additional cost, depending on the package) – there might be some configuration involved and updating which would be automatic in the regular SaaS solution

 

Mixed with advantages from the traditional on-premise installation:

 

  • Security: You control of the security of the environment including back-ups
  • Accessibility: Connectivity to the system is intrinsic, without the need for internet connections throughout the organization

 

The many flavors of ERP systems now give you the power of choice. So it’s important that you consider both the short and long term requirements of your organization. If you’re not sure, try to find a solution that offers as many variations as possible so that you can move from SaaS to on-premise if the need arises, without costly migration expenses and the headache of switching such a major part of your business operation.

By Rebecca Haviv

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How Real Is Your TCO?

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Addressing the issue of Total Cost of Ownership of an ERP project means spelling out some of the “hidden costs” that are sometimes overlooked or minimized when a vendor is trying to sell you their ERP or satellite software solution. Don’t be fooled. Those hidden costs can add up and need to be taken into consideration.

The leading expenditures on ERP projects are (listed in order of magnitude):

  • Internal resources
  • External (consulting) services
  • Software (licenses and maintenance)

Some of the factors that affect these expenses are the size of the company, number of ERP users, and the depth and breadth of functionality. The true total cost of the ERP system’s deployment, however, is usually unclear during the evaluation process, because these expenditures are not readily apparent until they come up over the lifecycle of the project. Some (but not all) of these “unexpected” or “hidden” costs can include:

  1. Data conversion and improvement (both from existing systems and ongoing)
  2. Add-ons (external components), private customizations, satellite utilities (web sites, BI, BPM, Document Management, mail, etc.), their interfaces to the main ERP application and their migration through ERP upgrades (service packs and advanced versions).
  3. Identity management and security enforcement

All of these hidden costs take close scrutiny and time to discover.

IT Related Expenses

One of the bigger hidden costs, or one not always adequately factored into the equation, is the expense item of IT (or the IT staff/internal resources).

Data collected for 2004-2007 on companies with 500-999 employees in the U.K by Kew Associates clearly shows that annual spending on IT staff is larger by a factor of 4 than any other IT expense item.

What are the IT people doing?

IT people make a host of applications tick, including the selected ERP system and all other applications. An ERP system that can incorporate as many applications as possible will minimize the costs involved in maintaining a large IT staff and the hours spent on dealing with multiple applications, not to mention the costs of the applications themselves.
 
To be sure, there are plenty of good-quality, low-priced, very specific software tools out there in the market. But when you combine the price of the software with the expense of their integration with an ERP application and the IT overhead required to support and maintain them all – the costs just keep adding up.

 

Installation
Installation of traditional ERP products can take months. There are a few products out there that can shorten that time frame substantially. Ask when vetting products, in order to get a clearer picture of what the cost and time frame for this will be.

Implementation & Adoption
A speedy implementation cycle lowers the TCO, but the truth is that there is no easy road for implementation. It doesn’t matter if your solution is SaaS, on-demand or on-premise since the time and cost of implementation depends on the depth and functionality of the chosen system, and the effectiveness of its adoption by the workforce.

Finding a solution that can either smooth the road to a successful implementation, or provide you with tools to do it yourself as much as possible, is the best solution. This can often also provide a hidden benefit, if you will, of giving end users a sense of “ownership” of their processes, which can smooth the path to adoption. Some things you can look for in a software package are:

  • User-level configuration utilities for data migration, eliminating the burden of writing customized conversion routines.
  • Training tools incorporated in the application, including ready made templates, and step-by-step interactive help files and/or wizards which will ultimately empower end users.
  • Good, easy-to-understand documentation and help tools.

Software Costs/Platform Options
Special pricing plans for various software solutions offer a wide array of convenient flexible options, from fully hosted SaaS ERP to per-user/per-month to flat fee on-site installation:

  1. Choosing the fully hosted on-demand/SaaS ERP plan not only sets a low-cost fee per user per month, but can help you save on the cost of servers, operating systems, middleware, databases and accompanying administration (maintenance and security). You can also “try before you buy,” and stop using it if the software does not match your requirements.
  2. With the “Per-User/Per-Month” on-site installation you can start out small, using a few of the modules, and expand to use additional modules as you need them. Let the use of the software grow with the features you gradually employ and the number of users within the organization that progressively move over to the new system.
  3. For companies that have existing infrastructure, or that need to keep the application “in-house”, on-site installation are often the only solution.

Private Customizations

Look for software that includes user-level design and configuration tools for as many aspects of the software as possible (which can also be limited if required), especially to control layout and reporting functionality (e.g. look for software that can help you build the reports you need). This will keep private customizations to a minimum.

 

These are some of the major factors that are part of the equation and affect the TCO of any ERP solution. The challenge is to choose an ERP solution that not only fits your business requirements, but can help you address and minimize even these “hidden costs.”

 

By Rebecca Haviv

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ERP Myths and Facts

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This post is dedicated to those who know that there are no simple answers in the ERP space, and want to learn more about it. Here are a few Myths and Facts from the world of ERP.

 

MYTH: “Our project is not progressing as planned because it lacks management commitment”

FACT: Progress is often not achieved because of management burn-out. People involved can be disillusioned by promises made and expectations that were built-up by overzealous vendor reps, consultants who collect exorbitant fees as the project lingers and IT personnel who were looking for big budgets and the opportunity to rub shoulders with the “big boys.” When management is made aware of the process, and understands that there are no silver bullets in ERP or quick fixes, then expectations don’t run amok and progress can be measured in a real and meaningful fashion. A successful ERP implementation can provide a qualifiable ROI.

 

MYTH: “Our system went live in just a few months”

FACT: It is more likely that the financial part of the ERP went live in a few months rather than the whole system. Corporate financials are fairly straight forward to implement. Also, in most organizations the financials are already “under control.” An ERP system’s biggest added value is not in the financial area, but rather in other parts of the operation and perhaps in tying those other parts into the financials. Modeling and effectively managing operations in an integrated ERP system may take years to implement. In fact, it is an ongoing process. Ultimately, the system must be flexible enough to accommodate operational changes indefinitely.

MYTH: “Once we finished getting our ERP system up and running, our expenses went down drastically.”

FACT: Outside consulting fees may have been reduced and the initial costs for setting up the system are paid off, but companies often fail to take ongoing internal implementation investment into consideration. In the words of one CIO, “we planned for $600,000 and a 6 months project; we reached both and then stopped counting.” An ERP implementation extends over long periods of time, and any worth its salt will take years, not months.

 

MYTH: “Consultants are professionals who can guide the selection process and manage the project while maintaining an objective stance.”

FACT: We believe that anyone reading this already knows the facts.

 

MYTH: “Comparing ERP functionality lists is a good practice for initial screening of vendors for your project.”

FACT: Functionality lists are of marginal value in the selection of potential ERP systems. A single line in a list may represent a world of functionality in one software packages and very little in another. Even if the desired functionality is fully supported in the software, actually making it work for your specific needs may make implementation complex and cost prohibitive. Referrals in your industry are a much better yardstick. As the implementation team is just as important as the software in terms of successful projects, referrals from industry representatives regarding the implementation team are the second most valuable indicator.

 

By Galit Raviv

 

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The Art of Choosing an ERP Solution

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If you are looking for a blog post that will detail the benefits, functionality or implementation processes of a particular ERP solution you can stop reading now. This post will step back a level and try to see the overall picture of deciding to move forward with an ERP solution, the forest, and not just the trees. Our journey begins with a short description of why ERP software can be an outstanding tool for an organization, and goes on to take a look at why so many implementations fail leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of all involved. The road ends with solid recommended practices, foundations as it were, for a secure and effective ERP implementation.

 

Why ERP?

Even with the economy in trouble and companies looking to cut costs in order to stay afloat, many are still making the decision to move forward with new ERP systems, or continue to invest and develop the ERP systems they have in place, often to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Why? Because ERP systems, when properly chosen and implemented, make sense. In the long run, they ensure better business practices, have the potential to reduce time spent on tasks that can be automated, freeing people up to concentrate on other tasks and improve productivity, and can ultimately result in tangible monetary benefits in the long run. 

ERP systems are not simple. They are, or should be, an enterprise level investment of most of all, time and energy. An ERP system should not be purchased to address the needs of the finance team, or the sales people, or even the people on the floor of a manufacturing plant. An ERP system must be able to address the needs of a company as a whole, and when it does, that company will reap the true benefits of the system. 

Where in the past a company may have one software package for their accountants, another for sales and yet another for their warehouse, using ERP can not only give all of these different entities information across the company, but also give management a bird’s eye view of what is really going on, without the need for complicated reports generated from different systems. How much more efficient is a system if a sales clerk can see if a particular item of merchandise is available in a different store, or in the warehouse, or if not there if it is on order and when it is supposed to arrive – all at his or her fingertips. And that is just one example. Consolidation, integration and the sharing of information. How would it benefit your company?

 

What are some of the other advantages of ERP?

Proper implementation of an ERP system forces companies to get organized. You have to take a good look at the current business practices, make sure they are actually the “best” they could be and are achieving the expected results, and then think about how to make them better. Once this is all documented, it’s time to set rules and constraints in the software to control events. All this translates into establishing best business practices and processes. This is time consuming at first, but once everything is in place, and you know that management will be receiving an email if something out of stock was ordered and didn’t arrive within 24 hours of its expected delivery date (for example), it’s time that is worth investing. And with the rapid turnover of personnel in some companies, the “knowledge” of how a particular task is done is documented to ensure that it doesn’t get lost if a particular employee is no longer with the company.

 

Flexibility 

This is key to a successful ERP implementation, from both sides of the table. The ERP system chosen must be flexible enough to meet the growing needs of an organization, and to be able to change, modify and adjust processes as business needs change within the company. From the other end, the management must be aware that as business needs change, they may have to reinvest time and resources into making sure the software is keeping up with their needs.

 

Conclusion

Deciding on an ERP system is deciding who you want your business to partner with in the long term. It’s a partnership that needs to be re-evaluated periodically to ensure that the software is keeping up with advances in technology and changes in business needs. The ERP customer must be ready to commit to this long term partnership, and acknowledge that implementation is an ongoing process. Ultimately, the rewards will become apparent.

Future posts will address some of the pitfalls of ERP decision making processes and implementation, and how to avoid them.

 

By Rebecca Haviv

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