Enterprise software is computer software designed to help an entire organization enhance its business and management reporting. Ideally, such programs enable manufacturers to solve enterprise-wide problems, rather than a departmental problem. They can boost a business’s productivity and efficiency by helping organizations display, manage, and store large amounts of often complex data and help organizations process that data to their advantage.

Dawn Brusseau, product marketing manager, Plex Systems Inc., says ERP software “provides a single source of truth for an organization” by keeping every member of an organization aware of current operations and creating traceability and a monitoring process.

“Not only does ERP software allow for real-time updates to help teams quickly pivot when there is an abnormality, it also provides data consistency because every member of the company has access to the same numbers when it comes to financial or production reporting, leaving no silos,” Brusseau says.

Maintaining growing quality standards, more demanding customer expectations, and compliance measures while operating in complex, global supply chains put enormous pressure on manufacturers, says Guido Van den Broeck, director, product management, QAD.

“Fortunately, ERP solutions can help manufacturers to diminish a lot of these pressures,” Van den Broeck says. “The goal of ERP systems is to streamline business operations through automation and the consolidation of business data into one single source of truth.”

Instead of constantly apologizing for returned parts, manufacturers can identify and correct defective parts before they’re shipped, says Mike Melzer, vice president of service and operations at Global Shop Solutions.

“[Manufacturers] can identify the cost of quality down to the part level, while reducing scrap to equal or better than the industry standard,” Melzer says. “This gives them the competitive edge to build continued trust with their customers.”

Because ERP provides the data to easily understand where to focus on continuous improvement — such as by reducing process waste, or by identifying excesses in transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, overproduction, or other key performance indicators — it enables businesses to track and measure the total cost of quality, or the cost a manufacturer must bear in terms of utilizing resources to maintain qualitative outputs to their target customers, Van den Broeck says.

While there are many benefits to employing an ERP solution, Brusseau says, the most important are that it helps streamline business reporting, secures data, and ultimately drives business growth.

“Before ERP systems, manufacturing operations were run on a paper basis, which would have to go from the floor to finance executives to invoices,” Brusseau says. “This created an opportunity for human errors that could negatively impact quality, including lost items, misplaced paperwork, and incorrect data entry. By having accessible real-time data filed to the cloud, businesses can save time and energy on manual tasks and avoid costly mistakes in reporting.”

Data confidence and accessibility also streamlines audits and reporting, dramatically reducing this potential drain on resources. With today’s heightened awareness around cyber and ransomware attacks, organizations need extra security for their proprietary data, Brusseau says. Organizations that implement ERP solutions know their data is protected on the cloud, ensuring that the data will not be corrupted and business continuity will be maintained.

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Enterprise software is changing with the times, most notably through the increased use of KPIs and dashboards, Melzer says. Now more than ever, manufacturers have more data at their fingertips since shop-floor dashboards show employees’ productivity and executives are privy to ample KPIs.

“With the help of ERP, manufacturers are identifying leading metrics and using that data to make short-term and long-term decisions,” Melzer says.

Brusseau cites an industrywide push for a cloud-based system for business security and growth as a major trend.

“Security is a priority concern among customers and isn’t going away anytime soon,” Brusseau says. “The cloud allows data and business processes to be stored securely, and helps organizations move away from on-premise solutions that can easily be infiltrated. Manufacturers are also wise to ensure and validate the security standing of a cloud ERP provider as well.”

The sheer volume and capabilities of ERP software solutions are also relatively new, Brusseau says. While there are some legacy systems out there, “companies are looking at systems that require intensive IT staff and comparing them to newer solutions that don’t require heavy lifting and are easier for the IT community to support,” she explains.

Quality standards, compliance, and customer expectations are increasing while supply chains and operations are getting more complex and challenging or are being disrupted, Van den Broeck says.

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“Getting the right parts from suppliers on time and ensuring the expected quality and features is getting more challenging,” he explains. “Understanding the impact of these delays on your production and delivery plans requires seamless integration and synchronization of data and processes in your organization.”

Manufacturers generally need more skilled workers, while products are getting more personalized and complex to manufacture.

Prices for parts and transporting goods are rising, as are price pressures due to fierce competition.

This leads manufacturers to further invest in prevention and appraisal activities, such as in training, or to introduce more quality checks in the daily processes integrated with ERP.

These investments ultimately make the tasks easier to execute, helping to compensate for dwindling workforces and increasingly complex tasks.

“[They provide] proactive guidance, poke yoke checks, easy-to-understand instructions, and workflow tools, with real-time validations so production can be stopped or adjusted as soon as a problem occurs,” Van den Broeck says. Prevention and appraisal activities also help to automate tasks as needed, limiting human interventions.

“More investments are done as well to ensure users have the right (accurate and real-time) insights into information to make informed decisions faster,” he adds.

As with most enterprise-level technologies, there is a learning curve when it comes to using a new ERP system, Melzer says.

“These robust systems take time to implement and learn, and most manufacturers are already running operations on the leaner side,” he says. “While employees may be at capacity, they have to find flexibility in their day to balance their workload and the undertaking of learning a new system. But with help of dedicated and experienced ERP experts, you can negate some of that heartburn for a smoother transition and implementation.”

The biggest challenges organizations face when implementing this type of technology is the cost and time to implement it among teams, Brusseau says, because it is easy for companies to get overwhelmed when they see the initial cost these advanced technologies can set them back.

“While it is an investment, organizations need to visualize how they will see an ROI as it pertains to efficiency, business agility and potential savings in overhead,” Brusseau says.