Enterprise resource planning, or ERP, is like a one-size-fits-all computer system. It's a single, complex group of interlinked databases intended to be used throughout a company, or across the enterprise. Data travels from engineering to purchasing and manufacturing, from manufacturing to logistics, and even throughout the various finance processes in between. ERP exemplifies the concept of entering data once and using it many times. But to implement an ERP system effectively and then to keep it working efficiently requires levels of expertise that most companies don't have in-house -- they need vendors and consultants to get it right.
ERP vendors are the people who sell and support the software that makes ERP systems work. Companies should select vendors based on the best long-term value rather than the initial short-term cost, because once a purchase agreement is signed, a partnership is formed. IT leaders will expect the vendor to support software problems and upgrades as long as the system remains in use.
The investment behind an ERP implementation in terms of both dollars and resources represents risk. Consultants are often brought in to reduce that risk and enable a positive return on the investment. Consultants with hands-on technical knowledge of the product help IT teams to effectively transition from the current, legacy database systems to the new enterprise-wide system without losing data or causing data to stop flowing altogether.
An important part of an ERP project involves teaching users how to work with the new software. Both vendors and consultants can provide training materials. Many also perform training. ERP vendors typically provide online, web-based training modules that users can access at their convenience. Consultants with expertise in corporate training often partner with vendors to deliver training courses on-site at companies involved with ERP system implementations.
ERP systems are implemented to enable companies to become more efficient -- this means company leaders expect to see improvements in cost, quality and resource allocations. Consultants with expertise in process efficiency help companies perform workplace evaluations before an ERP vendor is even selected. Results of the evaluations can then be used to select the best-fit product and to drive database configurations during the implementation.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.