Top ERP Software Trends: Is it Time for a Digital Transformation?

Ilmie Sham Ku

Hot cocoa, twinkling lights, holiday parties and...year-end budgeting for 2019? It may be the holiday season but for many wholesale distribution businesses, the end of the year is an opportune time to evaluate what went well, how the business has grown in the past year... and most importantly, evaluate what's not working. If you’re like most businesses, technology, specifically existing introductory software or outdated ERP systems is at the top of the naughty list.

Consider making room in the budget to invest in a new system as it could be transformative for your business.  According to Allied Market Research, the global ERP software market is expected to garner $41.69 billion by 2020. As businesses become more and more aware of the all-encompassing benefits of this type of technology, ERP vendors continue to keep up with demand. Advancements in ERP technology has certainly grown leaps and bounds from what it was a decade ago...and even what it was a couple years ago.

ERP is definitely changing, but it is still a core system and has the potential to drive digital transformation for your business. The issue that most business owners have when they start thinking about ERP is that they don't see the full potential and advantage of what an all-in-one system can do to grow their organization. Looking ahead to the new year, it's time to stop thinking of ERP software as just accounting and inventory software and think of it as an all-inclusive, transformative technology that will help your business reach new heights and strategically expand into new markets.

Keep the following trends in mind and compare them with your current system and/or with new ERP vendors you speak with in the new year.

Cloud ERP Adoption

Cloud ERP is definitely on the nice list for the new year. Not surprising, more and more small to medium-size businesses have opted for cloud deployment methods mainly due to the fact that cloud options are more affordable with lower upfront fees and lower IT costs, making it possible for smaller businesses and even start-ups to consider ERP as an option. There is no longer a need for small businesses with tight budgets to invest in large, expensive servers to keep on-premises and they no longer need to have an expansive in-house IT team as cloud ERP vendors manage the hardware and maintenance aspect of the software.

The rise in cloud technology adoption also aligns with the rising number of mobile employees. As more and more businesses hire remote workers such as on-the-road salespeople, it is important to have an ERP system that is capable of remote networking. With Blue Link’s hosted offering, employees access the full Blue Link ERP software package remotely via the internet through an RDP connection meaning they can work from anywhere in the world as long as there is an internet connection.

Functionality and Automation

The main reason for buyers to replace their existing ERP is still software functionality.  According to G2 Crowd, around 48% of buyers switched to a new system for better features. Price was only a 4.5%  deciding factor and only 7% switched due to ease-of-use.

We're starting to see that more and more businesses want solutions that are tailored specifically to their industry so that they can avoid customization and ensure that they stay current long-term.  For example, the pharmaceutical distribution industry requires specific functionality to remain compliant with industry regulatory bodies such as the FDA...these features include transaction reporting, lot tracking/traceability, and serialization.

The food distribution industry is also unique in the sense that comapnies also need lot tracking/traceability functionality to comply with global and trade regulations and consumer protection laws as well as the ability to trace items in the event of a recall. Working with a vendor that provides industry-specific functionality not only helps manage your specific requirements, but you also gain a long-term industry expert who can offer advice on how to succeed in your market.

Part of this need for improved functionality is ultimately the need for automation in workflows. A growing number of businesses are wanting better document management options.  Depending on the ERP vendor, there are workflows in place to reduce the amount of human interaction when it comes to document management. Blue Link facilitates two-way integration with DocuWare – an electronic document management system which allows users to quickly store, index, search, display, download, retrieve, edit and integrate documents and create automated workflows to help businesses operate in a paperless environment.

Improved Data Security

From Facebook to seems like data breaches were at the top of every news channel this past year so it's a no-brainer that data security is not to be taken lightly in the new year. When looking for a new ERP system, go with a vendor that prioritizes data security.

Look for features such as encrypted databases to keep credit card information safe that will help meet PCI compliance standards. Where your data is stored is also a crucial factor in your data safety. With Blue Link's hosted solution, customer data is kept safe in a facility designed to Tier III standards. It is equipped with 2N backup power infrastructure, cooling and connectivity infrastructure and an indoor generator facility located off-site for added redundancy, providing high levels of reliability and support.

Blue Link also has a disaster recovery plan in place which includes managing data from multiple physical locations with extensive backup power. In the event of a blackout, the data center has two times the generation capacity required to run the entire building – so even if one set of generators fail the other set can still run everything.

Flexible and Agile Vendors

Partner with vendors who not only specialize in your business but are willing to step outside of the box. With the popularity of the cloud on the rise, the traditional role of technology partners will no longer suffice. Businesses want to partner with vendors who will cater to their unique needs and become an asset to their business long-term.  While the functionality of the ERP system you choose should accomplish the majority of your organizational tasks, there will be a need to customize functionality if your business has unique processes in place. Go with a vendor who is willing to listen to your needs and ideas and are open to customizing their solution.

We're also seeing a desire for personalized software - for example, the ability to create custom dashboards with reports catered to specific job roles and the ability to change color schemes and homepages are highly sought after. Personalization can also relate to vendor customer support.  Think about what your current experience is with your existing ERP software vendor. Do you feel like just another number to them? How well do they know your business? With the next system you choose to go with, ensure that it is not only the right fit in terms of improving your business processes, but it is a fit when it comes to the people behind the software as well.  Click on the resource below to learn about 6 factors other than functionality to consider such as company size, on-going dependability, costs etc. when partnering with an ERP vendor.

Amazon Integration

Amazon is predicted to make up 50% of all US eCommerce by 2021. The eCommerce giant has gained quite a bit of ground this past year with no signs of slowing down. This is an opportunity that small businesses should not overlook in 2019. Think of your next ERP system as a catalyst to break into the online market for the new year by integrating its back-end functionality with marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay. Go with a vendor who is able to handle this type of integration as it will open your small businesses to sell more product and reach new customers without a lot of extra effort.

Flexible Business Processes  

As ERP vendors continue to improve and advance the technology behind their systems and feature offerings, it's important to be flexible as a consumer of ERP and be careful not to silo the functionality as standalone features. Rather, gain the full advantages of the automation technology that comes with a true ERP solution by being flexible to adopt new ways of operating. For instance, you may see better business results simply by changing the process around sales order creation in the system.

It's also important to take the advice of ERP vendors seriously when it comes to creating workarounds if there are certain processes you do not want to change.  However, keep in mind that although workarounds typically relieve issues in the short-term, they can be quite difficult to maintain so it's easier to be flexible as a company and be open to process changes if your vendor has a better solution to doing certain tasks.