As part of your research into potential ERP systems, it’s important that you understand ERP feature lists. Before you start speaking with potential ERP software vendors, but after you’ve identified and mapped out your business requirements and processes, it is now time to start reviewing features. While many ERP systems will provide the same overall functionality, each vendor will have a different way of providing users with features and assigning appropriate costs. For example, while most packages will include some functionality available out-of-the-box, many vendors also provide a list of optional ERP features, integration with 3rd party vendors and custom programming. Below we expand on the different types of ERP features.
Out-of-the-Box ERP Features
All ERP software packages will include out-of-the-box features available to all customers. You can think of these ERP software features as the “base model” – features that every customer will receive as part of the software solution. However, these features can vary depending on the plan or package that you choose. For example, some companies will offer different packages based on industry, company type, or the number of users. Therefore, when comparing different software options, it’s important to make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples – for example, accounting software such as QuickBooks will include accounting features out-of-the-box, whereas ERP software like Blue Link will include not just accounting features but also inventory management, contact management, order entry, purchase orders, warehouse management and more.
Optional ERP Features (Add-Ons)
In addition to out-of-the-box features, many ERP feature lists include optional or add-on components. In this situation, it’s important to confirm if the features in question are in fact add-ons that the software vendor can easily activate, or if they are features available through integration with a 3rd party vendor (see information on 3rd party integrations below). True add-on ERP features should be easily configurable, require minimum (if any) training and set-up and become part of the same base package when activated. However, because add-on components tend to be more sophisticated, there is usually an additional cost from the software vendor. One benefit to add-on or optional features is that instead of having to upgrade your software package, you can add new features one by one as your business grows and needs change. Another benefit is that starting with out-of-the-box functionality allows you to master the basics of the system first, and then once you’ve gotten over the learning curve, you can easily add more advanced functionality. Examples of these types of features include things like a B2B Online Order Portal, tools for processing credit cards, and mobile barcode scanning. These are features that may not be useful to every company and therefore are not available out-of-the-box but can be easily turned on as your business grows and requirements change.
Integration (3rd Party)
Unlike optional ERP features, integration with 3rd party software requires additional set-up behind the scenes and involves another software company. Many ERP systems integrate with 3rd party vendors to provide additional functionality such as CRM, eCommerce and Document Management. In this situation, the 3rd party vendor is already a well-established business, with a focus on one core system – such as eCommerce. Therefore, it does not make sense for the ERP software to try to compete in a space where there are already a ton of great options like Shopify, Big Commerce and Magento. Instead, integration allows both systems to work seamlessly together – with information flowing bi-directionally between the two so that order information, inventory, pricing and customer information is always up-to-date. Depending on the 3rd party software and functionality, integration may be as simple as a one-time configuration that can be replicated for all new customers and businesses, or it may require custom set-up each time. For example, with eCommerce, custom integration is required based on the amount of information you want to share between both systems and how often. Integration typically requires a cost from the ERP vendor as well as any service costs from the 3rd party vendor.
When discussing integration options with the ERP vendor, make sure to find out as many specific details about the integration as possible. For example, does integration mean information automatically flows between the two systems? Or does it still require manual data entry? Does integration happen automatically or after manual intervention from the user? Some vendors will claim to provide seamless integration options, when in fact, it requires more manual processes.
Outside of base features, integrations and optional components, many ERP software vendors provide customers with the option of custom programming. Custom programming is changing the actual software code and allows you to customize the system to your specific business needs. Unlike ERP features, you will need to work with your software vendor who will design and quote custom projects on an individual need-by-need basis.
Now that you know how vendors provide different features, make sure that you ask for more information about specific ERP feature lists before spending too much time learning about any given system. An inexpensive solution that requires integration with multiple systems can end up costing more than a more expensive solution with all features available out-of-the-box or as add-ons.