Have we reached the point where we can buy ERP off Craigslist or get enterprise software recommendations from the masses as if we were looking for a plumber on Angie's List? I hope that may be the case someday. In fact, I think acquiring most enterprise software will relatively soon be no different than acquiring other office supplies. But based on this example on Sept. 20 on LinkedIns (you probably have to be logged in to see the whole thread), I don't think we're there yet. Here was the LinkedIn question:
Ulmas of Finnet Limited: "What are the inexpensive options for ERP/Business Management Software for smaller companies? Our company started growing both in number of employees and activities that we do. And we see that separate software products we are using are counter-efficient. Therefore we are looking for a centralized software that would help us run all of our business activities (accounting, finance, human resources, document management). It would be good to have CRM, Project Management and Intranet/collaboration components as well. I know there is SAP and NetSuite but these are monsters and very expensive. What are other less-expensive web-based solutions available out there?
Here are extracts from some of the answers. I have reordered them to make a few points (and to have some fun at the end). But the bottom line is: Be careful of depending on free advice when it comes to enterprise software.
Two of the answers got down to the bowels of the software stack, not the right place to start, especially for a small or medium-size enterprise:
Johnny: "What I suggest you do before searching for "The" solution, is that you build your infrastructure (network, subnetworks, servers, workstations, etc...)."
Anthony: "Johnny makes a very good point - before spending money on your ERP solution, you should make sure that the infrastructure is stable, secure and functional."
Actually the best approach when it comes to someone asking the general question Ulmas asked is to ask him in turn what industry he is in. ERP software is really industry-specific, even if it is thought of as cross-industry. It turns out Ulmas works in Uzbekistan for what I think is UK-based company that offers information and technology services. So hopefully, Johnny and Anthony, he already has some good infrastructure.
The next question then for a small business would be "What infrastructure do you have?" The answer to any ERP/business-management software question forks depending on whether the answer is Wintel or other. And if the answer is "none yet," then I agree with a set of answers described below that basically recommend strongly at looking at software-as-a-service (SaaS), which Ulmas may already be doing because he mentioned NetSuite.
Anthony also added:
" both SAP and Oracle are very big, will cost a lot and take a long time to implement. If you don't have the resources, they will become a money pit. There are a couple of products that you might wish to consider -- both cheaper and easier to implement than the big ones and very suitable for the SMEs."
They are <strong>Epicor, of which I wrote here on IT Business Edge on Sept. 7</strong>, and a configurator product from a company called Caliburn that bills itself as the "market leading software for windows, doors, conservatories & more!" Wow, that's industry specificity.
Of course, if Ulmas is thinking SaaS, he should not ignore SAP, Oracle or many IBM partners. Here was the SaaS-specific advice:
Sarah: "Currently many companies who offer software for ERP, CRM and PLM, at the same time offer SaaS to their customers, such as CRM with Siebel on Demand of Oracle, PLM on demand of PTC."
Jeff: "Sarah's point sounds best to me; by going SaaS you can try things out as then back out if they don't work out. At a higher level, though, I'm hearing you ask that someone else be the decision maker, and I caution you strongly against that. While it might seem smart to push this off onto an "expert", there's no one more expert in what your business needs than . . . you. My company helps with this kind of thing, and I'd be happy to be a resource."
The PTC advice was from a PTC guy and would not seem to fit with Ulmas' industry needs. Ditto for the configurator recommendation above. It's all about industry. I'm not sure if Jeff is a facilitator of some type or the "expert" he recommends against using?
Some other advice was more traditional:
Hameed: "I suggest you have a look at Sage Accpac ERP, which is a global & mature ERP solution, and as it is modular it can grow as your company grows."
An Indian accounting student: "I suggest RAMCO Systems' ERP."
The Sage advice was from a Sage guy, naturally, and there is no question about the maturity of both Accpac and Ramco. Wow. I didn't know they were still out there. They were included in my oldest Datapro ERP software report, circa 1991.
Craig: "We have a website that lists software products for small and medium sized businesses, called Software Shortlist."
Of course, it's not THE Craig. And interestingly, no one had suggested open source ERP as of when I saw the link. Compiere is worth a look given Ulmas' industry. And on the other end of the spectrum, from some analysts' perspective, is Microsoft Office Live Small Business (but see my rant about Office Live on my IT Investment Research site).
And then finally there was this piece of advice on LinkedIn from Maria in response to a question about ERP:
I'm not going to investigate that one any closer or even click on the link on the chance that I will get some very nasty spam.