Finance and IT alignment: How to ensure a smooth integration between spreadsheets and ERP solutions

Posted by  Sjoerd-Jaap Westra

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems have become commonplace in many modern businesses. These software programs can automate and streamline many important business functions, from production, planning and manufacturing, to purchasing, marketing and more. For many organizations, ERP systems are critical, as technology and HR staff rely on them to complete their jobs daily.

Most legacy ERP solutions focus on sales, manufacturing and planning. When trying to integrate existing systems with newer ERP systems that allow for inventory control, marketing and detailed financials, it may be seemingly impossible to find a solution that doesn't contribute to the spreadsheet burden. The last thing any organization wants is to spend a lot of money on a solution that makes the existing situation worse. This is especially true for a system as important as a company's ERP system to daily operations and compliance.

The very fear that transitioning to a newer ERP solution would cause adverse effects instead of positive ones is often enough for companies to hesitate before switching. However, newer ERP systems offer many benefits that cannot be overlooked. A smooth integration between spreadsheets and the ERP system is possible. Here are some important considerations for your organization to ensure a smooth and positive transition period to the new ERP system.

Find a solution that incorporates the types of systems needed

Most companies have two sets of needs from an ERP system. The first set relates to human resource compliance and corporate accounting processes. After all, any company that makes money and hires people needs these particular two functions. This is where many ERP systems already provide some level of quality support. The second set of needs is specific to a business' structure, and not every out-of-the-box ERP system will be able to meet these needs.

Before choosing an ERP solution, you need to research all of your options, both customized and out-of-the-box solutions. First, however, you should understand which kind of systems your organization needs. Once you have this information, it will be easier to compare software programs and choose the right solution. For instance, a company that outsources all of its marketing functions may have little use for an ERP that prioritizes marketing functions. However, that same company may thrive on the increased knowledge it has from automated financial reports that highlight just where improvement is needed and what areas of the business are performing best.

Ask relevant questions before you buy

ERP systems can be expensive, so it's important to ask any relevant questions that you can think of before you commit to transitioning to a new ERP system. Find out if the vendor you are considering has experience transitioning clients to its ERP system from the program that your company currently uses.

Ask about training materials that the vendor may have available to clients. After all, one of the major obstacles that companies face when adopting a new software solution is training end users on the new technology. What happens if your human resource department has trouble understanding the new system? Will the vendor offer support? Or will you have to rely on your IT department only?

Try not to make any assumptions at this stage in the process, as the answer to a quick question can often change the direction that your company chooses to go in with regard to ERP systems. It is important to uncover what exactly each vendor offers and how it could benefit your company's operations.

Discover if a trial is available

One way to ensure a smooth transition to a new ERP program is to do a trial run of a new ERP system to test its capabilities. With a 30- or 60-day trial, you can see for yourself how a new ERP system will fit within existing business operations. Maybe what features sounded great in theory will turn out to be terrible. Maybe you will find out that you want to use many of the offerings you thought you wouldn't, such as automated performance reports. For instance, older ERP systems require manual configuration and reporting. Newer systems take care of many of these functions. Even if you don't think that you will use these features now, you may change your mind in the future when you see the potential these features offer to your business.

Sometimes the only way to know how a transition will go is to do a trial run. If a trial is not available, it may be worth just taking the plunge to find out. Just make sure you don't lock into a very long-term contract that cannot be broken.

It can sometimes be overwhelming to think about making a major change to your business's infrastructure. This is especially true with regards to ERP systems and other software programs that your daily operations remain dependent on. But transitioning to a new and integrated ERP system is worth the effort. Newly improved, streamlined and automated processes offer great advantages for your business. Whether you start the process with a trial period or with the help of an expert, newer ERP systems can better align your existing and future IT and finance processes.

Sjoerd-Jaap Westra

Sjoerd-Jaap Westra

Within global product marketing of Unit4, Sjoerd-Jaap is responsible for the 'Office of the CFO' suite. This suite contains best-in-class solutions for financial management, planning & control management, and corporate performance management.


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