How can a CFO find the right ERP?

16th June 2014

What do mid-range finance functions expect from their enterprise resource planning systems and how can they find a solution that best meets their needs? FSN writer Lesley Meall gets answers from finance chiefs and software developers




Ask three finance chiefs what they wanted from their chosen ERP and you get similar answers. “To automate our processes and increase efficiencies across our business,” says Stephanie McConnell, CFO at Vacuum Engineering & Materials, in San Francisco, which chose Sage ERP X3 version 7. 

“To provide integration and visibility across the business, from our sales process through to delivery and invoicing our clients,” says Richard Jarvis, CFO at IRM plc, a UK-based IT training consultancy, which chose 

“We needed data to be available right across the business, not just at the top,” says Ben Knispel, finance head at the Australian agricultural company Nippy’s, which chose MYOB EXO for Business. 

There seems to be a common driver: the need to replace the disconnected and disparate systems and data silos that characterise many growing organisations, with a system that can unify a business and integrate its data. “Multiple disparate tools spread across multiple platforms makes for complex deployments that are difficult to maintain,” says Kevin Roberts, general manager, platform and alliances, at 

Joe Langner, executive VP and general manager of mid-market solutions for Sage North America adds: “As companies grow, they can lose agility and profitable growth,” so businesses want tools that can help them to revive this growth by “simplifying and speeding up the use of information”. 

There’s no guarantee that any ERP will deliver growth, but our finance chiefs seem happy with what their ERPs have delivered. “We have one data source that everyone is accessing. It’s available whether they are at home, with a client or in a different country, and we are able to operate as a business more collaboratively,” says Jarvis, at IRM. Since it replaced its “dysfunctional” collection of business applications and spreadsheets with the ERP (including professional services automation) and added them to its customer relationship management (CRM) system, IRM has seen bottom line benefits such as increased fees per consultant and a reduction in the amount of chargeable time written off. 

At Nippy’s having all of its data in a single repository, rather than debtors stored in one database and sales and general accounting data in another, has improved efficiency and the quality of information. “On a day to day basis, EXO gives us a better understanding of what’s going on in and outside the walls of our warehouse,” says Knispel. “We must have saved 20 hours a week alone handling our distribution process – that’s half a full time role,” he adds. “We know exactly what we’ve sold too – and whether we’ve sold more or less than we did last month or last year.” Access to up-to-date information has also improved Nippy’s stock keeping and reporting, by enabling it to move from a periodic to a perpetual inventory system. 

So far, so good, but faced with an array of ERP providers and delivery methods, how do you select the ones that best meet your needs? Like any selection process, there are myriad factors to consider. These include (but are not restricted to) in-house skills and knowledge, existing business systems, and the size and structure of the business. A look at the original request for proposal for your incumbent system could be worthwhile too, reminding you how much has since changed. Perhaps acquisitions or a new distribution model have reshaped the company; perhaps the sector has become more regulated, or you want to better exploit emerging technology – and most ERPs can now exploit cloud and mobile in one way or another. 

Sage ERP X3 was recently upgraded to provide new web and mobile interfaces, with a variety of apps and a mobility development kit that is compatible with iOS, Windows Phone and most Android devices – which helped to convince Vacuum Engineering & Materials to upgrade from an earlier release of it. “It is really easy to use,” says McConnell, “and we can access information on mobile devices, making our business and our people more efficient, which ultimately mean we can focus on growing our business.” Recent research commissioned by Sage found that mid-market companies with improved data accessibility, quality, intelligence and usability can expect 35% more incremental revenue over a year than lower-performing companies. 

Of course, cloud-based systems such as were created remote access in their DNA. “Moving to a cloud based solution that lives alongside your CRM can fundamentally transform the way finance and delivery teams are able to support customer sales, account management and customer service – in a way that was previously not possible when ERP data was locked away in on-premise siloed databases visible only to the chosen few,” says Roberts. “Organisations need to look closely at how core back office functions like accounting and ERP can best add value towards meeting the overall goals of the business,” he adds. Because getting what you need from your ERP is as much about what you do with it, as what you can do with it.