For some small or mid-size companies, implementing an ERP system can be nerve-wracking. And the thought of customizing their system can add more stress. They see complexity and dollar signs.
We get it. Changing your core business system is a big move. You’re disrupting your business and, in the early stages of a project, there can be many unknowns. Especially with customization in the mix, it can be tough to visualize exactly what the end state will look like, whether you’re making simple tweaks or extending ERP functionality with a custom application. There’s a lot to consider – and from your perspective, a lot that could go wrong.
But it’s important to keep in mind that a customized ERP solution can offer a ton of value – beyond what standard ERP functionality can give you. The key is making sure it’s done right.
That starts with selecting the right ERP partner – one with deep expertise in both ERP and software development. As one of North America’s leading ERP partners for SMEs (small to mid-size enterprise), this is where we thrive. The ProjectLine team has the expertise to create effective, easy-to-maintain ERP customizations. And equally important, we’re passionate about solving complex challenges that other ERP partners can’t.
Our goal here is to address the common fears around ERP customization, offer insight into the right way to approach a customization project and demonstrate why choosing a strong ERP partner is essential to your success.
Customizing ERP software leads to best-fit solutions
ERP software is robust – you can do a lot with the native functionality. But every business has unique requirements that may not be met out-of-the-box. That’s where we use customization to leverage the bones of the ERP software, then adapt it so you get a perfect fit solution.
For example, our customers that provide field service often need a simple, easy-to-use interface for their teams to capture data in the field. Logging into their ERP system and navigating through screens simply isn’t practical when they’re on a jobsite. To solve this problem, we’ve developed many custom web apps that extend ERP functionality to streamline data capture and serve up data in a way that makes sense for field teams. “We’ve done this in many, many projects – where we present your data visually in a map and allow you to interact with it spatially. It’s added value, allowing you to visualize your tabular data in a better, more intuitive way,” said Collin Dennison, Senior Solution Architect at ProjectLine.
Our custom solutions for ERP are diverse, both in size and complexity, but also in what they do and what problems they solve.
On the smaller end are simple add-on components that enhance or extend existing ERP functionality. This is common for many of our customers. Going to the other side, we’ve developed very large, complex applications for specific business needs (typically browser-based or native mobile apps) that integrate with the ERP software. And then there are integrations with other best-of-breed applications so you can solve a specific business need while maintaining a single source of truth for critical business data.
Although designing and developing integrations isn’t simple, our ability to integrate applications is a cornerstone of our success. “We have a robust toolset at our disposal – best-in-class ERP technology, our own software components that allow us to integrate with best-of-breed third-party applications, or if we absolutely need it, we can deliver a full custom bespoke application to serve a specific need,” said Darrell McClarty, President at ProjectLine.
Well designed ERP customizations add big value
Some of the common customer fears we hear related to customizing ERP are cost, timeline and maintenance. Keep in mind that when a project runs long or over budget, it’s typically a result of poor requirements gathering and project planning. But these concerns and anxiety ease rather quickly when you work with the right ERP partner.
For example, at ProjectLine, we’ve spent 20 years honing our requirements analysis and estimating processes. We put in the work up-front to ensure our customers understand what they’ll get and create a sound project plan. “We just don’t go over our budgets because of our estimates, our processes and our experience – we know where the dragons be and how to avoid them,” said Dennison.
While there’s cost associated with ERP customization, keep in mind that you could also see significant savings in licensing and maintenance compared to other solutions. With a customized ERP solution, you get everything you need and nothing you don’t – all with minimal maintenance. So, you’re not paying for things you don’t need, while driving directly toward solving the specific problem. That can have significant efficiencies on its own.
“Many people may be surprised to hear that once we have taken the time to review the requirements and business value, and determine that customization is needed, it's a rare case when a customer decides not to proceed with the given initiative,” said McClarty. “Considering the relatively low cost of maintenance, the total cost of the customization in most cases is easily justified by the return on investment provided by the improvements in business efficiency.”
An experienced ERP partner will ease the transition
We’ve been in the ERP space for over 16 years, but ProjectLine was founded on a custom software project to develop a comprehensive health and safety system that replaced an aged legacy system for a mining company with worldwide operations. We delivered it at a time when web applications were new to the market, putting us at the forefront of technology.
“That was a real opportunity for us,” said McClarty. “Fortunately, we were able to deliver that on-time and on-budget. And we recorded one of the best IT projects that the customer ever had. That customer, 20 years later, is still a customer.”
In the early days, our experience positioned us to develop solutions for niche business needs that couldn’t be satisfied by products in the market. The same holds true today. “These aren’t simple business problems. These are complex business problems that you can’t solve in a spreadsheet – or it’s so hard to solve in a spreadsheet that you need a system to help you. So, we facilitate that. The custom software meets the customer’s needs specifically and directly versus generally,” said Dennison.
Our early custom development projects introduced us to ERP integrations and interfaces with external systems – all valuable skills that we leveraged when we entered the ERP market in 2004. In fact, our ERP practice was started on an SAP Business One solution with significant customization effort to create a solution that wasn’t available in the market. At the time, it was one of the largest SAP Business One add-ons for a small to mid-size company.
So, none of this is new to us – we’ve had the skills to solve complex business requirements using advanced technology right from day one. Quite simply, creating unique ERP solutions puts us in a world where we excel – we can do things that other ERP partners can’t. “With our software development expertise, we’re able to grow with our customers and help them grow,” said Dennison.
Final thoughts on customizing ERP software
When it comes to customizing ERP software, we follow the mantra “walk before you run”. Wherever possible, we use the native ERP functionality or extend your ERP solution with other best-of-breed applications. This approach is key to keeping the development effort in check and ensuring you get maximum value from your solution. “We only customize when we need to,” said Dennison. “And when we need to, we always ask, Could we start smaller?."
Today, most companies have some level of ERP customization, whether it’s big or small. It truly does give you a solution that fits your business, so you can see bigger returns.
The key takeaway here? Don’t be so afraid of customization with the right ERP partner. Evaluate the value and the investment. Be rational. But don’t be afraid of it.