ERP software is designed to make everyday life for organizations easier. It accomplishes this by providing features and modules that address the requirements of every aspect of the day-to-day activities of organizations.
History of ERP software
ERPs have now been around for more than 60 years. The predecessor to the modern day ERP were the industrial ledgers used in the American manufacturing industry in the early 20th century. From there, a transition to huge mainframe software was made. These were the material requirements planning (MRP) solutions developed by J.I. Case, in collaboration with IBM. These solutions were followed by manufacturing resource planning (MRP II) systems. Eventually, the term ERP, enterprise resource planning, was coined for this type of software by Gartner in 1990.
Now, there are lots of organizations in the enterprise software market that provide comprehensive ERP software for businesses of all sizes. Some popular ERP vendors are:
- Microsoft Dynamics
- Oracle E-Business Suite
- SAP Business One
- NetERP from NetSuite
These ERP solutions offer a variety of feature sets, and each one has their own pricing structure.
Essential modules an ERP should possess
For optimal efficiency, any competent ERP should contain the following modules:
- Supply chain management
- Human resources management
- Customer relationship management
Let's take a look at each of these essential modules in detail:
Supply chain management
From procuring to manufacturing to inventory management, effectively managing the supply chain of any organization is vital. This ERP module will ensure that bottlenecks in the supply chain are removed, and a seamless logistics interface is established for hassle-free flow in the organizational supply chain.
Human resources management
Personnel are the backbone of any enterprise. A human resources management module should effectively monitor the organization's personnel, including providing features for efficiency tracking, salary disbursal, and leave management.
Customer relationship management (CRM)
Though there are separate customer relationship management solutions available, ERPs also offer integrated CRM modules. This is a win-win for organizations, as the ability to monitor their relationship with their customers from within the integrated and unified confines of ERP software grants the ability to make informed decisions more easily and maintain a good rapport with customers.
ERP software integrates all enterprise data, making it easier to compute operational costs accurately. The finance module enables the powers that be to make the right financial transactions at the right time. This saves costs, cuts down on unnecessary expenditure, and enhances profits.
The state of contemporary ERP software
Earlier, we quickly went over the history of ERP software. The latest ERP iteration is the Cloud ERP—ERP software that's hosted on the cloud.
Though ERP software is potent, it comes with several limitations:
Licences are expensive, some costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It takes dedicated subject matter experts to install ERP software for an organization. These subject matter experts are hard to find, and expensive to hire.
Organizational personnel need to be trained in the ERP software chosen. This consumes a lot of time, and protracts the ERP installation process.
So, is there a solution to circumvent these limitations of ERPs?
The answer is low-code platforms.
What is a low-code platform?
Low-code application development platforms offer a visual development environment, and supplement it with scripting, to build applications with ease. These platforms, modelled on the principles of rapid application development, empower everyone from citizen developers to professional coders to build powerful software solutions.
Architecting and deploying applications on LC (low-code) platforms is 10 times faster than conventional methods. This is accomplished by providing visual app building tools. A drag-and-drop interface allows you to rapidly build app components, such as front-end elements.
Businesses can automate complex business logic using simple scripting. Some LC platforms, such as Zoho Creator, even offer an IDE, which permits dragging and dropping code blocks to script application logic with ease. Most low-code platforms are hosted on the cloud, so all that's needed is a browser with an internet connection to build and deploy apps.
Using a low-code platform to build your custom ERP
So why use a low-code platform to build an ERP solution instead of utilizing existing ERPs?
i) Learning curve
Conventional ERP software has a steep learning curve. An example is learning ABAP for SAP's ERP solutions. It takes dedicated training personnel to coach users of this ERP software. It takes time and demands additional investment.
However, low-code platforms are much easier to learn to build on, as they provide visual WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) builders, and the drag-and-drop interface requires no training or learning, as it's intuitive. You can begin architecting ERP applications on LC platforms in no time.
ii) Technical expertise required
Conventional ERP solutions demand dedicated subject matter experts (SMEs) who are expensive to hire and hard to find. The technical expertise required is also high, because each ERP offering has its own back-end infrastructure and technical exigencies.
On the other hand, LC platforms require minimal technical knowledge to begin building apps. Scripting on them is easy, as the scripting languages in LC platforms are similar to natural language. Deluge is one such example with its guided scripting.
ERP software licenses cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. They are prohibitively expensive for most small- and medium-sized businesses. LC platforms, though, offer cheap monthly or annual subscriptions, based upon the number of users and applications built. These licences are comparatively inexpensive and are vastly more flexible when compared to ERP software licences.
iv) Application portability
ERP software is not primarily portable out-of-the-box, especially across varied platforms such as iOS and Android. But LC platforms offer one-click portability, to the web, iOS, and Android. This is a welcome advantage, as you don't need to waste time and money to port ERP solutions across platforms.
Benefits of low-code platforms
LC platforms come with a slew of benefits.
i) Deep customization
An ERP built on an LC platform is highly customizable, down to single fields in the forms of a module in the solution. Conventional ERPs are hard to customize, if they're able to be modified at all. Thus a business' processes have to be modified to fit the conventional ERP. This is not the case with ERPs built on LC platforms, where apps can be configured to fit a business' processes.
ii) Rapid return on investment
Conventional ERP software installation takes years to realize a return on investment, as the cost of these solutions is prohibitively high. ERPs architected on LC platforms provide a tangible ROI quickly, as fully functional solutions can be deployed in a matter of days or weeks.
ii) Automatic updates
Developers of conventional ERP software issue patches periodically. These patches, in most cases, have to be manually installed. This requires enlisting the help of, again, SMEs. On the other hand, an ERP solution built on an LC platform is automatically patched by the developer, because the platform is updated instead of the app.
iv) Simplicity and ease of use
Conventional ERP solutions are software behemoths. They may have scores of features out-of-the-box, however this makes them complex to understand and complicated to use. LC platforms offer a minimalistic interface, and are easy to understand and intuitive to use.
Low-code platforms: A viable alternative for engineering ERPs
The numerous advantages and strengths of LC platforms over conventional ERP solutions make them a strong contender for architecting enterprise solutions. By harnessing the capabilities of these versatile platforms, enterprises can reap innumerable rewards by building their own, fully customized ERP solutions on them.