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Does Strategic ERP Software Take a Back Seat to CRM Software?

As they directly connect your company to your customers, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are often seen as the front line of your business operations. That makes sense.

But what about the other critical IT information systems that hold your business together, like your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application, which connects you with your vendors, your suppliers and your internal business processes, such as budgeting, strategic planning, inventory management, sales order tracking, accounting, human resources and payroll?

Do your company equally value these critical back office functions, in comparison with all the fan fare surrounding CRM and social CRM (SCRM)?

I have a theory about hugely important, established, behind-the-scenes IT systems like ERP applications, which is when we use them for so long that they become as embedded as the office furniture, we tend to forget about them, and similarly forget about their strategic importance and capabilities to support company growth initiatives. They become system commodities that we begin to view as always there. We begin to become complacent so much that we relax our IT focus so we can worry about the next big thing in our IT shops.

ERP software systems, and other back-office business software applications, often don't get attention unless they are failing. We have come to trust these business applications and in so doing give them little regard to advancement, for optimization or for continuous process improvement.

Today's ERP software systems just don't get the media attention, or IT attention, as does CRM software, cloud computing, server virtualization, Green IT, open source software and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

I saw a similar experience with Linux in the last decade. Remember when Linux was a new buzzword that was just barely beginning to be mentioned in the same sentence as business? I remember going to a LinuxWorld conference and hearing the IBM and Red Hat marketing people describing how Linux was the next big thing and how it would alter the IT landscape in enterprise computing. Within four years, by 2004, the Linux operating system tidal wave did become so entrenched in enterprise IT that it became a commodity in the marketplace. Linux was found to work largely as advertised in a wide variety of IT applications and it is now so trusted that it doesn't have the same on-the-street interest and cachet it did previously.

Linux conferences, which used to be bustling with attendees, have been a shadow of their former selves in the last few years and are on the verge of extinction. Part of that drop-off has been the economy, but the bigger factor is that Linux is now a commodity and you don't need to go to a conference to find out what you need to know.

Now this same technology trend has happened with ERP systems, deserved or not. ERP applications just don't get the headlines that CRM does, because in general it just works like it's supposed to work the majority of the time. There's little media for "Social ERP", as there is "Social CRM", and also unlike CRM, there's few discussions highlighting adoption of open source ERP systems or ERP delivered in the SaaS model.

Admittedly, ERP is not without its struggles. There have been plenty of media stories and IT headlines about failed ERP implementations, customer dissatisfaction with costly ERP vendor maintenance contracts – such as those ongoing disagreements between users and vendors such as SAP. But those are issues of implementation approaches and software pricing, not about ERP capabilities or advancements.

So if ERP is indeed a commodity, does that excuse IT and business executives to no longer seek improvements? Not a chance. To be complacent about your ERP deployment is to miss the opportunity to improve software automation, enterprise-wide business processes and information reporting. You also still need to maintain it, patch it and upgrade it. ERP is a central and core function for your business' lifeblood and operations and it shouldn't be left on the sidelines.

Perhaps a good place to start then is with a bottom up evaluation of your ERP system. Are there new software modules you could add to expand your business capabilities? Are there areas where software customization could reduce manual efforts? Are there any new version upgrades that are available that could bring new needed functionality at reasonable cost?

Your ERP application has helped get your business where it is today. It's time to open the vault door and take a new look inside.

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