How to Create a Custom ERP Development Plan For Your Business
Last Updated October 4, 2021 · Custom Software
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software is a big business. There are a lot of players in the market and all of them are doing their best to provide solutions for businesses with varying needs. These software developers know how to cover the basics: sales, accounting, inventory, etc. Unfortunately, those basics aren’t often enough for businesses with unique day-to-day requirements. In those cases, custom ERP development is a path forward to consider.
Off-the-shelf ERP software can become unbearable when your company has very specific software needs. When standard software doesn’t work anymore it is time to consider a better way. Of course, it’s highly unlikely you are familiar with software development and its processes. You know about your own business but creating a development plan for software is out of your area of expertise. Today, we’ll walk you through the steps we take at Link Software to guide clients through a custom ERP development plan for their business.
Step #1: Decide if Custom ERP Software is Right for You
Taking on any kind of software development project is a daunting task. ERP systems are especially difficult because of the huge amount of features and moving parts involved. There are several different aspects of a project such as this to consider. It’s important to consider these areas before you go head first into building your own ERP solution.
Is there no other way?
First, it’s important to make sure custom software is a path you want to go down. There’s a difference between being frustrated with your current ERP software and it being totally incompatible with your business. We recommend people stick with off-the-shelf products if the pain points aren’t strong enough to justify a “from scratch” solution.
On the other hand, if your employees have completely abandoned using your ERP system then it might be time to move on. A very common sign this is happening is when your staff begins using other products (Microsoft Office, Email, etc.) every day and are avoiding your ERP system.
Do you have the time?
Building software is a time-consuming process. A lot of people think they can hire a firm to build software for them and then sit back and wait. If you do that your project is almost certainly doomed to fail. Clients need to be hands-on and involved throughout the software creation process. This fact is extremely true when something as complex and nuanced as an ERP system is the ultimate goal.
Your software vendor isn’t going to be as knowledgeable about your business as you obviously are. They are going to need guidance and quick answers to their questions to make sure the end product is exactly what you need. Otherwise, you’ll end up with inadequate software and be in the same situation you set out to improve.
Do you have the budget?
We’ll discuss specifics about budgeting in the next system but, first, know that custom software has high upfront costs. Can your business afford to spend more initially on a custom ERP system than you currently pay?
In the long term, custom software can actually be less expensive than the more generic ERP solutions out there. Some of those generic systems have monthly and per-user costs that can get quite astronomical over time. Custom software, on the other hand, while expensive to develop can be quite cheaper on a monthly or annual basis.
Ultimately, it’s a decision to trade-off between paying more now to save later or choosing regular software that is cheaper in the short term but more costly over time.
Step #2: Establish an ERP Development Budget
It’s time to set a budget once you have settled on moving forward with your own ERP software solution. The cost of custom ERP development can vary widely based on multiple factors. Here is our take on several different aspects of a project that can dictate how much you will need to spend.
Where are you finding developers?
There are almost unlimited places to find software developers. The number of choices can make any decision daunting to the unfamiliar. It’s important to try and find developers you can afford while at the same time making sure they are fit for the job.
A lot of businesses, unfamiliar with custom software development, will immediately try and find the cheapest solution. This more often than not leads to disaster. Low-cost developers can be unresponsive, poor communicators, and unreliable when things become difficult or confusing. The best custom software service providers know how to ask the right questions, build systems effectively, and are worth the extra cost.
How quickly do you want it finished?
Trying to speed up development will cost you extra. This is as true in software development as it is with traditional construction. The developer you choose should give you a timeframe for how long the ERP project will take. The price they quote you will be directly related to their time estimate. Be prepared, if their project timeline is too slow, to pay extra to get your ERP system built faster.
We’d like to offer a word of warning here. Estimating the time it takes to complete a custom software development project is incredibly difficult. Few projects ever truly hit their mark when it comes to deadlines. The reasons are varied and, in the end, both the vendor and the client share the blame. Know that throwing more money at a project isn’t a guarantee it will be done on time. There are still other factors involved and obstacles spring up along the way.
What are your post-project plans?
Custom software projects are unique because they can grow after they are finished. We’ll discuss this in further detail later but it’s good to think ahead during budgeting. Your ERP development team will certainly be interested in helping you grow the system as your business changes. Setting aside some money now, even if you have no plans to expand much, is always a smart move.
Aside from additional features, some custom ERP systems are complex enough to require regular maintenance. This can come in the simple form of keeping servers online and data backed up. More complex systems might have automated tasks and regularly scheduled procedures to be processed and monitored. Each ERP system is unique but please keep in mind that it is possible there will be regular post-project maintenance to pay for.
Step #3: Start with the Basics
Now that you have settled on a budget it is time to decide on a scope for the project. By scope, we mean what actual features your ERP system is going to need. Our recommendation is to always start small, focus on the basics, and worry about the rest later. Establishing the fundamentals of the system is key to getting the project started right and finishing on time and within budget.
What is absolutely required?
You don’t need to rush out and recreate all of the features in standard ERP packages. Focus on what you need to have built to accomplish your day-to-day tasks effectively. Maybe you only need some order and inventory features built. Or perhaps you need a better way to track sales and potential customers. Narrow your needs down to the simplest areas you can get the most bang for your buck first.
We can assume you are considering custom software because the current systems are bloated or impractical. A lot of our clients come to us because they need ways to track orders, for example, and their current software makes it too difficult. Figure out precisely what you would improve with your current ERP system and let that be the foundation for what your custom system will do.
What does your team need?
Once you have decided on the must-have requirements of your ERP system it’s time to go one step further. Put together a list of things your staff and employees feel are important. The entire point of a custom ERP system is to make the day-to-day lives of your team more productive. Getting feedback from people who will be using the system every day is vital.
Many software developers, or software designers, make the grave error of not relying on feedback during the planning stage. There should be nothing decided upon until the principal users have offered suggestions and criticism. Failing to get input from actual, real-life users before any code is written leads to systems that run over budget, are completed late, and even ultimately fail.
Step #4: Expand Your Custom ERP Solution
Once you have the basics of your system built and in place, the really fun part can begin. Now it is time to expand and grow your ERP system’s feature set. The real beauty of custom software development is that you are in complete control. You decide what features and integrations you need and not some anonymous software development company.
What third-party services can you use?
One of our favorite things to do with any custom software is to integrate it with third-party services. The options are limitless but the easiest place to look is at the other systems you use every day. Your custom ERP system can connect to your payment processors. The system can collect and use data from your freight carriers about your shipments. The options are endless.
Third-party services are also an interesting way to cut some corners on your project. For example, if you use some common accounting software but find the order processing feature lacking you can work with that. Create your own custom ordering software, tie it back to the accounting package for invoicing, and make the perfect solution for your business. You can also use this approach to limit your project’s scope and budget. If there is, for instance, a CRM tool that works well enough for you then use it as part of your custom system until you need something more bespoke.
What custom reporting do you need?
A great piece of any custom system is taking the data you have gathered for your own processing and reporting. Many off-the-shelf ERP software solutions are either very lacking in their reporting options or have packages difficult to work with. When you have focused on your own ERP development you can create the exact reporting functionality you need.
So many businesses export data from their ERP systems, bring it into a program like Excel, then format that data into their own special reports. To make matters even worse those same people often waste even more time manually emailing those spreadsheets around the office. Your custom ERP system, when developed correctly, can reduce these time-consuming steps into an automated process handled in seconds instead of minutes (or hours).
Do your customers have special requests?
Finally, every business on the planet has customers that have special requests. The problem with standard ERP software is accommodating these requests can be difficult. In fact, sometimes it is actually impossible. Custom ERP systems let you make your customer special requests a reality because you are in control. You don’t have to wait for your ERP vendor to change their system in such a way that you can make things work.
Our clients have customers with all sorts of uncommon needs. Sometimes it is something as simple as a change to an invoice’s layout. Other times it’s a more complicated way of handling billing or a special daily report they want to receive. Any of these requests are possible with the custom ERP systems we’ve built for our clients. These requests are programmed and implemented quickly without relying on anyone else.
Grow Your Business and Improve Productivity with the Right ERP Development Plan
We’ve said it before but the possibilities with custom ERP development are endless. When you decide that your current software, and the other solutions available on the market, aren’t right for you consider going custom. If you have the proper patience (and budget) you can create an invaluable tool for your business.
Custom software isn’t only for multi-million dollar companies with hundreds of employees. We’ve built custom software solutions for businesses of all shapes and sizes. In fact, sometimes the small, very unique companies are the best match for custom solutions. The limit is your imagination and, with the right plan, any business can create and grow its own ERP system.
Are You Ready to Learn More About ERP Development?
Are you interested in learning more about building a custom ERP solution for your business? Link Software has created ERP solutions, from small projects to full-scale systems, for businesses in many different industries. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d be happy to offer up advice and information on how you can make your own ERP software plans a reality.