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What is Small Business (SMB) ERP?

When evaluating enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, the challenge for many small-to-medium-businesses (SMBs) is what to expect. To continue growing, SMBs must evolve from spreadsheets, standalone on-premises software solutions and limited cloud point solutions.

For success, SMBs must adopt a modern approach to finance and operations with their ERP selection. But, what is a “modern ERP”? And is that a solution for SMB ERP?

When SMB leaders evaluate what they need from their ERP system to best manage their finance and operations in conjunction with their short- and long-term goals, perspectives will initially depend on each employee’s background, training, discipline, and type of business involvement. So, while answers will first vary, SMB companies often reach the same conclusions when assessing options and plans for a modern ERP solution as needs and desired are aligned to available solutions from leading applications vendors.

How tactical distractions impact the strategic business goals of SMBs

The ultimate goal of many SMBs is to eventually grow into a larger enterprise. This aspirational objective may evolve acquisitions, expansion into new regional, national or global geographies, the addition or evolution of new products or services, additional distribution approaches, or adoption of new business models like subscriptions or franchising. Often it is a multi-pronged approach involving multiple combinations of all these activities. The ability to execute with speed is critical for meeting, and hopefully exceeding, growth targets.

Yet, these strategic goals are often impacted by tactical realities. Enterprise applications and technologies that regularly distract from aspirational plans generate a drag on resources required to execute.

For example, when an SMB has multiple on-premises software applications for running their business, IT resources spend time dealing with important but mundane activities involving data backups, disaster recovery planning and testing, security patching, and a myriad of updates and upgrades. These activities create multiple on-going distractions that take away from strategic growth tasks that require insight and work from IT talent, whether internal or contracted.

This is why SMBs, regardless of their size, are increasingly adopting a comprehensive “cloud first” approach. With cloud ERP applications, SMBs divest most of the responsibilities of disaster recovery planning, data management, patching, updating and most of the other tactical IT activities to their cloud vendor. This in turn frees up valuable IT talent for more important strategic objectives. Plus, with a cloud first approach, SMBs can grow confidently knowing that their data and systems are available and secure 24x7 through their vendor.

ERP cloud as a competitive advantage and equalizer

Beyond shifting core finance and operations activities from a tactical to strategic emphasis, SMBs that adopt a cloud first approach for ERP gain two additional advantages:

1. Competitive advantage over other SMBs

When an SMB uses cloud applications for core business tasks their teams can put more emphasis and focus on growth goals. When competing against other SMBs operating in their space, this delivers a competitive advantage.

2. Competitive equalizer with large enterprises

Often an SMB will be chasing market share or ideas dominated by larger companies. Many of these companies are transforming their enterprises to cloud applications. With a cloud first approach, SMBs can leverage the same applications and infrastructure their larger competitors are using today. And if those larger enterprises have not yet embraced cloud applications, then an SMB gains yet another competitive advantage.

SMB ERP business challenges and opportunities

SMBs face the same financial and talent pressures as their larger counterparts; however, SMBs weigh and prioritize issues differently because of their downstream goals and objectives. While protecting margins and avoiding cash flow issues is just as important for SMBs compared to their larger competitors, SMBs simply have fewer total financial and human resources to work with for driving short- and long-term success.

Based on research, revenue and costs top the list of business pressures for SMBs. Driving growth expectations is another concern for many of the same reasons. Growth is generally a positive sign for any business. However, it is equally important that backend systems and resources to manage and support profitable growth are in place. Avoiding missteps is the key and taking on new risk prematurely—before preparing the organization—which may for an SMB permanently ruin a growth opportunity.

Which is why cloud ERP becomes critical for SMBs focused on growth. For most companies, but particularly for SMBs, cap-ex funding is limited and often a fought over financial resource. When SMBs leverage a cloud first ERP plan, they deliver their finance and operations capabilities with an op-ex monthly budgeting model that scales with their growth consuming what they need when it is needed. Rather than deploying or managing on-premises systems that rely on limited and steep up-front cap-ex funds, SMBs grow and pay for their ERP as needed. This frees up capex for critical investments in new equipment, added facilities, and R&D activities focused on reaching the SMB’s growth goals.

In our fast-paced business environment, the ability to generate prebuilt reports as well as easily create ad-hoc outputs, isn’t just something that’s nice to have—it’s a critical requirement for financial management systems software. Add in requirements for in-depth data analysis, information visualization, more operational visibility, and narrative reports, and companies quickly discover that their ERP software solutions need to easily work with advanced reporting systems like enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions.

Addressing competition is another factor affecting SMBs because they are not likely to be the market leader, usually due to size. However, this may not be true for SMBs promoting, as a first mover or industry disrupter, a new technology product, or service.

Regardless of any SMB’s market plans or their current leadership position, leveraging cloud ERP delivers key business benefits.

For example, sharing financial information effectively can be difficult when following processes that evolved from manual, paper-based, spreadsheet dependent capabilities that are often the foundational elements of an SMB’s accounting system. This lack of financial collaboration also drives siloed functions. But if an SMB evolves with cloud ERP not only can financial processes be streamline, but they can also establish one version of truth for accounting and data across their enterprise. This alone can be a competitive advantage over other competing SMBs and larger enterprise rivals who are struggling with the same problem.

Yet, entry into the cloud can seem daunting for an SMB. Comprehensive cloud solutions offer capabilities well beyond the best on-premises systems that trace their roots back to the last century. The good news, because of this plethora of features and functionality found with SaaS applications, very few companies–regardless of size–start with a complete cloud ERP solution suite; most add capabilities as needs arise. For many SMBs, growth evolves naturally and sometime dramatically, which makes it difficult to determine precisely how to leverage cloud ERP.

Beyond competitive pressures, constantly changing customer needs are a disruptive force as business users expect – if not demand – their work applications be similar, if not better, than what they experience in their personal lives. Since cloud ERP is typically engineered with the same rapidly evolving technologies that drive modern consumer experiences for desktop and mobile applications, SMBs must be enabled to continuously deploy approaches that improve their own competitive position.

9 signs that your ERP system cannot support growth

New next-generation technologies are changing how finance operates, including AI, machine learning, chatbots, process automation, and more. When you migrate to a cloud-based ERP system, you can access the capabilities from these technologies to gain efficiency and improve decision-making.

But how do you know your current ERP system is not built for growth? Answer these questions about your current back-office finance and operations environment:

1. Is data downloaded and manually re-entered into other systems, especially Excel spreadsheets?
2. Do the lines of business trust the data and is there a single source of truth?
3. Has decision-making stalled as data is questioned or not viewed in real-time?
4. Are spreadsheets used more than your current ERP system?
5. Does closing the books seemingly take forever (weeks rather than days)?
6. Can your teams support new revenue models or planning, budgeting, and forecasting methods?
7. Is your ERP system a cobbled-together collection of point solutions from different vendors with multiple internal or third-party integrations?
8. Are customer experience complaints rising?
9. Have ERP system support costs skyrocketed, vendor product support for your current ERP ended, or is a required ERP upgrade required soon?

SMB ERP goals

While growth and market share are top goals for SMBs—a key requirement that is more than double any other—is to simultaneously improve profitability. Even though SMBs often gain margin improvement due to scale and volume it still becomes imperative to know all product and service costs, to manage expenses tightly, evaluate direct and indirect procurement procedures and processes, and to work with established budgets through on-going forecasting, planning and analysis.

Another important requirement is modernizing business systems, with the primary focus on establishing or updating an ERP solution that is cloud based. Business intelligence and strategy come into play—when upgrading for the future or investing in a new solution—which leads to deployment considerations and selecting the right partner provider.

Customer service is equally important for every SMB. Growing profitably while keeping systems current and modern helps to provide both the framework and governance for every SMB business. Modernizing allows companies with a customer-centric approach to factor their customers' needs into decisions and investments. Exactly how to service customers best will vary by company, but it’s usually some combination of brand, products, services, and/or some unique capability a company might have in their industry.

Key ERP success factors for small-to-medium businesses

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) struggle with what a modern ERP system should look like. These characteristics define modern ERP:

  • Core financial applications that include general ledger, accounts payable (AP), and accounts receivable (AR) to track expenses against accounts, balance sheet, P&L reporting, the customer order-to-cash (OTC) cycle, and supplier procure-to-pay (P2P).
  • Industry leading processes for purchasing project management, workforce management, and HR fundamentals.
  • ERP as the clear and auditable system for managing product costing, maintaining a common repository for KPIs and reporting, and permits role-based-employee system access through defined and secure roles and responsibilities.
  • Capabilities to monitor regulatory compliance, all quality data, and the status of all systems.
  • Cross-functional processes and standardize procedures between operations, customer service, logistics, finance and sales, to support real-time collaboration across departments or divisions.
  • Financials natively integrated with CRM, eCommerce, customer and supplier self-service portals, planning and budgeting, business analytics, order management, supply chain planning, manufacturing, and other capabilities as needed.
  • A solid plan that streamlines processes to improve efficiency and profitability, finds new ways to serve and grow customers, optimizes the supply chain, and improves collaboration between all departments, suppliers and customers.

These building blocks define fundamental requirements for any SMB that is focused on strong financial performance and business growth. These requirements are a great starting point for any conversation about deploying a modern ERP system across the business.

SMB ERP software solutions

When it comes to why companies are likely to change or upgrade their ERP systems, there are many drivers. Taking advantage of the latest capabilities and functions tops the list.

As a business grows, handling volume, speed of information, and new process requirements may demand adding functionality. Ease of use is key to engaging employees and ranks second on the list. The priority is that the ERP solution must do the job while also being easy and intuitive to use.

Based on their business offering, SMB flexibility should enable profitability and growth – two critical business goals. Flexibility is equally important for the enterprise resource planning solution and at the deployment level, e.g. the underlying cloud based technology infrastructure service.

Simply put, if an ERP system does not meet and SMB’s current business needs, it’s time to change. Companies in this situation must reconsider their entire IT and systems strategy if they want to successfully pursue their goals. A cloud-based ERP approach—one with a provider that can handle growth and integration support— is today the best viable solution. Options vary, but a focus on flexibility and security is a wise approach, assuming the SMB desires to profitably grow.

Small and midsize business finance solutions

ERP adoption usually starts with financial solutions. SMBs require a means to track costs against accounts, balance sheet, and P&L generation, as well as general ledger functionality. Four of the most common ERP processes that SMBs initially adopt include accounts payable, accounts receivable, general ledger, and payroll.

Accounts payable (AP) and accounts receivable (AR) are two processes SMBs use to connect with customers and suppliers. Accounts receivable covers the order-to-cash process on the customer side (taking orders, delivering a product or service, billing, and collecting payment from the customer). Accounts payable manages transactions with suppliers.

Known as the procure-to-pay (P2) or source-to-settle (S2S) process, AP involves ordering goods or services from a supplier, receipt, invoice processing, and payment. General ledger (GL) is the backbone of the accounting system and is a solid base.

Payroll is another commonly used accounting application, but not as widely as the others since SMBs typically outsource payroll to a third-party provider.

Administrative and functional applications

In addition to common financial applications, SMBs should expect basic administrative and functional applications in their ERP system.

Basic workforce scheduling for production and service needs incorporates the labor utilization and capacity to determine the number of resources needed to support the requirements. Some level of skill and availability are likely to be incorporated but it may depend on the complexity of the processes. As labor management and reporting requirements become more complex, leveraging a workforce management or a time and labor solution integrated with the ERP system might be the next step.

Core HR functionality may also be part of some ERP systems; this is another area that SMBs might initially outsource. As they grow, they may look for an HR solution that integrates well into their ERP.

Basic operating control processes

Beyond basic financial accounting and administrative applications, there are many other fundamental capabilities related to controls, processes, visibility, and integration that Leaders are more likely to adopt.

Since most SMBs indicate that their overarching goal is to grow profitably, cost control is essential. It is impossible to bid or quote business confidently and know what costs are involved.

With cloud-based ERP SMBs gain an integrated business system to provide a complete and auditable system of record for the organization and establish one version of the truth. Cloud ERP solutions facilitate communication and collaboration by eliminating data silos and disconnected processes. A central repository for performance metrics and KPIs—available on-demand—reinforces this approach. Putting the information in the hands of the right people, based on their roles and responsibilities, also establishes control. Ensuring the right people have access to the information they need is vital, so they can make informed decisions in a timely manner.

As organizations grow and expand, it’s critical to ensure the channels are in place to facilitate the flow of information. ERP solutions integrate different departments (operations, customer service, logistics, sales, finance). Having tightly integrated departments with a common data model eliminates time wasted on verification and error correction between silos that previously existed. The result is the faster flow of information between and across departments, and improved efficiency.

Why choose the cloud for your ERP?

For many SMBs, a cloud-based approach to ERP is the right solution. By standardizing on a single platform across multiple departments, cloud-based ERP addresses integration issues for organizations that struggle to merge legacy and best-of breed solutions.

ERP cloud simplifies integration within the finance function and across the different lines of businesses that finance collaborates with. Not only that, cloud-based ERPs can reach directly to the customer, providing the foundation needed to offer self-service features that customers today love. SMBs need to have the ability to expand as needed.

An ERP solution that can scale is another reason SMBs choose the cloud. Eliminating much of the cost to manage systems on-premises is another reason to shift ERP to the cloud. SMBs need a solution that can be easily integrated and avoids expensive upgrades, as well as one that offers constant industrial strength security for all their data.

Equally important, an ERP cloud solution reduces the need for keeping an IT staff that "keeps the lights on." This lets an SMB use its IT resources work on strategic initiatives focused on market growth and other business initiatives.

To stay ahead of the competition, your small or midsize business needs more. You need embedded best practices, up-to-date functionality, and the latest transformative technologies delivered through an industry-leading global cloud infrastructure. Oracle’s ERP cloud suite is the most comprehensive and scalable solution available today and is ranked the market leader by key analysts. Oracle ERP Cloud is a proven SMB solution with over 8,500 global customers of every size found in every industry and every geography utilizing every critical ERP business process. With Oracle Cloud ERP, your SMB gains a competitive advantage that helps your entire organization drive market growth and financial profitability utilizing a single source of truth and a globally secure infrastructure.

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