The Cloud has been touted as a panacea for the struggles of efficiently running a business—but is it really reasonable to expect a mystical Cloud-based solution to solve everyone’s problems completely? The fact is, many providers focus so much on using Cloud infrastructure, that it comes at the cost of building out robust functionality that meets specific industry, vertical, or market needs.

In manufacturing, this has been proven particularly true by the many solutions, platforms, and apps that have taken an initial one-size-fits-all approach and then been retrofitted to meet business needs. While a solution may be a market-leader on its own, adding a couple new fields and calling it a fit for manufacturing or distribution doesn’t fit the bill.

From a solution standpoint, nowhere is this truer than in the field of ERP. For custom, contract, and engineered-to-order businesses, there haven’t been a lot of solid options when it comes to looking for a Cloud ERP platform that brings together the flexible, scalable technology that the Cloud is known for with the unique business needs these companies have, such as detailed estimating, strong engineering, and comprehensive scheduling and real-time data collection. The result is that many companies end up sticking with slow, version-locked, on-premise platforms because they don’t see a viable Cloud alternative.

fabtech manufacturing event

It’s always worth asking whether your implementation partner hangs out at the same places you do. Here’s a picture of me and a colleague at last week’s Fabtech conference in Chicago.

The good news is that the tide is turning. Now that Cloud has become an accepted, stable, and truly flexible infrastructure model, new players are emerging that are bringing together the best of the cloud with the business-specific requirements of manufacturers, distributors, professional services providers, software developers, and much more. If you’re thinking about how the Cloud can help your business, there are a few key questions to ask any vendor that comes courting:

  • Can you do [the most important three things you do every day]? If so, show me.
    There’s no point in beating around the bush about what you expect from an application like ERP that’s so crucial to your business. A good salesperson will show you the deep functionality of their platform and explain how it will benefit your business; a great salesperson will dig into what you need the system to do and then show you how it can be used in YOUR business.
  • Why are you the implementation partner to help us succeed?
    All too many great ERP systems have found their way to becoming unused shelfware, while others have completed implementations without ever getting benefits from the features that may have differentiated the selected solution during the evaluation. When it comes to getting value out of technology, it comes down to proper setup and ultimately users becoming proficient advocates. Your implementation partner can make all the difference. Be sure your partner has a solid methodology to run a project, ample industry knowledge to help advise on important decisions, and a deep, broad bench of resources to get the job done.
  • What tools are available to fill any gaps that aren’t met?
    No matter how complete and focused an ERP system is, there will always be gaps.  Tools to easily add fields, streamline screens and business flows, and create custom reports and views of data can make the difference between success and frustration.  Vendors should be able to show you how to tailor the system and allow your power users to decide for themselves if it seems like a toolset they could use or that they’d need to hire out to a third party.
  • Who are other customers like me using your platform?
    This question works on a couple of levels. First, it ensures the rep you’re working with understands what business you’re in. Second, it will give you a better idea of whether it can really meet the needs of a business like yours.  This step will only be as valuable as you make it.  Ask great questions about their business, their use of the software, their experience with the vendor and how they use the tools to tailor the system.  Learn from their successes and failures.  No implementation is perfect, so find the challenges and take their experience with you into your own project.

Running your ERP in the cloud is a great way to gain flexibility and agility—but only if you have the right solution in place that truly meets the needs of your business.  If you’re looking to learn more about Cloud ERP and how it can work for your business, contact us to setup a conversation and tailored demonstration.