ERP is NOT Always the Answer

Reading this recent article on Mitigating Risk and Exposure from Subsidiary Operations in Industry Week, one could get the impression that the only way to mitigate risk is to deploy one or more (connected) ERP systems to manage corporate data. Nothing could be further from the truth. While you do need consistent data and compatible systems, you don’t need an ERP. But I guess I should have expected such misleading advice given that the article was written by a VP at SAP, one of the biggest ERP vendors in the world.

According to the article, in order to mitigate risks to the company’s supplier, quality, liquidity, financial reporting, and unbudgeted spending, a company must streamline and automate mostly manual systems to:

  • enable the sourcing group to automatically provide information on preferred suppliers and negotiated terms to every subsidiary
  • enable headquarters to have ongoing visibility into cash-on-hand and receivables and payables across the organization
  • streamline the financial consolidation process
  • streamline inter-company purchasing transactions
  • implement collaborate processes such as forecasting and budgeting

Furthermore, according to the article, to accomplish this automation, a company needs to either:

  • deploy the same ERP system across the company,
  • deploy a two-tier ERP with simple data integration, or
  • deploy a two-tier ERP with process integration.

First of all:

  • A (cloud-based) SaaS e-Sourcing/e-Procurement platform with contract & supplier management can maintain preferred suppliers and terms and be accessible by every subsidiary.
  • A shared (cloud-based) SaaS accounting / finance system will allow headquarters to have a view into each subsidiary’s financials …
  • … and this shared system will streamline financial consolidation.
  • A (cloud-based) SaaS e-Procurement system will streamline inter-company purchasing, and
  • a cloud-based inventory / distribution / warehousing / logistics management system will allow for collaborative forecasting and budgeting.

So you don’t even need an ERP at all to accomplish the stated goals. Furthermore, while you do need integrated data, you can maintain this data with a simple relational database and integrate it using an off-the-shelf data analysis package with good ETL (extract-transform-load) tools that can merge flat-file data dumps from each system into one file/database for analytics purposes.

This isn’t to say that an ERP at headquarters to maintain master data isn’t worthwhile, just that you don’t need one, and that you certainly don’t need ERP deployments at all of your subsidiaries to accomplish the goals, which is important because enterprise ERPs generally cost seven figures and the cost is generally not justifiable for a small subsidiary.