Let’s start by answering the question. Yes. We do. Our customers do. And if you are reading this on our website, you might be considering an ERP of your own.
But no need to excuse yourself. The unfortunate-sounding acronym “ERP”* stands for “Enterprise Resource Planning.” This, in my opinion, is also an unfortunate description. What is an ERP system, what does it do, and why should you care?
In the most general sense, an ERP Construction system is a set of software applications that all work together to allow for complete visibility, tracking, and management of all aspects of a business. From soup to nuts and every course in between. This is a tall order, thus one characteristic of all ERP systems is that they are big—big in the sense of handling many different types of data with many types of applications that serve many different types of users.
For example, a construction ERP system would typically include applications for job cost accounting, payroll, project management, purchasing + inventory, reporting, and so on. In well-designed construction ERPs, all these applications would “talk” to each other and share data. The amount of data is significant and the types of information being processed are often mission critical.
If this sounds like a lot of serious software, that’s because it is. And that’s why there are only a handful of vendors who have successfully developed and deploy such systems for the construction industry. “But wait,” you might say, “isn’t software moving to that magical place called the cloud? And aren’t there thousands (perhaps millions) of mobile apps out there? Isn’t the massive ERP model a thing from the past—where, in technology, the past of course means 3 years ago?”
Well, if you did say that, you would be:
- Not so right
Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
Software is indeed moving to the cloud. We’ve written quite a bit about cloud computing—you can see an example post here. I am an unabashed fan of the cloud, mostly because it just makes sense both technically and economically, and as such it is the inevitable way that we’ll be accessing all software in the near future. With the incredible increase in computing power per dollar, computing resources—processing and data storage—are becoming commodities. Why invest in powerful computing hardware when you can simply tap into them? Would you eschew the convenience of the electrical grid and get your electrons (OK, and your positive “holes” for you EEs out there) from a home generator that you had to maintain and constantly fill with gas?
OK, rant over, thank you for indulging me. The bottom line (and please do comment below if you disagree) is that the cloud is secure, economical, and can deliver on the promise of software and data anywhere you are from any device. Yes, as long as you have an Internet connection. And yes, we are in the age of The App. Is there an app for that? Probably—whatever “that” may be. Go to your favorite online app store, type in the word “construction,” and you can spend the next several hours scrolling through your app options without exhausting them. Surely you could all but run your business via mobile apps, right (hint: no, not really)?
The way we use software has and continues to change. So the way software is developed and delivered has had to change as well. But the concept behind the ERP system remains relevant, and in this time of ever-increasing streams of data, the concept is even more important. In fact, construction ERPs are under pressure to become larger and smarter than ever—integrating accounting and operational data in intelligent ways to give real time insight into job status, vendor performance, resource management, and so on. Does this jibe with the move toward cloud-based, mobile-friendly software?
Answer: If done correctly, yes.
ERP software can be deployed successfully and securely in the cloud. Many vendors indeed claim to have done just that. But a word of advice—if you are looking for cloud-based ERP software, ask if the software was developed for the cloud, or just kind of, well, dropped into the cloud. It makes a big difference, because the cloud is all about accessing your applications and data from any device with a browser, whenever, and wherever you need it. To deliver on this, the ERP software has to not care about the operating system or type of device you are using. Software developed originally for a desktop environment does care, and so while it can be set up for remote access, the way it is used is still based on the old desktop/keyboard/mouse/monitor model. I’m still trying to find the F4 key on my iPad…
ERP software can also take advantage of the popularity of the app. Apps are perfect tools for quickly entering field data or accessing job or equipment specific information on-site. When they are linked behind the scenes (yes, through “the cloud”) to your ERP system, they become all that much more valuable. Instead of just acting as field tools, they become extensions of the integrated data housed in your ERP. Time or equipment usage data entered in the field can immediately be posted to your payroll system and charged against the correct jobs. Field technicians or equipment operators can have click-and-swipe access to up-to-date repair, maintenance and inventory information relevant to their work.
So this brave new world of mobile, cloud based computing is here. Our need for construction-specific ERP systems is as present and real as ever. And in case it was keeping you up at night, you can rest easy—ERP systems can and are evolving to do more than work in this environment. They’re evolving to take advantage of it.
Shameless promotion department: Take a look at what we’ve been up to in the Construction ERP game:
*Usually pronounced by saying the individual letters: E-R-P