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Can small and medium-sized businesses benefit from mobile ERP?

Small and medium-sized businesses stand to gain just as much from mobile ERP as their large-enterprise peers, but do they have the resources to pull it off?

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have just as much need as large companies for technology that provides visibility and insight into manufacturing operations. But when it comes to being able to pay for and support that technology, small and medium-sized manufacturers often fall short.

The problem arises with mobile ERP applications. Manufacturers of all sizes stand to benefit from retrieving ERP data on devices like smartphones and tablets. For workers on the shop floor or in field service, the payoff is on-the-go access to data that can alert them to situations before they become full-blown problems. For executives, the benefit is an immediate view of operational performance. However, it's more difficult for smaller organizations to find the resources to implement and manage mobile ERP technology.

Aberdeen analyst Nick Castellina confirmed it is not just large manufacturers that are interested in mobile ERP. "It depends on the organization and its use for mobile ERP. Are they distributed? Do they have people in the field?" said Castellina, who is research director of business planning and execution for Aberdeen Group, a Harte Hanks company.

According to Aberdeen research, the mobile ERP use cases that are gaining the most traction are service management, expense management, accounts payable and receivable, and customer management. "Mobile ERP is not outside the grasp of a small organization. But you're not going to give it to every person throughout the organization. It makes the most sense for the warehouse, field service, salespeople," he said.

Is mobile ERP feasible for SMBs?

SMBs don't just face the difficulty of securing an initial investment. "Midsize organizations often don't have as robust of an IT department to be able to support something complex, including things outside their four walls," said Eric Kimberling, managing partner and founder of Panorama Consulting Solutions, an ERP advisory group.

Many small and midsize manufacturers have not yet caught up with the everyday bring your own device (BYOD) mobility issues, Kimberling added. The need to secure and support different platforms is complex enough when it comes to information workers, but the issues become even more complex when core ERP data comes into play. "You're adding a whole other layer of complexity on top of typical BYOD issues," said Kimberling. Add in the fact that SMB IT staffs and budgets seem to be permanently lean, and mobile ERP becomes even more fraught.

"The needs of a small business are usually the same as the needs of the large business except the small business does not usually have the resources of the large business," added Joel Schneider, president of Liberty Technology Advisors. Mobile ERP must meet their needs and be affordable to implement and support. Given that some degree of custom development is often required to connect the ERP system with the mobile devices, mobile ERP may remain out of reach.

Make mobile ERP a reality

Despite these roadblocks, SMB manufacturers can still benefit from mobile ERP if they take a careful approach. Start with these three steps:

  • Get help. Work closely with your ERP vendor and technology partners to determine a mobile ERP strategy and roadmap that will work best for your organization. It is unlikely you will have the expertise to create these in-house, Castellina said.
  • Focus on business goals. Target the best mobile ERP use cases for your organization. Most SMBs will have a good sense of where mobile ERP would truly drive business benefits. As is so often advised, start with the low- hanging fruit. For example, said Castellina, field service technicians could gain instant access to work instructions or video showing them how to fix certain machines. "You're looking for ways to enable people to do their jobs more quickly," he said.
  • Display mobile ERP's value. Give executives their dashboards and let them see the possibilities. "We are seeing a lot of high-level executive dashboard reporting, mobile business intelligence," said Kimberling. This can be a good starting point. As the top brass sees what the opportunities are, they may be more inclined to get behind a broader mobile ERP initiative.

Follow SearchManufacturingERP on Twitter @ManufacturingTT.

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