Customisability – or lack thereof – has always been a bugbear of enterprise resource planning (ERP). That’s because, despite the fact that companies require software that can adapt to their changing needs, ERP applications, which are complex enough as it is, traditionally haven’t been easily customisable.

“Every business is unique and therefore has different requirements and expectations of ERP. So, for companies to get the full and optimum benefit from their investment in ERP, they need to be able to mould ERP solutions to fit their individual requirements,” says Paul Marketos, MD of Bluekey Software Solutions, which specialises in the implementation of SAP Business One, and recently won the SAP Partner of the Year Award 2008 for the fourth consecutive year.
“Historically with ERP applications, customising the solution to fit a business’s individual needs typically meant customised development, or even changes to the source code. The result is often that companies are left with a bespoke solution that is difficult to upgrade. This obviously isn’t ideal since technology is constantly evolving, and companies are changing and hopefully growing, and require a solution that is able to grow and evolve with them.
“Customisability and flexibility have therefore become key ingredients in today’s ERP applications. Vendors have to meet these criteria if they want to ensure that ERP remains relevant and that solutions can deliver on today’s businesses’ sophisticated requirements.”
He says ERP vendors are finally starting to move in the right direction, with SAP leading the pack with SAP Business One.
“SAP Business One is designed to be easily customisable and easily upgradable. The software is so flexible that it can look totally different from one company to the next, with entirely different screens, fields and menus, but it’s still SAP Business One.
“The first level of customisation, which is adequate for the bulk of our customers involves using the universally-accepted Microsoft SQL code so there’s no need to learn a special language.  We use this to ensure business rules are upheld, or to auto-populate fields, much as you would do with an Excel formula,” says Marketos.
“Beyond that, where a client requires additional screens and menus that aren’t inherent, it’s a cinch to write an add-on program that provides the required functionality through the Software Development Kit (SDK), with exactly the same look and feel as SAP Business One itself.
“With SAP Business One, any such customisations are upgrade-proof. Companies can easily mould the software to suit their own requirements, while at the same time adhering to best practice. And, they don’t run the risk of ending up with software that nobody understands and that can’t be upgraded.
“Marketos agrees that ERP systems need to undergo a bit of panel-beating if they are to fit in with, and complement, Lean management principles.
“More and more companies are adopting a Lean management philosophy. ERP provides the foundation for applying Lean management principles. This is another reason why customisability is a crucial factor in ERP applications.
“SAP Business One’s strength in the area of customisation means that companies can set up rules so that the solution supports the application of a Lean management style. For instance, rules can be set up so that approval is required if  the gross profit (GP) is incorrect, allowing greater management by exception” says Marketos.
He concludes: “No one-size fits all. Companies will do well to choose an ERP solution from a vendor that recognises that. Customisability should be built in.”