Choosing an integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution over best-of-breed technologies doesn’t have to mean sacrificing on quality or functionality.  And for mid-tier distribution concerns, integrated over best-of-breed is the intelligent choice.

So says Scott McKenzie, MD of New Era Solutions which implements and supports fully integrated enterprise software solutions primarily for distribution-based businesses in Africa and the United Kingdom.  The company uses ERP solutions from Epicor, a global leader in business application software, to provide its clients with the right distribution lifecycle tools to efficiently plan, assemble, ship and deliver goods.
“Fierce competition and maturation of technologies in the enterprise software space has given rise to a number of really strong ERP offerings from integrated providers. These have the depth and breadth of functionality required by mid-market distributors that want to leverage the power of ERP but don’t have the budget or need for best-of-breed, bells-and-whistles technologies,” says McKenzie, adding that in a green fields scenario, standardising on one vendor and choosing modules from an integrated suite is always the way to go.
He explains that aside from being more expensive to buy, niche solutions are typically more costly and complex to implement and maintain.
“Problems arise from the outset because integrating different best-of-breed technologies from multiple vendors can be tricky. The more applications there are, the trickier it gets and the more integration issues there are.
“This is an affliction that sticks for the lifetime of the solution because integration issues resurface every time each technology is upgraded to a newer version. Furthermore, customisations are not always easily migrated from upgrade to upgrade,” he says.
Finding appropriately qualified systems integrators to integrate best-of-breed solutions is also a challenge because of the severe shortage of IT skills in this country. Companies that buy best-of-breed solutions, which usually require specialised skills, usually have to pay big bucks for integrators with the necessary expertise to integrate the various systems.
Companies may also battle to find support for customisations. Often this means tapping into resources abroad which is more expensive. Dealing with foreign integrators has other disadvantages. For instance they might not be able to respond to requests and problems quickly, which translates into unwanted delays that smaller businesses can ill-afford.
“Of course, there are also the costs and complexities that come with paying for and managing multiple-vendor relationships and service contracts,” adds McKenzie.
He believes that most of these issues can be mitigated with an integrated solution through a partner that has sound knowledge of, and experience with, the technology.
“The main advantage is that there’s no need to develop and test integration. It’s already been done. Most integrated vendors have a flexible building block approach so that companies can piece together the modules they want based on their specific business needs, and integration is assured. If the implementation team knows their stuff, set up is speeded-up and time-to-implement is dramatically reduced so that companies can start using the system and deriving benefits very quickly. Customisations are usually simply done and easily moved from upgrade to upgrade.
“Generally-speaking, there’s also a cost advantage because companies aren’t paying premium prices and fees on best-of-breed, dollar-based products. Companies also enjoy the convenience of one contract with one provider. Another advantage is that there’s one, common look and feel across all the modules which makes it easier for users. Essentially, companies get ease-of-integration, flexibility and scalability at a lower cost of ownership. All of this is hugely important for a mid-market concern.”
He warns however that there are a number of vendors typing themselves as integrated providers but that the peripheral systems and modules they bundle together are actually from third party vendors.
“It’s important for companies to make sure that their solution really is from an integrated vendor and that they choose modules that are actually owned by that vendor and not a third party otherwise the same troubles associated with implementing and integrating an array of best-of-breed solutions from different vendors will arise and they won’t get the benefits of a truly integrated solution"