ERP Buyer's Guide for Small Businesses

Thursday Jul 7th 2011 by Drew Robb
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Our small business ERP buying guide includes names like NetSuite, Exact Max, Epicor and Syspro.

ERP systems were once used almost exclusively by large companies. In recent years, though, an increasing number of ERP solutions for smaller businesses (SMBs) have entered the market. Some are sold by vendors that primarily serve SMBs, although software giants like Oracle and SAP are steadily moving their products down the food chain.

These ERP vendors fit into what Panorama Consulting Solutions calls Tier III ERP. According to Eric Kimberling of Panorama, this tier constitutes 26 percent of the total ERP market. Five years ago, their slice comprised 36 percent.

Part of the reason for the drop is that vendors serving the enterprise market have been more successful in tailoring their products for smaller firms. Further, some of the big boys have acquired a few of the companies we covered half a decade ago. That said, Tier III remains popular – and for good reason.

"Tier III ERP vendors typically obtain a payback period of less than three years 76 percent of the time," said Kimberling. "Average cost per project for Tier III is $1.1 million."

Here we offer an overview of seven ERP software solutions for small business:

Exact Max

Exact Max is tailored to small to medium-sized discrete manufacturing companies that need flexible ERP software that can grow with their business. One of its key selling points is its ability to integrate with Intuit QuickBooks.

Some SMBs have years of financial records on QuickBooks and are loathe to give it up. This can present a big stumbling block for ERP adoption, as many ERP systems want to take over all the financials. But Exact Max allows SMBs to keep using QuickBooks while integrating it with further manufacturing systems.

Similarly, Exact Max provides a manufacturing integration with the Microsoft Dynamics GP accounting package for companies already using that financial software.

Syspro ERP

Gartner included Syspro as a niche player in a recent ERP Magic Quadrant. Headquartered in South Africa, Syspro offers a Microsoft .NET-based integrated supply chain suite encompassing ERP, analytics, e-commerce, CRM, and planning and scheduling.

Specific to the ERP portion, it includes financials, distribution and manufacturing. A reporting tool known as Syspro Reporting Services (SRS) incorporates an embedded version of Crystal Reports.

NetSuite ERP

With more than 24,000 customers globally, NetSuite offers a unified, cloud-based platform of financials/ERP and omnichannel commerce software suites. Its offerings span financials, CRM, ecommerce, order management, inventory management and real-time business intelligence. NetSuite also provides a robust development platform for easy customization and integration.

"Other software vendors are struggling to move software architected before the Internet existed to the cloud," said Craig Sullivan, senior vice president of Enterprise and International Products for NetSuite. "Whether it's big businesses trying to act small or small businesses looking to grow big, NetSuite enables its customers to operate at the speed of modern business."

Visibility ERP

According to Panorama Consulting, Visibility has a 1 percent ERP market share in manufacturing and distribution, as well as in communication, energy and transport. Known as Visibility.net, it is squarely aimed at the ERP needs of complex product manufacturers. It includes modules for management, CRM, quotes, projects, costs, material and resource planning, product engineering and manufacturing, business performance, finance and supply chain collaboration.

The company claims it is the only Internet-based ERP software developed for manufacturers of complex products. It is browser-based and built on Microsoft .NET technology. It can be deployed either via a traditional on-site installation or over the Web. It also supports the Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server databases.

Aptean

Two companies, Intuitive ERP by Consona and Robb Enterprise ERP by CDC Software, merged in 2012 to form Aptean. The new company takes the SMB, midmarket and manufacturing backgrounds of its predecessors and also encompasses sales and marketing, financials and supply chain offerings.

Specific to ERP, its website shows nine different ERP products. This includes two Ross suites and Intuitive, as well as others that are each tailored to different areas of the manufacturing landscape. It offers a cloud-based suite as well.

Epicor

Epicor Software, a provider of business software for manufacturing, distribution, retail and services organizations for over 40 years, increased its focus on SMB ERP when private equity firm Apax Partners merged Epicor with SMB ERP specialist Activant Solutions in 2011. Epicor serves the small, midmarket and enterprise sectors, and has more than 20,000 customers in over 150 countries.

Cloud Deployed Epicor ERP, a solution geared toward SMBs, provides broad functionality, is priced affordably and delivered in a manner that minimizes complexity. Epicor uses a multi-tenant software-as-a-service (SaaS) model and provides tools to manage opportunities, orders and operations in one integrated solution. 

Epicor Eagle N Series is a retail business management system that includes on-screen analytics, communication tools and streamlined workflows. It is used by retailers in over 8,000 locations.

"With functionality that scales to serve small to medium sized businesses and supports growth as they expand, Epicor solutions reduce complexity, get up and running quickly and decrease ongoing operational costs," said Celia Fleischaker, senior vice president, worldwide marketing, Epicor Software.

abas ERP

abas Business Software includes ERP MRP and eBusiness, and is aimed mainly at midsize companies. This German company provides easy access via portals as well as a high degree of integration and a way to tailor workstations to users. Data can be combined and displayed as tables or charts if the user desires it. A CRM portal can also be integrated into abas to make processes for a customer or prospective customer visible. Additional portals deal with areas such as sales, purchasing, services and BI.

"Vendors are responding to users' needs to give more of their staff access to data held within ERP apps by working on bringing more of a common look-and-feel between particularly CRM and ERP apps," said China Martens, an analyst at Forrester. "The idea is that users can be within an ERP app but not know they're there and not require training to reach the information they require."

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