Everything You Need to Know About ERPs

Whether they’ve crossed your radar through a sales rep, direct marketing to your inbox, or a colleague waxing nostalgic for the “better systems” they used at a previous firm, ERPs are weird to pronounce, but invariably make running your company a much more efficient and profitable affair. 

An Enterprise Resource Planning system is practice management software that centralizes and integrates all aspects of a business, aligning accounting and finance functions with project management and human resources planning. Often billed as a “single source of truth,” most ERPs provide a one-stop-shop for managing all the critical data related to running your company. 

We generally help two different kinds of clients when it comes to ERPs: 1) growing firms who need our help choosing and implementing an appropriate system for the first time; and 2) larger companies who already have ERPs but are not using them to their full capacity and require us to help identify gaps, build skills, and develop accountability structures that will help them optimize their existing system. 

Growing Firms: Is it Time to Invest in an ERP System?

In their early years, firms tend to purchase single-function software on an as-needed basis to support their management needs. As a result, time-tracking, invoicing, project management, and resource allocation — all of which share common data points — are siloed and require the constant manual migration of data, which often leads to errors and inconsistencies. (Never mind that firms that find themselves scaling quickly often have a hard time keeping up using manual processes.)

While the decision to adopt an ERP may feel hum-drum administrative, implementing the right system at the right time has the potential to be an exciting catalyst for efficiency and growth. We normally advise clients to consider the investment only once their companies have reached a certain size (25-30 people). In preparing them for the transition, we first ensure that their business practices and protocols are aligned and streamlined, as the investment in a new system is only worthwhile if the people who intend to use it are prepared to swear off their old ways!

Younger firms that want to take the leap and set up a strong digital practice environment are at once lucky and often overwhelmed, as there are many ERP choices on the market these days. When called upon to help these clients evaluate their options and lead them through the process of selecting and successfully implementing an ERP system, our Associate Principal Basima Roshan adheres to the following approach:

“I like to start by looking at what’s missing. What key information should the principals be measuring and tracking that they currently aren’t? There are dozens of ERP systems on the market aimed at professional services firms. It’s our job to help clients find and implement one that addresses previous blind spots and meets their company’s particular needs.”

Established Firms: How Do I Optimize the ERP System I’ve Already Got?

Many mid-sized and larger-scale firms typically have an ERP system in place; however, they often find that, as their companies continue to scale, their requirements become more complex and they need to learn new tricks in order to take fuller advantage of these powerful systems. 

This is where we come in. We work with firms to help identify gaps, build skills, and develop accountability structures that will allow them to get more out of their existing ERPs.

Although it might be rare to hear people singing the praises of practice management software at a cocktail party (remember those?), our clients have seen immeasurable gains once they’ve committed to creating a fully integrated digital practice environment and learned the art of optimizing it. Lois O’Connell, Finance Director at Giannone Petricone Associates, summarized the advantages for the firm:

“Adopting and learning new ways to leverage our ERP system has been a game-changer. It has allowed us to integrate our accounting, timesheets, budgeting, and project planning processes into one system, eliminated the duplication of processes, and completely reduced the risk of errors. We always have up-to-date financial information, which allows us to make informed decisions instantaneously.”

Because the past year served as a call to action for everyone to revisit and optimize their financial and operational systems, there’s never been a better time to double down on ERPs:

Covid left many leaders scrambling to get a clear picture of their firm’s financial position and ill-positioned to navigate the economic and social uncertainty that lay ahead,” says Roshan. “Remaining nimble and equipped with the information required to make swift and strategic decisions under pressure is crucial. We saw that firms that managed to tweak and take fuller advantage of their practice management software were better able to identify areas of weakness and plan accordingly.”

The bottom line: ERPs have the potential to save your firm time, money, and the inevitable spreadsheet-induced headaches. Whether you want to implement a system for the first time or discover ways to fine-tune and maximize your existing practice management software, we can help. We encourage you to get in touch if you’re curious about any and all things ERP.