Since the dawn of the internet, companies looking for a new ERP software have tended to begin their search by plugging something to the effect of “best ERP for manufacturing”, “ERP for service companies”, “top ERP for small business”, etc. into a search engine. This practice is even more commonplace in recent years.
It’s true - try it now. What you will find is many of the same companies come up on the first page regardless of what specific words you put around “ERP”, “HCM”, “CRM” or whatever software you are evaluating. This is a fine way to get your feet wet in researching the popular brands but is a long shot at best for compiling a viable short-list of potential vendors. A large number of companies that reach out to us for help in finalizing a software selection have already narrowed to vendors such as Microsoft Dynamics, Infor, and Oracle NetSuite. Not necessarily because they are the best software choice, but simply because they have the strongest marketing.
So how many ERP software platforms exist? This is a question that has tested research groups and thought-leaders for decades, and there is no clear answer. New “ERPs” spring into the market daily, but few actually take hold. Many viable solutions are also swept up by the competition, so the numbers keep changing. We estimate there are several hundred current solutions on the market, with thousands and thousands of sub-modules and variations.
With this understanding, why would you want to limit your search to the few that pop up on the top pages of your favorite search engine?
Here are some reasons (besides price) for you to consider opening your software evaluation beyond the obvious:
Niche Industry Fit: Besides large marketing budgets, one of the reasons the popular solutions arise often in searches is they are able to accommodate multiple industries. There is certainly value to this if you are a larger company or have variable operations, but there is also a downside. Being “everything to everyone” means these larger solutions may have limited functionality in the specific areas you need, and they often work around these gaps through software modification or bolt-on solutions. Niche industry solutions, however, may hit the nail squarely on the head.
Ease of Best-of-Breed Integration: Historically, one of the downfalls to lesser-known solutions has been the fact that they are not able to handle the variety of operations as more recognized software vendors, as noted above. Nowadays, however, the ease of software integrations has made building your own perfect solution far easier. For example, maybe you are small clothing manufacturer that has just received PE funding. You are now looking at needing more advanced functionality, you are looking at expanding your supply chain overseas, looking to target Target, Walmart, or other big-box retailers, and looking to bring more design flexibility in-house. Yes, Oracle or Microsoft Dynamics may very well work for you, but you have additional and less expensive options with solutions such as BlueCherry or Paragon, and may very well be able to fill any gaps through API connections.
Negotiation Leverage: It may be the case that you simply need and/or want one of the more robust solutions on the market. Having additional, and lower-cost options on your short-list will first of all help you to avoid buyer’s remorse down the road and can only help in negotiating the best price and contract terms.
Ultimately, marketing dollars do not equate to software fit. As you head into evaluating the best software fit for your organization, at the very least research the top 10-20 software solutions, search for those that hold a place in your industry, and reach out to your favorite, agnostic technology advisory firm.