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Generic or specialised ERP solutions: which should you choose?

By Jean-Baptiste Sachot, 9:00 AM on September 5, 2017

erp généraliste ou erp spécialisé métier comment choisir

Choosing an ERP solution means starting a long-term professional relationship with a new partner. To make it seem like one long honeymoon, you have to pick the right tool. It has to suit your company’s needs right now, but it should also be able to adapt to problems you’ll face in the future. So, how do you know whether a generic or specialised solution is the best one to support you every step of the way?

One alternative: out-of-the-box ERP solutions with vertical functionality

ERP solutions started out as generic tools. They were standard, non-customisable pieces of software that you couldn’t develop to suit your needs. The aim was to cater to companies the world over, no matter the industry. It was the same for everyone – that was the motto.

But some clients wanted softwares that could do more and be tailored to their industry, to some extent. That was incentive enough for ERP publishers to rethink their generic approach and create verticalised solutions. Integration specialists then developed add-ons, specifically adapted to a particular sector or industry that could be built on the existing basic software packages.

Plain old generic ERP solutions are dead, long live vertical functionality!

Why should (or shouldn’t) you choose a generic ERP solution with vertical functionality?

As you might have guessed, choosing a generic ERP software is a pretty risk-free option. After all, a big name like Microsoft, SAP or Sage is always reassuring. Millions of users have chosen these robust, high-performance and easy-to-manage solutions. With verticalisation, you can customise the software to suit your needs. The integration specialist you’ve chosen to work with (by the way, why is it in your best interest to opt for a software company with integration expertise?) can provide an industry-specific add-on, just like a painter would add a topcoat for that perfect finish.

But you need the right integration specialist. One who understands your industry and what you need. One who can fulfil your every desire and one who won’t try to sell you lots of (or too many) development days. Niche-specific customisation is very tempting: it’s made-to-measure development, especially for you. But you’ve probably already guessed the problem here: only YOU can use this solution. That means that development, maintenance and updates are going to be very expensive.

Vertical functionality can hold you back

What happens when the ERP vendor updates its system? You’d have to wait for your integration specialist to come back and customise your software, taking the changes to the out-of-the-box package into account.

In the business world, where you have to be one step ahead, this time lag could hinder your progress—and cost you dear. A setup like this takes a long time to get moving, just as long as it took the Titanic to try to swerve out of that iceberg’s path—and we all know what happened to the Titanic.

To sum up, a generic ERP solution with vertical functionality has its limits and they are quite a lot like those for a specifically developed solution designed just for you.

Read also: This is classic! Why doesn't your ERP manage it as standard?

The benefits of an industry-specific ERP solution

Problem-free migration for the whole company

Specialised ERP solutions are completely different. By definition, these tools were specifically made for your industry, from the initial design to the very last detail. Designed with your industry and industry-specific functionalities in mind, this type of management software automatically incorporates all of the critical parameters, without needing any add-ons that could bog down the system.

The main advantage of using specialist software is that your company will immediately feel at ease with an integrated solution. After all, it’ll be far better suited to your needs than a generic solution with some add-ons. And it’ll cater to your whole company, from operations to management. And this is essential because users often end up rejecting an out-of-the-box package that an integration specialist has endlessly customised. They’re often simply too complicated and too tricky to use.

If an ERP solution is going to bed in at a company, staff have to want to use it.

Industry-specific ERP solutions: updates for everyone

Of course, you can still customise an industry-specific ERP solution. The aim isn’t just to adapt it to your specific needs at a given time; it’s to be sure you’ll be able to develop it in line with the changes of your company’s workflows and processes. So, while industry-specific management software is less of a one-size-fits-all solution than its generic cousin, it does offer significant room for manoeuvre when it comes to development.

Industry-specific ERP solutions stand out in another way: companies that develop this type of software are specialists in your industry, so they are already very familiar with your problems. These vendors, therefore, understand your needs and find the right solution – or failing that, they’ll find someone who can. So, any development won’t just benefit one company; it’ll benefit the software as a whole and could help all of the companies that use the same tool.

As a result, development is never-ending for industry-specific ERP solutions. Every company can play its part depending on the limitations and expectations at hand.

ERP solutions: a generic approach vs. an industry-specific approach

In the end, choosing an ERP solution, whether it’s generic or industry specific, depends on your approach.

By default, a generic approach, like a sturdy ship, is inevitably trickier to manoeuvre and will make sluggish progress. That’s because the software had a one-size-fits-all design, so if any tweaks need to be made, they have to be implemented across the whole system and for all departments – and that’s a long, complicated and tedious job.

The ideal scenario is to have one tool with technical modules – that’s one in which each organisation could be upgraded or customised without affecting the others or involving the whole system. But that would be extremely complicated to manage because it involves dealing with several interfaces and several vendors, each wanting to manage their own component’s upgrades.

No matter how useful this solution could be: for now, it’s just a fantasy. The closest thing to it today is a modular industry-specific ERP solution that offers you substantial freedom when it comes to configuration.

So, what’s it to be? A generic or a specialised ERP solution? In many cases, companies now opt for an industry-specific approach when they choose their solution. An industry-specific tool will help your company make stress-free progress and have the added benefit of giving you quicker and nimbler solutions that are easier to handle and more scalable than an out-of-the-box package.

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