Excel Is Not the Answer

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Do you often find yourself turning to Excel instead of your Enterprise Resource Planning system to answer questions about your business?  While having an Excel wizard at your company has its perks; what you really need is the right ERP system for you business.excel not the answer

I spoke with Brian LaMee from Deltek about the costly mistake so many companies are making.  “Too often I’ve seen service businesses trying to adapt an ERP system that was meant for a manufacturing firm to their needs.”  This results in countless spreadsheets, uncertain business forecasts and a lack of specifics about individual projects.  “Some of the best Excel wizards I’ve seen are people trying to adapt software to their needs.”

Here are three questions an ERP system designed for a service-based company should be able to answer without any help from your Excel wizard:

1) What type of project is the most profitable for your business?

Having an ERP system that can adapt and account for the many different types of projects your business handles is essential.  It’s not enough to know if you’re doing well overall, you need to be able to pinpoint which parts of a project were successful and which weren’t.
For instance, the typical architecture firm takes on many different types of projects ranging from churches to golf course design to hotels.  What if you found out that you were consistently losing money on golf course design? While there might be some big-name projects that the firm will want to take on for branding, in tough economic times you need to know which projects have the highest profit margin to continue your firm’s success.  The right ERP system should make project accounting easy and clear, so that whether you’re reviewing a project or in the middle of one, it’s easy to see exactly what pushed you over budget.

2) Do we have enough resources for all of the work we have to do?

A lot of resources go into providing a service. Some are easy to categorize while others, such as the skills of your staff, are not.   For example, if you produce two different types of bikes, odds are that the resources needed to produce the different models will fall into fairly simple and similar categories.

Conversely, the engineering firm that takes on projects ranging from water quality to waste management is going to need to track an incredibly wide range of resources, including its own employees. Calculating estimates and creating business forecasts without the right ERP system isn’t pretty: it’s separate Excel spreadsheets scattered all over the place for each different project, it’s quarterly revenue forecasts that take a week to estimate, and a lack of specifics about how projects went over budget.  The right ERP system should make it easy to do all of this without any workarounds.

3) Are you burning out your most valuable resources? Or, do you have skilled workers sitting on the bench?

When your business is based on employees’ skills, tracking work schedules is more than just an HR matter; it directly affects your business.  If you’re putting your best PhD on every project, he will eventually fizzle out, and without the right tools you won’t see it coming until the day he quits. If your best workers are slammed, wouldn’t you want to do something about it?  Instead of having each project manger individually track who is working their projects, an ERP system that is designed for a service-based business will help you manage all of your project scheduling in one place – allowing you to use all of your resources without draining them.  You can have your A team on your A projects and the B team on the B projects while also getting a full picture each individual’s workload.  This ensures that you are putting your best resources on your best projects, and can save you countless HR headaches.

ERP software should give you a bird’s eye view of everything happening in your business, and it makes running your business easier by providing more clarity into what’s working and what’s not.  If you find yourself working around software instead of having it work for you, then it’s time to reevaluate the product you are currently using. It’s not about buying what everyone else is using or going for the big name; it’s about finding the software that will show you what your business needs to know.

Looking for software? Check out Capterra's list of the best software solutions.

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