Businesses often see automation as a way to improve efficiency across the board. There are gains to be had in standardising on business systems, applications and protocols, but when a business wants to move to the next level and integrate diverse systems - from human resources to IT - into one workflow, the only feasible way to do so is with ERP.

Developing an effective ERP for your business is not to be taken on lightly. Costs can be high for these systems, even if they are bought off-the-shelf and have little modification. But most businesses will need to make some changes to accommodate the details of their operations.

Here lies the major issue with ERP; it is not a panacea for rising business costs, but one way to mitigate these expenses if it is approached with care.

Spending risks

In a white paper from IDC that surveyed ERP users, the issues are made starkly clear.

"Due to business changes, 15% of the respondents were forced to re-implement the entire ERP system," it says. "Of those, 60% had initially spent over $2.5 million (£1.6 million).

"Customisations, often necessary during the implementation of ERP systems, have long term risks and implications for ongoing system maintenance."

That being said, a well implemented ERP can deliver the efficiencies that every business now needs to compete in their market sector.

Paul Tatam, Managing Director UK, Seeburger, a provider of ERP solutions, says: "As businesses in today's global markets seek to reduce costs and meet rising customer expectations, the need for up-to-the-minute, cross-departmental information visibility has become a fundamental requirement in supply chain operations.

"With multiple issues impacting on margins, flexible and scalable ERP solutions provide major benefits to companies. From an ERP perspective, the challenge is how to integrate the latest workflow technologies in a flexible, scalable solution, in order to reap higher levels of operational efficiency and streamline avenues of communication between otherwise disparate areas of the business."

Server factor

The implementation of an ERP also demands an understanding of the IT infrastructure that it needs to operate effectively. Here, moving any existing server platforms to more efficient hardware will be a must.

A possible choice is the Dell PowerEdge range of servers, or the VRTX infrastructure platform that can complement the software component of any ERP. The agility of these server platforms is an ideal match for today's ERP systems, as they offer the flexibility which every small business desires.

What has become clear as ERP systems have evolved, is that making radical changes to their set-up and implementation can be costly. The industry is moving towards more standardisation, and interoperability across vendor applications, but this is slow, and for the foreseeable future businesses that want to use ERP will build bespoke systems.

If they are to operate as intended, these systems need a solid IT base from which to work. Ensuring the server and client layer of the ERP is well defined and can manage the loads and workflows will ensure that the installation delivers the costs savings and efficiency gains wanted by a business.