In the world of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, extensibility is a virtual toolkit that allows you to take your unique business processes and insert them within your existing ERP system.
Every distributor has specific needs, or their own way of doing things that differentiates them from competitors. With extensibility tools, you can build user-defined fields, portals, personal workspaces or business rules, or integrate into external systems, to round out your processes, cut your costs, and improve efficiency. And when you want to change a process in response to a vendor request, a new business opportunity, changes in the industry, etc., extensibility provides a way to adapt to these business drivers with maximum speed and minimum cost.
The key to extensibility is that the user can develop pieces of code that best fit their company’s business process and create the necessary functionality for themselves without altering the underlying system code. Here are some examples.
At virtually any distributorship, you are likely to see standard process documents, laminated checklists posted on walls and desks, sticky notes on computer terminals about dealing with specific customers, and so on. Extensibility allows distributors to create business rules and decision making tools capturing all of those details that employees need to remember to do their jobs, and engineer them into the ERP system.
Expansion into international markets has required changes to many distributors’ business processes. Customers outside the U.S. may need to be set up differently within your system; e.g., with different currency codes. That’s just one more thing for your employees to remember. Why not help them adapt with a rule that automatically changes the currency to euros if a European country code is entered in the system?
Extensibility can help bridge the information gap between new and experienced employees — reducing the learning curve when you’re onboarding new hires, and getting them up to speed in understanding the different scenarios that your experienced people are used to handling. This also gives you more flexibility in reassigning people to deal with vacations, sickness, resignation and retirement, etc. With business rules, you can ensure that policies are followed, and reduce the potential for mistakes in your business processes, by placing restrictions and approvals in the system that help to enforce correct procedures.
Personal workspaces can be created for each individual employee in the company, for certain tasks they do on a regular basis (e.g., tracking shipments or expediting orders). A personalized dashboard can reach into various areas of the system and bring together all of the relevant information that that person needs to do their job — a single point of reference.
For real-time, on-demand data access, you can turn spreadsheets or reports into portals using extensibility tools. The portal can display information from the report on a screen, but make it interactive. Likewise, if employees are receiving too many automated alerts that clog up their in-boxes and don’t get acted upon, you can build a portal that turns the alerts into actionable “To Do” lists assigned to specific employees.
You can also empower employees by providing rules in the ERP system that give them guidance for handling common business situations. For example, if an employee attempts to negotiate freight with a customer, a business rule would be a great way to invoke the “voice of ownership” by providing parameters that encourage a negotiation that satisfies your customer but maintains profitability.
Obviously, distributors don’t want to spend lots of time designing their systems; they need to focus on building their businesses. But if you want to preserve processes that differentiate your business from competitors, rise to challenges and new opportunities, and respond quickly to market drivers without having to build everything from the ground up, extensibility puts the power in your hands.
Posted by Dave Getty, Vice President of Product Development, and Steve Heister, Product Manager at Epicor Software Corporation (formerly Activant Solutions).