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Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software was originally developed for large organizations to manage their entire operation from a single software console. During their early days, they required loads of on-site servers and lots of individualized software customization. Today's ERP implementations, however, are mostly delivered as cloud services, which makes them not only accessible but even attractive to small to midsize businesses (SMBs). Largely for this audience, we've reviewed 10 enterprise-level general ledgeraccountingsoftware solutions from vendors that are also able to extend their product suites to full ERP functionality.
These suites are designed in a modular fashion for the most part, which means you're able to purchase only the features your company needs. The suites are also squarely aimed at the small to midsize enterprise (SME) market. Typically, we review products that are aimed either at SMBs or enterprise organizations. The SME designator is less an indication of size than of the complexity of the business.
To make an investment in ERP software worthwhile, a business should have a need for custom business processes, multinational commerce, fairly complex manufacturing, or complex supply chain requirements. That's where SMEs become the better indicator rather than SMBs. A SME can still be roughly the same size as a high-end SMB (figure SMEs will typically grow between 100 and 1,000 employees), but it's a business with enough complexity and high-end requirements that will make the move to ERP a good investment.
Deeper Dive: Our Top Tested Picks
Oracle NetSuite OneWorld
The Gold Standard for Small Enterprise
Oracle NetSuite OneWorld is written for the cloud, focusing on ease of use and modularity. It is a solid financials platform that can be easily expanded to meet other business needs simply by buying additional functionality through the cloud.
- Solid customer relationship management features.
- Broad enterprise resource planning features apply to wide variety of businesses.
- Excellent drilldown capabilities from several system views.
- Simple reporting.
- Custom process workflows.
- Easily navigable, hierarchical dashboards.
- Confusing help system.
- Difficult to configuring system for specific roles.
- Broad but complex feature set.
Read Our Oracle NetSuite OneWorld Review
Intuitive but Focused on Manufacturing Vertical
Acumatica's intuitive design, enterprise scalability, and flexible pricing model help make Acumatica an excellent choice for enterprise resource planning, general ledger accounting, and inventory management.
- On-premises or cloud deployment.
- Robust amount of costing methods.
- Works on many databases.
- Solid reporting.
- Non-user-based pricing accommodates growing companies.
- Browser-based app makes it easy to use mobile devices.
- Navigation is easy.
- Estimating licensing costs can be difficult.
- Standard report filters may need customizing.
- Reliance on third-party add-ons needed if implementing ERP for companies outside the manufacturing/distribution vertical.
- Unusual pricing structure.
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Read Our Acumatica Review
Great for Retail Operations Not Needing HR
Syspro is a strong contender for the enterprise resource planning (ERP) needs of small, midsize, and large businesses. The system is extremely flexible, comprehensive, and easy to use, offering a plethora of reports and easily scaling from one to several hundred users.
- Excellent capabilities for production, distribution, warehousing, and retail businesses.
- Uses Syspro's own Point of Sale and Demand/Forecasting engines.
- Comprehensive but very easy to use.
- Extensive number of available modules.
- No payroll or human resources (HR) modules.
- May appear overwhelming for some smaller businesses.
Read Our Syspro Review
Good Reporting but No HR or POS
AccountMate is a solid entry in small to midsize business (SMB) financials, inventory management, and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Though it's missing some sophisticated features that other products have, it's still very usable and configurable.
- Many report export options.
- Great transaction drilldown.
- Extensive online training and help functionality.
- Solid audit trail report capability
- No HR or POS modules for ERP implementations.
- Limited graphics and charting.
- Task shortcuts need to be configured.
- No true dashboards.
- No process flowchart navigation.
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Read Our AccountMate Review
Cougar Mountain Denali Summit
Easy to Use and Can Be Purchased Directly
Cougar Mountain Denali Summit is aimed squarely at midsized businesses and it sports a wide variety of expansion modules. Its design can be a little lackluster in places, but for most businesses it provides a serviceable financial platform.
- Easy navigation.
- Two of the three bundles include Crystal Reports.
- Available as a single purchase or per-month payments.
- Can be purchased directly or through a reseller channel.
- Fund Accounting edition available.
- Crystal Reports costs $495 extra, even for the most basic bundle.
- Report filters and data entry screens are not particularly intuitive.
- Not much charting or graphics capability within most modules.
Read Our Cougar Mountain Denali Summit Review
Open Systems Traverse
Complex But With Deep Dashboard Drilldown
While Open Systems Traverse is one of the oldest players in the space, it actually shows its age in areas like UI design. Still it's a solidly capable mid-tier financial platform that's well worth a look.
- Deep dashboard drilldown.
- Full suite of ERP creation modules.
- Good documentation and Help screens.
- Available in-house or hosted.
- Includes Working Trial Balance report.
- Screen, forms, and reports customization.
- Easy hosted mobile access.
- No Flowchart/Process navigation.
- Setting up data entry and reports is somewhat complex.
Read Our Open Systems Traverse Review
SAP Business One Professional
Deep and Best for Existing SAP Customers
SAP Business One Professional has good features and flexibility overall, but is designed as an "old school" enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform. It may be too complex for many users especially small to midsize businesses (SMBs).
- Extensive customization available.
- Underlying SAP HANA database allows for complex business analytics.
- Microsoft SQL Server also available.
- Includes Crystal Reports for custom reporting.
- Can handle multiple currencies.
- Benefits administration module.
- Excellent documentation.
- Initial configuration and installation usually requires partner or expensive Value Added Reseller (VAR).
- Extensive customization necessary.
- Only supports Mozilla Firefox browser; testing failed.
- Ancillary system applications such as HR have pared-down feature sets.
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Read Our SAP Business One Professional Review
Complex but Comprehensive
Epicor ERP is aimed at small and midsized businesses (SMBs), especially those specializing in manufacturing and distribution. It's not overly easy to use, but it's a good value.
- Comprehensive ERP functionality.
- Extensive documentation and training available.
- Process flowcharts are not standard.
- May be too complex for smaller small to midsize enterprises (SMEs).
Read Our Epicor ERP Review
Solid, Though No Payroll or Inventory
Sage 300 is a mid-range accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software solution that is easy to use. But its functionality and expansion modules are limited, and it lags slightly behind the competition in drill-down and customization features.
- Mobile access from multiple operating systems using Google Chrome.
- CRM available in the 300 product line.
- Easily changeable dashboard widgets.
- Customizable, ribbon-based navigation menus.
- Payroll and inventory unavailable as 300 components.
- No hard timetable for adding modules.
- No flowchart/process navigation.
- Limited dashboard widgets on screen.
- Missing drill-down or navigation capability.
Read Our Sage 300 Review
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Business Edition
Good Integration With Microsoft Products
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Business Edition is a cloud-based accounting system that's tightly integrated with Office 365 and other Microsoft cloud applications. It's a solid offering that's easy to navigate, but some small to midsize businesses may find it lacks particular features they need.
- The Business edition offers extended capabilities and features.
- Can produce sales estimates and invoices in Microsoft Outlook, which is reflected in the accounting system automatically.
- Launch screen offers a clear view of critical key performance indicators, open items, and company data, including a summary trial balance.
- Very tight Office 365 integration.
- Lacks comprehensive customer relationship management, payroll/human resources, and project management features.
- Only available in US and Canada.
- Only inventory costing method is FIFO.
- Process flowchart navigation is lacking.
Read Our Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations, Business Edition Review
Buying Guide: The Best ERP Software
What Is Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)?
ERP generally describes a modular software solution that incorporates the financial side of the business and then adds closely integrated app modules that address other areas of the business, including business intelligence (BI),customer relationship management(CRM), Materials Resource Management (MRP), and Supply Chain Management (that is, logistics). MRP includes capabilities such as fixed asset management, Just-in-Time (JIT) Inventory,point-of-sale(POS) systems, and project management.
In essence, ERP is a systemic approach to managing the entire enterprise, not just its finances. By integrating all of these modules into a single, cohesive whole, customers can gain new insights and create new processes that weren't possible using separate tools.
For example, most ERP systems also enhance accounting and overall management by adding features or capabilities to enhance a basicpayrolltool into a more comprehensivehuman resources(HR) management framework, or to expand inventory management to more closely adapt to the specific type of business the customer operates, such as companies that center around warehousing or distribution.
Sometimes More Is Better
When looking at a company's management information systems portfolio, it's sometimes not obvious that a generic app may not be the best approach. A good example of this is payroll. The payroll for a service organization, for instance, incorporates time and billing and possibly expense management; it's considerably different from the payroll that should be used for a food and hospitality organization, which requires that the company track employee tips. And that's very different from payroll for a construction company, which often requires multiple rates for the same employee depending on what job they're performing (and also has to report to multiple unions).
Inventory is another area in which needed functionality differs depending on the type of business. For example, the inventory for a manufacturing company might require component tracking using bar codes to identify parts bins as well asBill of Materials Processing(BOMP) that provides a list of all the parts and subassemblies needed to construct a particular product, or even Kitting, which consists of inventorying and tracking subassemblies rather than discrete parts.
The point is, because ERP platforms are (a) modular and (b) so broad in terms of the situations they address and the features they provide, the planning process for choosing the right ERP solution begins at home—long before you actually speak to a vendor. You need to start your selection process by sitting down with the front-line managers of all your key business processes, and mapping out exactly how your company does business. Exactly how do your web customers go from a credit card transaction to a shipping box arriving at their front door? How are payments processed, orders fulfilled, warehouses managed, inventory moved and tracked, and shipping orders picked up and delivered? How is all of this information used to provideongoing BIfor the organization? What kinds of information aren't you getting that you really need? The list of appropriate questions will get much deeper in the real world and extend far beyond the typical IT questions that get asked before installing SMB software (such as servers required, per seat licensing costs, etc.), though those questions still apply to ERP as well.
The reason you need to get a comprehensive understanding of how your company does business is because ERP systems not only run the gamut of business process features (as discussed earlier) but they also provide varying degrees of integration between their various modules. With standard SMB software, it's rare to find direct feature synergies between warehouse management and the HR framework, for example. But with an ERP system, not only can that be possible but you can also tweak that integration to work even more effectively for your organization. For specialty warehouses that store specialized inventory (like dangerous chemicals, for example), your HR system can automatically kick in its shift-management capabilities to make sure that, when such chemicals arrive at a particular warehouse, the right staffers who have the skills necessary to handle those chemicals are there to receive and store them.
That's just one example out of myriad possibilities. What's possible for your organization is entirely dependent on the capabilities of the ERP platform and how well you understand how your business really runs.
Lose Some, Gain Some
In our initial review of the software suites, we looked at the financial side, concentrating on the general ledger and examining overall usability, navigation, and workflow. In this cycle, we went back to each vendor's offering and examined it for overall ERP functionality and the availability of modules that enhance the financial management aspects of the system (and extend it into other areas of enterprise operations).
In doing so, we made some changes in the vendors and products covered. In the initial set of financial accounting reviews, we included bothIntacct(Visit Site at Sage Intacct)andIntuit QuickBooks Online Plus. Neither of these has a true ERP edition so we excluded them from this round of reviews.
ERP Pricing and the Cloud
ERP has been around as a software category since the late 1990s. In that time, it's evolved in a number of important ways, most notably that many have become cloud-enabled. The benefit to customers here boils down primarily to cost and scalability.
Because ERP systems are modular, traditional ERP systems often required multiple servers to fully function. There may be one server for the financial module, one for the back-end database, one for the inventory management system, and so on. Now tack on redundant servers for reliability and increased performance and you're soon looking at a hardware and infrastructure price tag that can exceed the cost of the software. To market this technology effectively to SME customers, vendors are using the cloud to power their solutions and the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model to deploy it.
That means customers have very little (often zero) upfront hardware costs—all of the servers are in the cloud. That can be a huge reduction in overall total cost of ownership (TCO) of an ERP solution. But, as an added bonus, this deployment model also allows for immediate and highly cost-effective scalability. If your business runs a web retail operation, it might opt for an e-commerce module in its ERP solution. But during the holiday season, traffic through the e-commerce system might spike. In a traditional infrastructure setup, that company would need to purchase extra servers and configure them as redundant clusters to handle that increased traffic. Then, when the holidays are over, those servers would simply be shut off and the company would have to eat the cost of an unused hardware investment. Via the cloud, customers can simply spin up new servers in the cloud to handle this increased load, pay for use only during the holiday period, and then dissolve them once the holidays are over (thus paying only for what they need when they need it).
A final cloud benefit is licensing cost. In an on-premises model, your company would pay for an initial setup fee and the "X" dollars (usually between $1,000 and $5,000) per user or seat. That license would extend and generally last until the software was significantly upgraded. In a cloud model, the initial setup fee either doesn't exist or is typically much smaller, and the licensing costs are assessed at "X" dollars per user per month (typically anywhere from $90 per user per month up to $500 per user per month). For those who carefully do their math, this type of subscription-based licensing can be significantly cheaper than a traditional on-premises, per-seat scheme.
One area in which you likely won't save money over standard on-premises ERP deployment is the third-party partner. Most of the vendors we tested require (or at least strongly suggest) that you purchase and implement their software by using a third-party, value-add partner. This entity will manage the purchase, the initial deployment, and (most importantly) the initial configuration, which, for some of these platforms, can span several months up to a full year. That's because it's the partner who does the hands-on work of customizing these platforms so they work as they need to for your particular business. They interview those front-line business managers (if you haven't already), they do custom coding or scripting to build middleware connections between modules if the right ones don't exist out of the box, they make sure the right features are switched off or locked down; and they handle ongoing maintenance, troubleshooting, and employee training. All of that costs significant additional dollars, which can certainly equal or even exceed the cost of the software, depending on how you're paying for it. So, make sure that (a) you really need a third-party partner to set up your software, and (b) you get an accurate estimate of what their services are going to cost you.
The lesson is clear: Do your homework before attempting to evaluate any ERP system. Chances are you'll work with a reseller to manage the fit between your company and the software. But the better you understand how your company operates and where the potential bottlenecks and problem areas in an implementation will be, the smoother the process will go. The smoother the process, the more effective the final installation will be.