What is an ERP, and Does My Agency Need One?
What is an ERP, and Does My Agency Need One?
By Frances J. Trelease
Perhaps you run a global or multi-country business. You may have several offices, production facilities and vendors scattered across two or more continents. Transparent and relevant file sharing for your global enterprise is critical. You need centralized, accurate data that can inform your decision making.
Whether you are a C-suite executive (CEO, COO or CFO) or a marketing director, you are in a position to effect meaningful change. You are a leader in your agency, tasked with driving strategy and growth through business intelligence and insights. You promote and support agency best practices, and with that role comes a need to automate business processes through a network-wide system that makes sense. Whether you’re in financial management, accounting or creative, a multitude of stakeholders – internal and external — are in the mix.
A marketing agency ERP system is a way to achieve your goal.
What is an ERP?
An ERP system manages the day-to-day business operations and agency workflows, by supporting the sharing and flow of actionable data. An effective ERP enables that data flow between and among a business’s authorized users and provides transparency in the process. Some refer to ERPs as a “single source of truth” used to drive key decisions. The right agency ERP for you should be scalable as your agency’s grows, and it should be agile and adaptable. In short, the right agency ERP should be almost as intuitive as you are.
How do I know if I need an ERP solution?
You may be asking, “Do I need an ERP?” Do any of these questions sound familiar?
- What revenue came in this week, and from which business unit?
- Where are my status reports and WIPs on existing jobs?
- Is our project in compliance with overseas government regulations and tax structures?
- Did our suppliers get paid?
If the answer to any is yes, let’s look at what experts say should be included in your marketing agency ERP tools. For starters, your ERP system should conform to your existing software and CRMs (easy integration). It should automate and consolidate reporting across business offices and facilities, and even across global languages and financial currencies. All to this end – to help drive your business growth. An effective ERP improves accountability, and contains costs. An effective ERP positions itself as your global partner, in essence, and provides services accordingly.
What Should my Team Look For in an ERP?
To ensure data integrity, look for an ERP that’s housed on an integrated platform. The best agency ERPs can connect your entire agency, while giving each department the autonomy and control it needs to get the job done – all on a consistent user interface (UI), displayed on a clean dashboard environment.
Here are more key features to look for:
- A comprehensive system built from the ground up. Avoid cookie-cutter solutions that don’t align with your business or agency mission.
- An effective tool to display your KPI’s
- Finance/accounting: An ability to track financial systems, down to the level of AP, AR, and payroll.
- An ability to create financial forecasts and financial reports.
- Time Management tools
- Job Management tools – the ability to track project details and related cost estimates. To generate purchase orders and create billables.
- Accounting capabilities that include:
*Budgets and ForecastsGeneral Ledger
- Expense Management tools to keep your budget on track and, in turn, increase profitability. How and where should you allocate your resources?
- Workflow Visibility – transparency between and among stakeholders within and external to your global business units
- Easy-to-read Analytics that can help you drive strategy
The best ERP systems are used to spot problems, identify areas for improvement, and even forecast challenges ahead. That’s critical if you rely both on big picture data, and meaningful detail.
Here’s What to Watch For:
Number One – Modern Architecture
We have identified problems with some existing ERP systems. Many aren’t customized to an agency’s or industry’s particular needs. They are out-of-the-box systems that work for some… but not for all. From a technology standpoint, many aren’t built on the latest cloud-based SaaS technologies available, and/or they can’t be accessed globally 24/7. That can spell disaster for your vendor in Hong Kong, for example, who’s waiting on your payment before finalizing an order.
You need open API software that integrates with your existing business systems and can import all into an integrated hub. Take a look at your existing system: can you extract your data as needed? Is it an open architecture system that can collaborate with existing tools?
Number Two: An agency-specific ERP solution that creates strong value for the specific nature of your business; that provides visibility to your global operations, production houses, and vendors.
Number Three: An ability to accommodate your growing infrastructure; as your business scales, so does it.
Number Four: Affordability. Customizations from non-specific ERP solutions can be prohibitively expensive. Many high-end ERP systems cost ridiculous sums, and as such are out of reach for small and mid-size agencies that still seek enterprise scale. Look for a marketing ERP system that’s reasonably priced and provides the greatest value.
So When Do You Know?
Other signs it may be time to look for a marketing agency ERP:
- You receive reports that generate or reflect inaccurate data
- Your systems aren’t effectively talking to each other
- Established processes are turning up high error rates
- You’ve become over reliant on spreadsheets and emails.
An ERP is right for you when it aligns with your business objectives and drives your team’s success. Make sure you are using your agency ERP strategically. Be careful that you don’t impose a system on your agency that’s not the right fit. Remember that technology is there to help and support you, not the other way around.
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