The most important question to ask when evaluating your ERP system
October 6, 2021
Marketing agencies who have outgrown their accounting tool or the inefficiency of their generic ERP system have a set list of table stake features:
- Project Financial Management, Time Tracking, and Billing
- PO Management, Expense Reporting, and Accounts Payable
- General Ledger/Accounting and Financial Reporting
RFIs or RFPs (Request For Information/Proposal) that often accompany these evaluations are focused on ticking the boxes against commoditized feature sets. When it comes to ERP software, agencies need to go beyond the shiny sales pitch and near-perfect RFP score and ask a question that will ensure an immediate return on your investment.
Focus as a point of differentiation
How often have you been told that a feature request is on the roadmap only to find out it is now sitting in the graveyard list, deprioritized because of other strategic projects that have nothing to do with the marketing and advertising vertical? Once in a while, you are provided a solution that works seamlessly for a retail company but ends up being a clunky workaround for your agency.
When evaluating ERP alternatives, Focus should be a primary criterion. Take a closer look at the Platform and People of your current and prospective ERP solution provider.
An ERP system falls into one of three buckets.
Often referred to as “big-box tools,” most generic ERP systems started in the manufacturing and retail verticals. Hence they are not designed to handle the specialized needs of agencies “out of the box.”
This lack of focus translates to costly customization to retrofit a generic tool to support an agency business. Square peg. Round hole. While some agencies have implemented these generic solutions, the true cost of ownership becomes evident in subsequent years. Customization does not end during the implementation phase. The dynamic nature of the advertising business requires continuous innovation, so your tools must adapt. When it comes to generic ERPs, continuous development is required to keep up with an agency’s business — and this comes at a premium.
PSA (Professional Services Automation) and agency-native ERP systems should dominate an agency’s evaluation shortlist. PSA tools understand the nuanced needs of a people-based operation and project-based business. Agency-native tools are versed in the challenges that are unique to an agency.
While agency-native AIO tools reduce the customization cost inherent in generic platforms, the all-in-one approach presents a domino of challenges for an agency. All-in-one tools try to be all things to all personas within an agency, but specific job functions require particular tools, so it is not uncommon to have various tools to satisfy the needs of each team within an agency. A prevalent scenario is the adoption of stand-alone project management tools to manage timelines and dynamic resource optimization. The problem: AIO ERP solutions are built to be closed systems and do not integrate well with other tools. Disconnected tools mean disparate data. Disparate data means your agency does not have a single source of truth to inform financial decisions.
A best-of-breed platform refers to the leading solution in a specialized category. When it comes to agency-native ERP solutions, a best-of-breed platform provides the most comprehensive functionality focused on solving a challenging problem that all-in-one systems only partially address. A key area is financial management.
A best-of-breed financial management platform is architected to be the single source of truth for an agency’s financials. It is powerful in managing revenue, costs, and profitability at the project level and automates onerous project accounting steps like work-in-progress analysis and WIP balance aging. A best-of-breed financial management platform is interoperable with other best-in-class systems of the agency’s choosing.
The size of a company is often confused with a solution provider’s ability to service a customer effectively, but when it comes to niche solutions like agency financial management, quality trumps quantity.
Even the savviest accountants can generate inaccurate financial statements without a deep understanding of challenges unique to agencies. Vet your ERP provider’s domain expertise and sector experience. An agency-native, best-of-breed financial management platform is only as good as the people supporting it.
Look for a long-term partner
Experienced finance and operations leaders can clearly articulate a gap in their technology stack and recognize when their team has outgrown their current tools. With an agency-native financial management platform and domain experts, an agency is not just investing in a system but building a partnership that can support its growth and transformation.
In your next ERP system evaluation, ask what the company’s focus is and carefully vet that the platform and its people are focused on the agency’s business.