ERP software and how to get started — benefits, modules, and more

Adobe Workfront ERP software

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) can be a confusing concept. There are about as many options and configurations as there are businesses, which makes choosing an ERP solution complicated.

Understanding the concept of ERP and what such a system could do for your company and strategies is a valuable first step to making the right choice. To help you with all of that, this post will cover everything you need to know about ERP.

What is ERP?

ERP software is a highly configurable system of computer applications that collects inputs from all facets of a business into a centralized database and dashboard. The purpose of ERP systems is to bring in automation, integration, and intelligence to connect every area of your business in one place.

One of the main benefits of ERP is its ability to be uniquely tailored to a company’s needs through the selection of modules. This customization lets you create a system to fit the processes and workflows of your business. Departments can easily share information and leaders can see what’s occurring on all levels.

The operative word in ERP is enterprise. To be effective, all individual applications that make up any ERP system, no matter where or how they are used, must work together seamlessly.

Facets of ERP

Understanding ERP

ERP systems can be intimidating because they are grand in scale and all-encompassing. To simplify, every ERP has two main components.


A key feature of an ERP system is its modularity. Depending on the business model, a company can create different data sets, called modules, for every major department or facet of the business. Different businesses will choose configurations to achieve their ERP-driven objectives.

Think about the needs of your business. Your accounting department will likely need invoicing software while your HR team needs a performance management platform. If you run an ecommerce business, you need software for supply chains and inventory management. An ERP can provide a module for each software application your business demands and then unify them in a central data system.

With these interconnected modules, your processes are more standardized and your teams canmore easily interact with each other and share information.

Central data repository

At the heart of any ERP is a central data repository that serves as a single, authoritative source of truth. All data, no matter where it’s generated, resides in the central repository with a single interface. Leaders have an enterprise wide view of all business processes with real-time data to facilitate planning, management, reporting, and control.

When properly configured, ERP reporting and analytics are always consistent and reliable. Your company’s information is available without duplication, and you can trace documents back to their original source for verification. This centralized system improves business intelligence (BI) and decision making.

An ERP system helps you run your business — analytics, operations, managerial, financial, compliance reporting, and controls — as an integrated and coordinated whole.

Professionals using ERP software

How ERP works

An ERP establishes a command center for monitoring every area of your business. All of the different modules that your business uses are connected in a centralized data repository.

There are three basic steps to setting up an ERP:

  1. Configuration. To start, most companies choose a package of core modules for basic functions like finance, sales, accounting, and HR and then purchase additional modules that make the most sense for their specific business operations.
  2. Integration. In many cases, decision makers realize that forcing all their functions into just one system is too constricting. Fortunately, ERPs still allow for the integration of outside software for solutions like business intelligence, advanced analytics, materials planning, or customer relationship management (CRM). ERP-branded integrations are the most seamless. But there are also bolt-on solutions with their own databases that work in tandem with the core modules.
  3. Deployment. Once you configure your ERP system, you next have to decide how to deploy it. Your setup can be onsite, in the cloud, or a combination of the two. Your choice will depend on both your need for privacy and security and your budget.

An ERP is a good fit for any industry. Once your company grows large enough, deploying an ERP system can help you understand and manage all the components of your business.

Benefits of ERP

Every company is unique, but a well-configured ERP system can offer many advantages.

ERP modules

ERP modules

To make the most of so many capabilities, executives need to familiarize themselves with the full spectrum of modules that can be bundled within an ERP installation. These tend to be driven by business function and can range from standardized, almost generic, processes to highly specialized applications. Here are some common examples.

The list of potential modules is almost limitless. Different ERP providers often focus on specific industry verticals, creating modules that can drill down to highly specialized businesses.

An IT professional working on business servers

Types of ERP deployment models

Companies have various needs depending on the industry, business model, and culture. And every organization is at a different stage of digital readiness. ERP providers understand such variables and are ready to customize their delivery. While there will always be nuance, the three core deployment configurations include:

ERP integration

As your business moves closer to selecting an ERP provider and an array of modules, it will be important to take a closer look at existing business applications. Most companies migrate their whole business to the ERP’s core modules. But some are running one or more niche applications and need to evaluate integrations.

Your businesses or teams may lean toward best-in-class solutions for certain things. Maybe your business is ready for the efficiency and scale of a core ERP system, but you still want to keep your tried-and-true CRM, HR, or materials management platform. There’s no rule that you have to integrate all of your systems into an ERP. To decide what’s best for your business, ask the following questions.

If an ERP provider can offer a proven integration with your trusted third-party application, it makes sense to implement only the core ERP modules. You can always migrate to the ERP provider’s option at a later date.

If you’re thinking about integrating a niche application and there’s no standard, ready-made integration available, conduct a detailed cost-benefit analysis.

Costs of ERP

Cost of ERP

Migrating your business onto an ERP platform is a big step toward digital transformation. While the benefits are numerous, you still have to balance your choice of modules with the price of the initial deployment and ongoing costs — which vary widely.

The total cost of ownership (TCO) can include:

History of ERP

The first ERP was invented in the 1960s by a machinery manufacturer and was called materials requirements planning (MRP). In this early stage, punch cards enabled automation to calculate how to optimize production schedules.

ERP did not change much until the advent of MRP II in the 1980s, which added modules — like finance and account management — and integrated core components. By the early 1990s, systems were fully featured enough for Gartner to coin the term “enterprise resource planning,” the name ERP systems go by today.

Operating costs were much steeper back then, since companies often had to buy their own servers and IT staff. But In 1998, the first cloud-based ERP was released, revolutionizing ERP by making costs predictable. ERP became accessible to smaller businesses for the first time.

Future of ERP

As in its past, ERP will continue to evolve in lockstep with advances in technology.

Today’s ERPs already incorporate such innovations as cloud-granted “access from anywhere,” radio-frequency identification (RFID), IoT, blockchain, advanced analytics, and AI and machine learning.

Going forward, ERP providers can be expected to help clients embrace 5G, edge plus quantum computing, neural networks, robotics, digital IP, autonomous vehicles, and the metaverse.

But even as technology advances, integration with existing ERP processes is getting simpler. Providers are embracing DevOps, application programming interfaces (APIs), and low-code or even no-code software.

In essence, any business will be free to pursue emerging technologies. ERP providers will always be on the front lines, working with their clients to embrace and integrate the latest innovations. By implementing today’s ERP systems, a business positions itself to benefit from continuous digital transformation.

Choosing the right ERP system

Your choice of ERP provider is a matter of finding the right fit for you and your business. Your ERP provider should be able to demonstrate installations with other businesses of your size, sector, and growth profile.

From there, look at core business strategy and analyze your greatest needs, challenges, and opportunities. Your short list should be able to address each of these with ease.

Getting started with ERP

If your business is ready to shift from fragmented to coordinated, from manual to efficient, from instinctual to data-driven, from reactionary to predictive, you’re ready to embrace ERP.

One tool that can help a business realize many of the benefits of ERP is Adobe Workfront. Workfront helps individuals and teams connect their efforts to the broader goals of the business. The ability to consolidate workflows and information visually and dynamically enables collaboration across the right tasks at the right time with the right people.

First as a bridge toward ERP adoption then later as an invaluable adjunct, Workfront helps businesses and their teams connect strategy to delivery.

Watch a video overview or take a free product tour to see for yourself how Workfront can help you on your ERP and broader strategic journey.