Many trade contractors use Excel spreadsheets and QuickBooks to track expenditures and manage day-to-day operations instead of an ERP solution. For newer businesses, these simple software solutions typically have just enough features to get by. However, as your business grows, you may discover that these solutions don’t scale, missing key components.
Filling in spreadsheets takes time, and manual data entry is often prone to error. You can’t see real-time insights into expenditure, work progress, and inventory levels. Instead, you rely on email and phone updates from the already busy people across your business. Or you’re stuck with a historical view, when it’s usually too late to adjust.
As you scale, you may be tempted to hire more people to cope with the increasing burden of backend operations. Unfortunately, the more office workers you hire, the more your margins will shrink and the greater your chance for costly human error. Instead of throwing more employees into the mix, it may be time to consider moving away from your siloed systems and upgrading to modern enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
A robust, interconnected ERP will enable you to be more flexible, efficient and profitable. However, not all solutions are created equal. So, what should trade contractors expect from their ERP?
Essential ERP Functions for Trade Contractors
Your new software should help you save money, improve efficiency and streamline operations. When choosing an ERP solution for your business, consider the following benefits.
From accountants to field supervisors, your new ERP solution should make it easier for everyone to do their job. A robust ERP like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central (BC) can automate data entry and connect information from disparate areas of your company.
For instance, with BC, employees won’t have to spend all day plugging data into spreadsheets, checking for mistakes, manually approving purchase order requests, or creating reports. Instead, you can automate these tasks, so your team can focus on more strategic projects.
Your ERP should connect systems from every area of your business, including accounting, site operations, field services, and inventory management. With this data, you can see what is happening across your business in real-time with detailed, user-friendly dashboards.
For instance, what is the current job progress for your six-month out-of-state project? Is your team in the next town staying within their set budget? Is your field operations manager assigning appropriate tasks to high-level specialists? What are your truck inventory levels? Is a technician about to run out of a crucial component?
Your ERP should give you visibility into all functions of your business, so you can make adjustments as needed and ensure everything is operating smoothly.
In addition to providing greater visibility into your field teams and ongoing projects, your ERP should offer field mobility. With this, your on-site team can use mobile devices to keep track of work progress, task delegation, inventory needs, and work hours. With field mobility, you can see who worked on what task and what resources were used in real-time so that you can coordinate more closely with field supervisors.
An ERP with the ability to connect to your warehouse, trucks, and on-site operations will allow you to manage inventory more efficiently. By integrating internet of things (IoT) devices like scanners, tablets and weight sensors into your broader technology stack, you can always see what you have in stock.
Some ERP solutions also offer automatic reordering, so you can tell the system to trigger a replenishment order from your supplier as soon as inventory levels reach a pre-set minimum.
With older programs, businesses could only use features offered by the software provider, and everything else was left in a separate siloed system. Thankfully, modern ERP solutions like Business Central are more flexible and can integrate with popular third-party applications.
For instance, if you have a payroll program that you want to continue using, you should be able to weave it into your overall ERP ecosystem. Although you may need a software partner’s help to do this, your ERP should have robust integration capabilities from the start. Solutions like Dynamics 365 Business Central give users the ability to build functionality, specifically tailored to their organization, by leveraging Microsoft’s Power Platform for custom workflows and hand-help apps.
Although upgrading to a new ERP solution may seem like a significant investment, it will provide considerable long-term cost savings. For example, with the right ERP solution, you will have the opportunity to grow without adding back-office headcount to enter data and process purchase requests manually. In addition, with greater visibility, you can ensure specialists are assigned pay-appropriate tasks.
Real-time inventory insights and automated replenishment features will help you avoid overstocking while ensuring you never run out of crucial supplies.
In addition, tracking daily job progress and expenditure reports will enable you to identify when a job’s scope has changed, so you can quickly readjust. Without a robust, interconnected ERP system, you may be losing money but not realize it until several months later, when the job has been completed.
When Should You Upgrade Your ERP?
Although QuickBooks, Excel, and other older systems may be functional enough for small businesses, you will need a more robust set of functions and connectivity as you grow.
Many subcontractors switch to an ERP system like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central when:
- Operating across multiple job sites at the same time
- Managing contracts that last several months at a time
- Overseeing a diverse team spread across multiple cities or states
- Revenue has reached $10 million to $15 million per year
Your ERP solution should be scalable and mature alongside your business. If you are trying to operate your business through spreadsheets and disconnected applications, it is time to consider migrating to a centralized software solution.
An experienced, certified software partner can help you find the best ERP solution for your trade contractors business and manage your migration to the new system. Contact one of Sikich’s construction ERP specialists to learn more or schedule a consultation.