March 18, 2018, 10:11 am
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Global business demands a globally ready ERP

It’s been said so often it’s almost become cliché -- these days all businesses are global businesses.

In fact, going global is easier than ever and a near imperative due to technologies such as the Internet, computers, mobile devices; as well as access to a globally integrated network of labor, suppliers and manufacturers. Moreover, the ease of doing business now across borders—through more tightly integrated regional trading blocs such as the ASEAN Economic Community, removes some of the biggest hurdles to global expansion.

What isn’t said so much is that a global business demands a globally-ready business system as well. Face it, business software can be a complicated and process-intensive system. That’s to be expected given the intricacies of today’s business and the importance of getting accurate financial information in a timely fashion. So, when it comes to managing a global business, finding the right solution is particularly important.

What is ERP Software? A key business system that many businesses employ, especially when they grow to a certain scale are what are called Enterprise Resource Planning systems, or ERP. While ERP always demands accurate data and timeliness in delivering that data to provide visibility into financials across all parts of the enterprise, those requirements become even more pressing—and difficult – with a globally-deployed ERP system. 

An obvious starting point is taxes. Complex and quickly changing tax requirements can tax an ERP system. Managing a company’s financials requires compliance with the local tax codes and tax rules. When a company extends its business internationally those codes and rules, and the complexity around them suddenly expand significantly, possibly exponentially. A global ERP system demands a system that can quickly incorporate the tax requirements of new subsidiaries or customers in the new locations. 

Indirect taxes, like Sales Tax, VAT/GST; and withholding of direct taxes on income can be particularly vexing as businesses need to establish and show who is doing the selling and the buying and whether they get specific treatment like a non-profit; the location of the sale if it’s in a different province, state, country, etc.; the type of service or product they are selling and whether it is exempt from something like a VAT; and other specifics that can impact a tax rate, such as the type of product or service that is being delivered.  Some global companies like Amazon and Starbucks ran afoul of tax issues when they set up operations in markets outside of their home country. Locally—the same happened as well to some multinational ecommerce/group buying companies. Of course, that’s no reason not to expand a business internationally, but it’s a cost of doing business that must be accounted for in an ERP system. 

Global ERP requirements go beyond taxes, of course. Subsidiaries in foreign countries still need to roll up their financial data to headquarters so the company can close its books. Getting data from the subsidiary to headquarters can take time, potentially a lot of time with a global ERP system that isn’t properly integrated. Time lost closing the books can mean lost opportunities. 

Additionally, global operations require support for multiple languages and currencies from their ERP system. An American company opening a subsidiary in Manila or Singapore may get off easier on the language front than one where the local populace doesn’t speak English, but it still needs to be able to handle Philippine Pesos and Singapore Dollars. A global ERP system needs to be able to serve up information in the local language and local currency. 

Furthermore, the larger and more far flung an organization becomes, the harder it is to have a clear view into business operations. Without visibility into vital operations like orders, the supply chain and inventory, strategic business decisions can miss important opportunities or worse, reflect an inaccurate reality. That demands a global ERP system that can tie all those processes together.

What’s more, a global business presents the specter of a mish mash of siloed systems that can’t pass data back and forth. Some organizations may find themselves running a separate accounting and eCommerce system for every country they operate in, each tuned to local tax and accounting requirements. That, in turn, forces finance and IT to spend inordinate amounts of time consolidating and rectifying data. A true global ERP system should be able to run anywhere and reflect the local tax and compliance requirements without excessive customization.

Of course, no ERP system is going to be able to handle every process for every business in every industry out of the box. That requires a system that can both be customized to a specific business’ needs and integrated with other mainstream financial systems without requiring an army of consultants. A global ERP system adds a layer of complexity that will tax those capabilities.

Finally, global ERP systems can place a significant burden on IT resources. Separate on-premise instances demand not only software but new data centers and hardware -- whether the ERP system is the same software used at headquarters or from a specific vendor in the host country. A subsidiary, division or acquired company needs local IT staff with the right skills to manage the system. Finding the right ERP skill set can be a challenge, particularly in some locales. That can add cost and complexity to a project, potentially requiring moving staff from headquarters or simply finding and training local talent.

Evaluating Global ERP software. Finding the right global ERP system therefore means selecting a solution that is sophisticated enough to handle compliance, taxes and currency fluctuations, agile enough to adapt with them when they change and simple enough to get up and running quickly for businesses eager to expand to new domains or bring aboard a foreign acquisition.

Software buyers should pay close attention to all of these factors when evaluating a global ERP system. Can it handle multiple tax codes and if so, how quickly or easily can it be updated when those laws or tax codes change. Does it handle multiple languages and currencies and can it calculate exchange rates in real time? 

On-demand, or cloud, solutions can provide some of the answers. Software accessed over the internet can spare a global company the trouble and expense of setting up data centers in far flung locations and hiring or transferring skilled IT workers. Multi-tenant ERP software vendors can also provide agility and flexibility by accounting for tax or compliance changes once in the central system and pushing it out to all customers at once.

However, global ERP software buyers should have some specific questions for cloud vendors. How well does the solution scale? As global business grows, will the software continue to meet my business needs?

The integration capabilities of the software are paramount as well. While all ERP software is going to require some integration, buyers should ask cloud vendors specific questions about their capabilities. Do they have open application programming interfaces (APIs)? Do they have prebuilt connectors to the most widely-used ERP systems? What about their partner ecosystem? Are there other companies ready to step up and offer industry- or country-specific capabilities that the core system does not? What’s the current status of the partner ecosystem and what are its prospects for the future?

Selecting ERP software is never an easy task and there is a long list of failure stories, but it’s also vital for any business with serious growth ambitions and when it comes to the global marketplace, there are very specific needs to be addressed. - By Jan Pabellon, Group Product Manager for Asia Pacific, NetSuite
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