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There are a wide variety of automation tools and techniques designed and devised to help SMEs and their employees produce their products better and more efficiently. There are excellent tools like Six Sigma Quality, Factory Automation, Design for Manufacturability etc with enormous potential. But, none of them will ever yield their full potential unless they are coupled with effective forecasting, planning, and scheduling processes. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is the answer, which is a direct outgrowth and extension of Manufacturing Resource Planning.
Towards the end of last century, it was out of compulsion and not by simple choice that big industrial houses went ahead on the unchartered and expansive path of ERP adoption. Their non-standard, non-synchronized data, misaligned and broken information flow coupled with non-refined business processes were becoming a big hurdle in their growth story.
The need of the hour was to have some robust centralized solution which could handle their multiple businesses, functions, geographies, systems into one solution. This possibility became a reality only with the coming up of ERP Solutions from giants like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and many more, duly supported by launching of robust servers and reliable networks.
SMEs, however, have a common perception that ERP is best suited for large scale industries due to high cost of ownership, complexity of implementation and subsequent maintenance cost (commonly known as Big White Elephant). But over the last decade, with technology becoming simpler and easily available, with the coming up of ready-to-use off-the-shelf ERP packages with shortened implementation phase, emergence of cloud computing (with pay as you use option), requiring minimum in-house skill set, the possibility to become leaner and efficient organization, now looks close to reality for SMEs.
But despite life getting simpler, ERPs have inherent challenges. A plethora of studies and research have been done on the subject and conclusions arrived at, but still for SMEs, it has its own set of limitations in terms of permissible workload, available resources and time liberties at disposal to cope with ERP implementation.