Image: Singapore Finance District, by Joan Campderros-i-Canas, CC license

“Financials” is a term used by software vendors and others that normally includes accounts payable, accounts receivable, balance sheet and P&L. There can be extensions of this definition to include such areas as payroll, treasury (bank account inflows and outflows), and tax management.

In an ERP system, all of the required financial postings are made as other transactions take place. A shipment to a customer generates an invoice and posts the accounts receivable for that customer. Production of finished goods creates inventory with its corresponding value on the balance sheet. Benefit: reduction in administrative labor needed to manually post transactions from one system to another.

Because the Finance module in an ERP system records all the operating transactions, that data resides in the main ERP database, which means it can be extracted for reporting and analysis purposes.

If the Finance module is “robust” enough, it will already have built-in queries or user-defined reports to analyze the basic transactions such as sales by customer, manufacturing costs by product, and other “intelligence” needed to manage the enterprise.

But my experience is that a standard ERP system never satisfies the analytics needs of a good finance department. In this case, you have two choices: spend a good part of your budget building custom reports in the ERP system (not recommended), or invest in an application-neutral reporting database.

This means more information is available that is critical to evaluating the performance of the business. Calculating actual dollar benefits of a new ERP system here can be difficult, but consider what you could save if you knew things like how much overtime pay you incur and in what areas of the business, how much profit or loss you are trending year to date, and which products generate the least profit margin.

ERP systems usually define authorization levels for different types of users, allowing control of sensitive transactions. The Sarbanes-Oxley law and other regulations require separation of duties to ensure financial controls are followed. Benefit: centralized control of transactions users have access to and a system infrastructure that satisfies auditor requirements.

An ERP system can enable you to match invoices with receipts and purchase orders so that what you pay for is what you ordered and what you received. The purchase orders, receipts, and invoices are all in the same system, so the system can compare them and immediately determine if the invoice is valid and should be paid or if it’s not. Benefit: elimination of overpayments or duplicate payments to vendors, reduction of paperwork and manual comparisons reducing administrative overhead.

An ERP system can also manage your contracts with vendors, including pricing and terms of payment. This means that data from invoices can be instantly compared to contractual terms to make sure the invoice is correct. The benefit is the same as above – elimination of overpayment. If your enterprise is large and is processing a large volume of vendor invoices you are bound to have at least a small percentage savings – say 5% of the amount you spend — and 5% of a big number may be enough to pay back at least part of the ERP investment.

A price-shopping or auctioning application or an online buying service can be an extension of the ERP system so that you can search for the best price for your materials, goods, or services, select the vendor, and place the order. Usually these apps and web-available services are specialized according to what you are buying, such as transportation and delivery services, office supplies, basic materials such as standard corrugated packaging, shrink wrap, paper stock, chemicals and industrial supplies, and more recently energy sources such as electricity and natural gas. Benefit: getting the best price and terms and automatically creating a purchase order which is integrated to your financial system for proper payment. Again, the dollar benefit can be a percentage of your total spend, especially if you think you haven’t opened up your purchasing to alternative vendors for awhile.

When purchasing is part of your ERP the proper postings to financial accounts are automatically done. When you issue a purchase order an entry is made in the ERP system that authorizes receipt of whatever you are buying. When you receive what you are buying a payable is created which goes on the balance sheet as a liability. All the accounting is taken care of.