Bolt-on vs. integrated: What’s best when it comes to expanding your ERP?

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Although enterprise resource planning solutions are a critical part of daily operations for all different types of businesses in a range of industries, there are two major options all companies consider when it comes time to expand their ERP capabilities: bolt-on solutions and integrated solutions. Today, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of both styles to determine the best option for your business.

Bolt-on applications

Bolt-on solutions for ERP are modules that work side-by-side with the core ERP system and provide supplementary functionality. Typical bolt-on features include customer relationship management, product lifecycle management, resource planning, supply chain optimization and more. For this reason, they are sometimes described as “feature afterthoughts.” Bolt-ons are often touted as a benefit because they can provide extra customization beyond the core ERP suite. However, as ERP Focus contributor Richard Barker pointed out, these applications aren’t exactly plug-and-play additions and can actually be considerably difficult to implement.

“[A] bolt-on remains a bolt-on because it doesn’t integrate seamlessly with the core ERP package,” Barker wrote. “The fact is, bolt-ons can have connectivity complications, unfriendly user interfaces, and may even have conflicts with other benefits you received from core ERP.”

The added functionality of a bolt-on can be more trouble for users than it’s worth. In addition, there are other complexities to weigh with the use of a bolt-on solution, including the fact that bolt-ons will have a different user interface than the main ERP software and may duplicate existing features, complicating the overall user experience. And because bolt-ons typically include their own database, and transmit data between the core ERP the database, the system requires additional resources for support and could actually be creating gaps in the business’s security posture.

Integrated solutions

An integrated option, on the other hand, is ERP brand specific, for example, Microsoft Dynamics NAV, and therefore matches the core system’s interface while complementing its features. These systems are so seamless that many users can’t tell where the core ERP ends and the integrated solution begins. As far as they can tell, it is a consistent, unified platform supporting all the functionality users require.

As Mark Polino, I.B.I.S. Inc. principal consultant and Microsoft Dynamics Community contributor, noted, while some companies go the route of selecting various bolt-on applications and stitching them together to create a range of functionality, integrated solutions provide the necessary features without the hassle.

“Though there can be areas where an integrated solution isn’t quite as full-featured as a best-of-breed, in most cases ERP functionality is both good enough and much less painful than connected disparate systems,” Polino wrote. “An ERP solution doesn’t mean that you’ll never have to integrate other applications, it just means that you have to do it a lot less.”

Besides providing users with a more streamlined and unified experience, integrated solutions offer these added advantages:

  • Use of a single database can increase the speed of data transfer, providing faster performance.
  • Integrated solutions can seamlessly leverage the functionality of the existing ERP, creating a more robust platform.
  • Integrated ERP systems are easier to implement and usually cheaper to maintain over their lifetimes.

In conclusion, although bolt-on systems can support customization and wider functionality, the complications that come along with this ERP style often outweigh the benefits. Integrated solutions enable a smooth experience, top-notch performance, and enhanced usability. When it comes time to select or upgrade your ERP, it’s best to avoid the bolt-on options and select an industry-leading integrated solution instead.

Looking for integrated add-ons for Microsoft Dynamics NAV? Check out the host of add-ons from Insight Works here.

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