ERP for the factory floor, in the cloud?

26 February 2019

In traditional industries such as utilities, manufacturing, and construction, there’s often not the emphasis put on technology that other verticals get. Areas like finance, service industries, and even logistics may seem to be more bound up in progress.

The irony is that of all sectors, manufacturing has the longest history in innovation and change: the industrial revolution heralded the inescapable march of progress based on the factory floor over 200 years ago, and plant & machinery has had monitors, sensors and control systems built into their infrastructure ever since.

Operational technology (OT) has always been regarded as discrete from its younger IT sibling, having its own dedicated communication protocols, programming languages and automation frameworks.

Despite this native embedding of technology (albeit not in a form immediately recognizable by a Computer Science undergraduate), some of the latest trends in IT have not yet thoroughly permeated into manufacturing.

On pages like this one, readers will be familiar with phrases like “the race to the cloud”, but in the so-called traditional industries, adoption of cloud technology has been slower.

That’s not due to reluctance on the part of industry leaders to embrace change; rather, if companies are dealing with physical manufacturing, the machinery and systems that physically manufacture are not malleable in the way that a computer disk can hold new or amended lines of code.

Almost without exception, organizations deploy software and hardware technology to help run the business. There are ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems in place in most sectors, some dedicated to a particular vertical, while others are generic, but broad enough in ability to allow tailoring to both a specific industry and the individual business.

ERPs represent a significant investment in many cases and are therefore usually included when IT talks about “legacy systems”, or “existing stack”. There has usually been an outlay for the platform’s hardware requirements, plus an upfront CAPEX outlay for the software. Additionally, many companies’ requirements are such that the ERP needs to be melded to the organization: fine-tuning of the platform to make it bespoke for a company’s needs.

Most organizations with an ERP in place, in that form, will recognize that over time, working practices and workflow patterns will have been changed by the technology. Because systems cannot be 100 percent malleable, there’s always an element of the business having to work in a certain way – because that’s the way the software demands it.

The cloud versions of overarching ERP systems don’t solve this issue overnight, but many cloud ERP solutions are modular enough that by careful choice of what’s on offer, the strategic aims of the company can be satisfied and more ideal working practices can be put in place.

However, there are other advantages to cloud-based ERP too, the primary one being that cloud software isn’t a binary choice. Companies with significant ERP investment in in-house systems can also deploy cloud solutions, in a hybrid model.

A new facility such as supply-chain collaboration or logistics oversight can be handed to the cloud, testing the water with a gradual, piecemeal deployment. In time, other advantages of cloud ERP can be realized more comprehensively:

– Cloud services are comparatively easy and quick to spin up and start using compared to those on-premises

– Collaboration is built-in due to the centralized design, so internal teams and/or third parties can work from the same data, on the same platform.

– There’s a considerable shift from CAPEX to OPEX, so infrastructure costs (especially up-front investments) are no longer necessary.

– All upgrades, maintenance and backups are handled by the cloud provider, usually with competitive SLAs for uptime, security, and reliability.

– Data analytics can be leveraged at will, with scalable computing power switched in quickly. Even advanced, big-data processes such as cognitive learning for deeper insights can be put in place at will, either on-platform or handed to third parties (such as IBM’s Watson team for open artificial intelligence processing).

– The presence of modules means that new products or tactics can be put in place at will, with little delay and no speculative investment. Strategic vision can be explored at minimum cost, and creativity flourishes.

Here at TechHQ, we’re looking at three companies which are providers of cloud-based ERP systems suitable for deployment in so-called ‘heavy’ industry. Each is either a specialist in this type of vertical as of its own right or has an offering broad enough to have developed a significant track record and provenance that our readers will find attractive.


With a broad customer base in many areas, (historically in manufacturing but much more extensive these days), Epicor has built solutions based on its industry expertise for numerous make-to-order manufacturers.

Percolating upwards from consumer markets, customers are insisting on short, bespoke production, at a cheaper price, on highly flexible terms. Epicor ERP is ideally suited to the new stance companies must take to respond accordingly, offering a powerful solution that addresses financial management, production management, customer relationship management, supply chain management and much more in a single integrated solution.

Whether your organization is ready to move wholesale into the cloud with its cloud ERP, or if you’re happy with your on-premise systems, Epicor may well be the solution your operation needs. The software can be installed locally and run under existing IT frameworks, and the code base will be identical with the cloud version that the company offers too, as a fully-managed, cloud-server application. Epicor believes in giving its customers the choice of deployment based on what their business requires.

The advantage is, therefore, that when companies are ready to test the water of the cloud, there’s little or no issue – users and operations will be unaffected.

To learn about Epicor ERP, click here to read more.


Oracle acquired NetSuite as part of its aggressive shift to remodel itself as a cloud services provider. Since then, the suite has become something of an industry standard across several verticals that range from service industries through to traditional, heavy industry.

NetSuite provides powerful capabilities that underpin the complete business lifecycle. In CRM, the suite covers opportunity, sales order, fulfillment, and support. The modular nature of the suite includes areas like e-commerce (including integration with the finance areas of the platform), order management, stock control, and supply chain oversight.

NetSuite Advanced Order Management, for example, enables companies to capture omnichannel orders quickly with minimal effort, enabling order fulfillment from multiple channels. There are significant capabilities that allow companies to integrate edge deployments of different modules, so a company with multiple sites can create a unified experience for partners and customers.

Backing the whole system is a comprehensive financial management area that provides expense management, period-close routines, audit-able revenue management, and visibility into the financial performance of the entire business. It’s integrated with manufacturing operations enabling everyone to work from a single source of finance, sales and customer data.

NetSuite’s OneWorld solution addresses multinational and multi-company organizations, adjusting for currency, taxation and legal compliance differences at the local level, with regional and global business consolidation and roll-up.


Infor offers its customers a choice between deploying its ERP in-house or in the cloud. The former provides the possibility to make the solution more bespoke for the specialist in industry, but the latter removes the need for manual updates, patches, and backups— all of which can eat up the IT department’s time.

However, Infor’s ERP is not a one-size-fits-all SaaS (software as a service) provision. Instead, the company has invested millions of dollars in ensuring that its platform is highly customizable, with a granular module approach: deploy what you need, rather than be forced to adjust working methods. There’s even an AI module (named “Coleman”), so the massive throughput of data from IIoT in manufacturing can be mined for directed insights.

The company’s expertise extends to the ability to supply significant operational steer via its platform: many of its customers are skeptical about a “bespoke cloud” until they see it for themselves, and the solution comes backed with the company’s experience in industry and manufacturing.

From resource management to the interface between all systems and the marketing and production modules, the fully-integrated system offers a turnkey solution for industry that can be deployed piece by piece for companies with legacy applications they wish to migrate, or wholesale for new concerns or discrete projects.

*Some of the companies featured are commercial partners of TechHQ