Few fields are as dynamic and subject to change as industrial design. In a large company, keeping up with every change that could impact the design process can be exhausting, especially if that company includes multiple design departments with staff working on different parts of a product or range. Enterprise resource planning, or ERP, can make it easier to streamline the information flow and coordinate activities. Rather than relying on fallible individuals who might forget or misconstrue things, it enables most of the day-to-day tasks of information management to be run through computers.
ERP was developed about 25 years ago with a view to organizing all the different computerized processes a business might engage in. Early versions had myriad problems and resulted in its getting a bad reputation. But these days, it’s a very different animal. It’s essentially modular, so companies can buy what they need, and it’s compatible with many other popular pieces of software. What’s more, it can be customized to fit individual business needs.
Many of the day-to-day aspects of information management on which design depends can be coordinated through ERP, including:
• Cross-referencing between departments
• Identification and tracking of components
• Ordering of components and related queries
• Tracking budget limits and mapping projected costs
• Compiling and sharing reports and process updates
Managed in the traditional way, these tasks can be very time consuming. An efficient ERP system makes them almost instant. It often means that less staff is needed or that staff can be freed up for more important work, such as contributing directly to the design process or seeking out opportunities for business growth.
ERP can make it easier to introduce new materials or components in a design by giving the entire team instant access to important information. This includes letting people further along the production chain know when such materials have been chosen over what was used prior. This means that there’s considerably less risk that a change at one stage in the process will lead to difficulties later.
Because it enables processes to be broken down and itemized in a way that makes them accessible to people at all levels of the business, ERP works for companies that sometimes need to produce customized items or showpieces. It makes it easy to bring together established aspects of design in different ways, without anybody getting confused about what the end product is supposed to be.
Because of its natural flexibility, ERP can be viewed as a long-term investment that pays back indirectly by facilitating ongoing improvements and savings. It’s useful in design because it speeds up the rate at which new products can be carried through to the production stage. It also makes it easier for individuals to innovate and feed their ideas back to the rest of the team.
Dave Mason is a freelance writer currently specializing in the Business and Tech sectors.