Benefits & Barriers: Cloud ERP for Engineers

Cloud ERP could help engineers adapt and respond to project and market challenges.

Hilary Johnson, Product Marketer and Mechanical Engineer

October 3, 2023

6 Min Read
paisan191/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

From working on buildings to software, engineers are the brains behind designing, constructing, and sustaining a wide variety of complex structures and processes in today’s world. However, like many other industries, this space has been greatly impacted by demands to digitally transform in response to the changing world around them.  

This is where engineers naturally have a leg up. As a profession that’s always been driven by data, engineering relies on technology, so accelerating innovation can be more seamless than it may be for other job functions. One development that has picked up a lot of speed has been the move to the cloud. While this is by no means a new concept to engineers, the pandemic greatly influenced even wider adoption for cloud-based technologies, and as a result of this attention, this technology has further evolved to support a wider variety of engineers’ needs.

For example, cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions have significantly shaped the current landscape for digital-first engineers. In today’s post-pandemic era where many organizations rely on virtual communication in distributed workforces, cloud ERP systems can centralize core functions and create a single source of truth, allowing engineers to better collaborate and access real-time information.

The benefits of cloud ERP are fruitful but with any rising technology, there are often stones left unturned when it comes to reaching its true potential. In this article, we’ll dive into where engineers might be missing out on those untapped opportunities and the common barriers that prevent engineers from fully embracing this digital-first era.

A wide variety of engineering data can be stored in a cloud ERP platform, including: 

  • CAD files. CAD (computer-aided design) files that are utilized for anything from parts to machinery fixes to drawings that are sent from clients to reverse engineer. The files can be stored in the cloud to be accessed and shared by other engineers, project managers, shop floor personnel, and any other stakeholders. 

  • Simulation data. Simulation data is used to test and validate the performance of engineering designs, especially when it comes to prototyping or trying a new fixture for a manufacturing process. This data can be useful and easily stored to be analyzed and reused for future projects. 

  • Manufacturing data. Manufacturing data that includes information about production processes, such as machine settings, tooling, feeds and speeds, quality control data, machine intelligence, and more. By utilizing a cloud environment, it can be stored to improve efficiency and traceability. 

  • R&D testing data. Testing data and results from physical and virtual tests of engineering designs that are usually tied to research and development activities. This cloud-stored information can be used to track performance over time and identify trends. 

  • Maintenance data. Data information about the machinery or property maintenance and repair of engineering and production assets along with CAD drawings and electrical diagrams. All of this can be stored in a cloud platform to improve asset uptime and reduce costs. 

Overall, ERP cloud platforms are a valuable tool for storing and managing engineering data and information without the fear of losing information with on-premises servers. They offer several benefits that can help organizations improve efficiency, productivity, and collaboration. 

Benefits: Leaving No Stone Unturned

Typically, the first area that comes to mind with cloud ERP is how it can help improve performance and tackle industry-specific challenges. This is generally what ERP is best known for, and for good reason—it’s what this technology was created for. Engineers have a unique perspective here since they often have an existing understanding of the power of data, so when given access to real-time data capabilities, visual whiteboards, or dashboards, engineers have been able to quickly translate these insights and understand where they can provide value. For example, by monitoring when machines are at full capacity, engineers can better allocate resources instead of wasting budget on unneeded equipment updates and find new efficiencies that save both time and money.

The cloud also introduced new opportunities for mobility. Typically, engineers often aren't sitting behind a desk. Whether they are stopping by different job sites or out in the field, it’s important that they have access to everything that they usually do at their home base except now from their mobile devices.

Another layer of complexity for engineers is today’s economic environment. Adaptability and responsiveness are invaluable skills, and cloud ERP will continue to power engineers through these turbulent times. However, one area that should be looked at more closely is how cloud ERP can help engineers navigate another aspect of the current business landscape—today’s job market.

With many jobs left unfilled, the manufacturing industry is experiencing a talent crunch that shows an evident skills gap for prospective employees and today’s technology. For manufacturing engineering teams that are impacted by these unfilled roles and stretched thin, cloud ERP can eliminate manual reporting and create workflows targeted to specific business processes that free up employees from time-consuming tasks and help remove some of the inefficiencies typically caused by human error.

Additionally, with the cloud, organizations do not have to invest in having a designated IT team that needs to manage day-to-day operations and security risks. Cloud-based solution providers often take on that burden and let organizations focus on what they do best without having to stay up to date on the latest security protocols or compliance policies.

Barriers: The Challenges Preventing ERP Cloud Adoption

Any innovation with big claims to decrease spend and increase efficiency will naturally draw skepticism, and the cloud has been no stranger to this over the years. As a result, many myths have crept up when it comes to this technology that needs to be permanently busted. For example, the most common ones we see are that cloud migrations are too risky, costly, and time-consuming to be worth the investment.

However, this is a very short-term view when discussing the ROI for new technology investments that, when left unchecked, could severely limit an organization’s growth potential. A cloud platform not only supports short-term goals such as creating a central repository for data, but it also provides an agile foundation that supports organizations adopting new technologies on top of it, as needed. This is increasingly important for smaller organizations that want to remain scrappy, since historically it’s been shown that businesses that are late adopters or only follow competitors’ lead with technology adoption struggle to regain their market share and compete on the same level again.

Another major myth lies in security and the misconception that on-premise servers are more secure. However, as touched on earlier, smaller organizations can forget this means needing IT and cybersecurity personnel and the amount of time and effort that goes into overseeing today’s constantly evolving security landscape. On the flip side, a cloud provider has these functions integrated into its platform and can keep a constant pulse on the latest security measures and updates related to compliance and industry regulations.

What’s Coming Down the Line

As technologies supporting engineers continue to advance, it’s likely digital transformation projects in this space will only become more complex in the future. Having a foundation of cloud ERP will ensure engineers can adapt and be more responsive, wherever the industry turns.

About the Author(s)

Hilary Johnson

Product Marketer and Mechanical Engineer, ECI Software Solutions

Hilary Johnson is Global Product Marketing Manager at ECI Software Solutions. With 20 years of experience, she has a hybrid background in product marketing, product management, general marketing, graphic design, and mechanical engineering. ECI Software Solutions provides cloud-based business software for running small- and mid-sized businesses end to end. Built by experts in manufacturing, residential construction, field service management, building supply, office technology, and wholesale/retail distribution industries, ECI’s industry-specific software connects businesses and customers, improving visibility, operational efficiency, and profitability. With ECI, businesses seamlessly integrate sales and marketing, business intelligence, CRM, data and analytics, ecommerce, mobile apps, and payment processing.

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