With so many options, and so much riding on the decision, searching for software can be paralyzing for business owners and chief technology officers.
Some of you probably dream of a single solution that will handle everything. I’m afraid that when you wake up, you’ll see that a solo software savior isn’t realistic — but that doesn’t mean you’re destined for a nightmare.
Here is what’s realistic and valuable: one software to serve as your company’s single point of truth, the repository of master information on which business decisions are made. From that solution, other software can pull data to help manage materials planning, order capture, financial reporting, and other areas of the business.
Even though we are discussing high-level technology, this arrangement can be compared to how people chose music equipment a few decades ago – picking an excellent receiver to connect with separate speakers, tape decks, and CD players. That method was almost always better than the “all in one” devices that jammed mediocre components into one box.
To be sure, extremely large corporations can develop their own software to achieve their goals, but most cannabis-related businesses don’y have the resources. My company, which produces software in-house, itself relies on 30 other types of solutions built outside of our company to run our day-to-day operations. Even for us, it didn’t make sense to try to reinvent something like a customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
I own this decision, and I recommend you do the same.
First, choose your software anchor to serve as your single point of truth and assist with your enterprise resource planning (ERP), that keeps a finger on the pulse of company data.
Early ERP systems were created with the ambition to be all-in-one solutions. Prior to this, companies lived in ineffective information silos. The finance team didn’t have access to the manufacturing team’s data, for example, and a lot of important data fell through the cracks. However, as software has matured, specialization now leads the market. Slow moving, expensive, and bloated ERPs have ceded ground to specialized players, such as Salesforce, who excel at their respective functions.
A great cannabis ERP will be modular so that it can be customized to each business. A hemp cultivator may still need a manufacturing component for their processing operation. A vertically integrated cannabis operator may need cultivation, manufacturing, and retail modules. What’s important is that each core component of the software is fully functional and provides value and complete data visibility to the client.
With that in mind, your next step is to look for separate components of your technology stack that perform specialized functions but still sync with your central ERP. Some pieces of software fit ideally into this architecture, such as a CRM, fleet routing, and project management. QuickBooks Online integrates well for financials, and LeafLink does the same for wholesale ordering.
Many of these complementary products are offered at different price points, allowing you to prioritize your technology budget accordingly and upgrade to more robust functionality when appropriate. For instance, a CRM for a team of five may look much different from the one for a team of 50. The same goes for financials. We see many clients upgrading from QuickBooks to Sage Intacct as their needs mature.
For the tools you use most, I recommend “native” integrations that seamlessly work with your ERP data. A native integration means your software provider simply provides a way to connect and configure the integration, while they take care of the technical details to sync data between two systems behind the scenes. Think of the way that Mint.com takes a user’s banking information to import data and help them manage their personal finances.
The key to making systems work together is to map your business processes and job functions, identifying goals for each, and then purchasing systems from the top so that no department head goes rogue and buys their own tool that isn’t part of your overall plan. Another pro tip: use a corporate spending card to monitor spend for your various technology solutions.
Once you buy your core system, it’s particularly important that each department head be trained to own their relevant tool, such as your sales chief working with the CRM.
Don’t forget to secure access when deploying and bringing employees into or out of the company, and you’ll need to balance training costs with the number of tools you buy.
As you mature, you can use an API (application program interface) that enables software to talk to each other. A happy middle ground is using an integration framework like Zapier to connect systems with low or no code.
Going forward, think about your current needs and the ability to scale up or swap out solutions while keeping your foundation in place. A solid ERP and integrated components will allow your team to make better informed decisions, respond to supply partners and compliance officials in a heartbeat, and fully understand your profit and cost of goods sold.
Finally, getting your technology stack right will let you focus on building your business, which is the most important step of this journey.