10 absolutely essential questions to ask about SAP Business One extensions

When you implement SAP Business One in your company, either right from the outset, or as your business expands, you will probably find yourself looking at extensions which are aimed at your industry so that you can customize the solution in such a way that will support the data and compliance needs of your area of business.

Usually, businesses go to their SAP Business One partner with a list of functionalities that they need, and the partner, or even potential partner, will recommend one or more solutions to them. Those solutions will usually be designed by a third party, a so-called Software Solutions Partner, often referred to in the world of SAP Business One as an SSP. If you are concerned about investing in a solution that isn’t developed by SAP themselves, you shouldn’t be. SAP Business One is a great general business solution but SSPs usually have a deep understanding of the specific type of business they cater to, so you really can get the best of both worlds: An international brand solution with a very specific extension designed for your type of business. Also, SAP provides a great development environment and excellent support to SSPs so there is no reason to expect a lower standard of solution simply because it is not provided by SAP directly.

On the other hand, in choosing your extensions you should know that they are not all created equally. I’m not just talking about functionalities here either. It’s really important to know what is going on behind the scenes in your extension and how the SSP develops their solutions. This is integral to making sure your system will work cohesively. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 10 questions you should definitely make sure you know the answer to before making a final decision.

1. How is data stored?

Extensions for SAP Business One either have their own database which works in conjunction with the SAP Business One database or alternatively, they simply use the SAP Business One database to store all their data by extending the SAP Business One database tables. A single database makes for a simpler system and you are guaranteed data integrity throughout the whole system too. Working from two databases means data lies in two places so the data can end up being inconsistent.

Don’t write off solutions with their own database completely. Some of them can be actually really well done. But do scrutinize this area very carefully and think about what areas are important to you, and if a discrepancy does occur, will it be a big problem for your business? Why? Well, let’s take the example of an extension that deals with inventory management but relies on SAP Business One for financials. The accountant enters his data in the office and it gets saved to the SAP Business One database. The warehouse administrator enters something different into the extension’s database and how does the system know which figures are correct? Well, it doesn’t. So it is crucial to be absolutely certain, that if the data lies in more than one place, that the extension has really top-notch synchronization in place.  If in doubt, our advice is to avoid, avoid, avoid.

2. How long does data synchronization take?

If the extension has its own database, make sure you see how the extension performs live when synchronizing data from a reasonably complex document. You don’t want your employees to have to wait several minutes for your 20 line manufacturing order to save and synchronize. Make sure that you test data synchronization speed on documents of similar complexity to those that you will actually be using. The complexity of the document makes a big difference in how well synchronization is performed so otherwise, you won’t get a clear picture.

3. Is the provider keeping up with SAP Business One releases?

A good indication of the energy of the team behind the product is if they are keeping up with SAP Business One releases reasonably well. If you want to get the best out of SAP Business One, you’re going to want to be able to use your extensions with one of the latest versions. If the provider of your extension is running 5 releases behind, that should be a big warning sign.

As well as the inconvenience of having to use an older version of SAP Business One, you should also consider why they are running behind. Are they understaffed? Or are the development team having to focus their efforts on stabilizing the solution or trouble-shooting rather than keeping pace with SAP Business One? These things will have knock-on effects on your business so definitely watch out for them.

4. What are the SSP’s development plans for the future?

The world changes all the time, the needs of businesses change too and most businesses should be looking for an ERP solution that plans to better itself and adapt to future business trends. Check if your solution provider is actively developing the solution. If they aren’t planning on adding new things in the future, that doesn’t necessarily mean the solution is “complete”. It might mean that the solution has a limited shelf-life or again, stability issues that they are trying to get under control. Needless to say, that’s not great.

Let’s say the SSP has a really innovative development program. That’s always a good sign. But it’s also worth checking if future features and functionalities will only be available at an extra cost, or if they will be included in the main release of the product and how that will impact your finances in the future.

5. What environment is the extension developed in?

SAP Business One supports multiple SDKs. This is a great development environment because it has lots of flexibility for partners and SSPs to develop their own extensions and customizations. The thing to watch out for is that some extensions for SAP Business One are not developed in SAP Business One SDKs, but in a different development environment, and in that case, the only person who can develop customization projects or extensions (for the extension) is the SSP themselves.

You should consider if that is an issue for your business or not. If the SSP is the only entity capable of customizing it in any way, you should check what their development team’s task queue is like, in what kind of time frame your needs will be seen to or if, in fact, they will agree to any customization of the solution at all.

You might have been lucky enough to find a solution that suits your business out of the box and that customization isn’t something you particularly need. In that case, you shouldn’t let the development environment deter you much. But bear in mind that the future can be hard to predict and your needs will evolve as your business grows. SAP Business One is amazingly scalable. It can be used for a huge chunk of your growth trajectory. It would be a shame if that ends up, somewhere along the road, being limited by one of your extension solutions not being adaptable enough.

6. Which database management systems are supported? Does the provider use different code bases for Microsoft SQL and SAP HANA versions?

With SAP Business One you have a choice of two relational database management systems: SAP HANA and Microsoft SQL Server. The pros and cons of each would be an article in itself. Indeed, you will find any number of articles on this topic by doing a quick internet search so I won’t go into that particular topic here. However, once you have made your decision about which system you want to use, this raises a couple of additional points for consideration when choosing extensions.

Firstly, it might be a good idea to check if the extension is based on one single code base or if there are two different versions for each database management system. This is important because, if there are two codebases, all development, all testing, etc. has to be done twice and it can mean you have to wait longer than you would like for new versions.

Again, check the SSPs development plans here too. Some SSPs are discontinuing support for Microsoft SQL completely while others don’t yet have versions for HANA. Depending on your preference, this should help you narrow down the options a bit further.

7. What other extensions are compatible with this one?

A lot of SAP Business One customers need more than one extension, which is fine. There are a lot of extensions out there to choose from. But to either a greater or lesser extent, you are probably going to have to integrate those extensions, even if just superficially. If you have to do this, you can expect a longer implementation process and after that, potential complications each time you upgrade. The obvious answer is to look for a provider that can offer you several, if not all, of the extensions you need.

Some SSPs develop all their solutions in such a way that they are always designed to work in harmony. Be aware though, that not all providers subscribe to this philosophy. Sometimes their extensions are developed completely independently of each other despite cohesive branding etc. And you’ll still need to integrate the solutions during implementation anyway.

Certain SSPs also have a platform to facilitate third-party integrations. That can be worth its weight in gold if you want to use extensions from a variety of providers so it is also worth asking about.

8. Can you get a reference call/ visit set up?

It seems obvious, but make sure you talk to at least one real business that is using the solution in person. This can either be a simple call or an in-person visit depending on your own and the referee’s circumstances. It is best to make sure you are well prepared with a list of questions you want to ask. Bear in mind that some newer or more niche solutions might find it difficult to provide a reference from within the exact same industry as you who speaks the exact same language as you, so some flexibility might be in order, but if the provider claims to have thousands of customers and is struggling to provide you with a reference who you can talk to in person, you should definitely be asking yourself why that is the case.

During the reference visit or call, also ask about their experience in working with the SSP in question. How quickly can you get the attention of their consultants? How reactive are they to trouble-shooting needs? Upgrading your ERP environment isn’t a commitment that lasts a few weeks. You’ll be working with that company for a long time to come and it’s worth making sure that they are responsive, show an interest in their customers, and are generally pleasant to deal with without even getting into technical aspects.

9. What about training?

It’s a given that you want to make sure your own employees will be provided with proper education. Make sure you ask questions about their training program, and how it is conducted. Don’t underestimate the value of having access to a real person as part of that, even if it means paying a bit more. Also, try to find out how the SAP Business One partner’s consultants receive training for the extension. Ideally, they should also have easy access to real people who can aid them in resolving any issues or problems.

10. Do you need all the functionality?

If you buy a solution that contains a lot of superfluous functionalities, firstly you have the obvious issue is that you are still going to be paying for all those extra functionalities that you don’t need. But you should also consider that bigger solutions are also more difficult to learn to use. Some functionalities might be interdependent on each other and those functionalities which you don’t need, might even constrain system capabilities or cause errors. One wrong setting can cause all sorts of problems throughout your entire business.

At the same time, do consider what functionalities might be handy to have in the medium-term future. Going too big can leave you with an unwieldy IT infrastructure, but going too small can limit you and end up costing you more money and disrupt your operations more in the long run too. To help you in your decision-making, this is another area in which you should bear in mind the SSPs development roadmap and plans for the future.

Choosing the right SAP Business One extensions for your business is by no means a one-size-fits-all scenario. You have to consider your own priorities and then find out which SSP provides a solution that matches that, so what might be right for one business, may be completely wrong for another, even within the same industry. But be probing, be thorough in your research and the information that you demand of your SAP Business One partner, don’t make the mistake of coming up with a list of functionalities and choosing the solution that simply checks the most boxes. Look at the bigger picture too and you should find yourself in the position of having an ERP solution that will help you get the best out of your business for the long-haul.

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