Selecting ERP Software – Best Practices – Setting the budget

In the last post, I gave you some rules of thumb about software cost. In this post, let’s see if we can come up with a budget for a software implementation.

What you need to know (or estimate)

Before you calculate a budget, you’ll need to answer a few key questions:

  • How many users will you have? I suggest that you count or estimate two different user counts (which might be the same). First, the concurrent user count. That is, how many people will need access to the system at one time. The easy way to estimate this is to count the people that will use the system all day, every day. Then list the people who will use the system only some of the time. You’ll have to decide how many of the “some time” users will be using the system at any one time. One helpful question in the past has been, “Suppose some of our users can’t get on the system (because we are out of users). What is the business effect? The second user count will be named users. A named user is someone who needs a login in the system. The named user count will always be at least equal to the concurrent user count, usually more.
  • Will you convert data? If so, what kind and how much? We divide data into master file data, beginning balances, open documents, and history. Master files are things like customers, vendors, and inventory items. Beginning balances are open payables, open receivables, general ledger balances, and item cost and quantity. Open documents are things like sales orders that have not been shipped and invoiced, or purchase orders not received. History is…well…history. Things like past purchase history (what the customer bought last month or last year), what items were ordered from vendors. Our recommendation is that you keep the old system up and running for a year or two and access history from there.
  • Is the data to be converted both clean and easy to get? If your data is in Microsoft SQL Server, and you constantly clean up customers and vendors, the answer is “Yes.” If you’re using an old system that you’ve had for 20 years, have lots of history, and will need help to extract the data, the answer is “No.”
  • Do you need anything outside the scope of the pricing discussed in the last post? This would be features like manufacturing, service, point of sale, etc.

Looking  for a budget not a price

Before getting into the calculations, let me emphasize that we’re looking for a budget, not a price! Just because we set the budget for the wedding dress at $5,000 does not mean that we have to spend $5,000. We might spend only $1,000. But here’s the key point: I use a budget to eliminate products in the very first step of a selection process. If the vendor can’t tell me that they can deliver a solution within budget, they’re history.

This means that it’s important that the budget be reasonable. And that’s what this calculation will give you. Next post we’ll discuss what happens when the budget isn’t reasonable.

Setting a rough budget

This method is based on two observations about software projects. First, the more users there are, the more implementation is needed. Second, the more users, the more complexity that tends to be introduced into the implementation. This means that in most cases, the more the cost of the on-premises software, the more complex the implementation, data conversion, and customizations will be. And that assumption is what this formula is based on.

This isn’t a quote, and I can’t guarantee that you can implement a system for this amount, but here’s a reasonable budget formula:

  • If you need anything outside the scope of the features in the last post, use the amount $3,500 per user for on-premise software or $225 per month per user for cloud software. Otherwise, use $2,500 for on-premise software and $150 per month per user for cloud software.
  • Multiply the on-premise software number by the number of concurrent users. So if you have 10 concurrent users, you would either calculate $35,000 or $25,000 depending on the features you need. This number is the base number for calculating data conversion, implementation and customization.
  • To determine your data conversion budget, take this figure times 50% if you convert master file and beginning balance data only. Multiply by 75% if you convert open documents. Multiply by 150% if you plan to convert history.
  • To determine your implementation budget, take this figure times 75% if you think you’ll need very little help, 125% if you think you’ll need some hand holding, and 150% if you plan to redesign processes for the new software.
  • To determine your customization budget, multiple this figure by 25% if you just need a couple of reports designed. Multiply by 75% if you think you’ll need to change the way the software works in minor ways. Multiply by at least 100% if you expect to need extensive customization.

If we plan to convert master files and beginning balances, we need some hand holding, and we don’t plan to customize anything other than a couple of reports, we can come up with a budget. So, here’s how the base calculation would work for 10 users of the basic distribution software we discussed in the last post:

One of these:

  • Software budget (on premises): $25,000 ($2500 x 10 users) OR
  • Software budget (Cloud): $1,500 per month


  • Data Conversion: $12,500 ($25,000 x 50%)
  • Implementation: $31,250 ($25,000 x 125%)
  • Customization: $6,250 ($25,000 x 25%)


On-premise: $75,000

Cloud: $50,000 plus $1,500 per month.