by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 18 March 2011
Its déjà vu time once again. In another one of my previous avatars, I documented an enterprise resource planning system. The only thing I remember from that stint is that it was a complicated and time-consuming affair. There were multiple menu structures and entry through a command line interface only made it more confusing. In the end, I was still fuzzy about how the software worked.
So, when I looked at the Brightpearl interface, it immediately brought back memories of my stint with ERP. However, Brightpearl is different. It is not an enterprise resource solution. Instead, it is advertised as a business management solution. The founders call it a "web-based integrated accounting, CRM, order and stock management, eCommerce and help desk services solution." Simply put, it brings together disparate elements of your business such as accounting and sales, to create a comprehensive whole.
In this post, we will look at its interface, functionalities, and how it can be of use to you.
What's so bright about Brightpearl?
As a small business owner, you have invested in solutions that take care of multiple aspects of your business such as sales and accounting. Probably, each of these solutions is piecemeal or independent. In simpler words, the solutions do not talk to each other. However, the integrated nature of modern business demands solutions that talk to each other. For example, someday you might want a report that details sales stocks and inventory in your system. Or, you might want to see your stock levels directly from your eCommerce website. This integration is Brightpearl's unique selling point. It integrates multiple systems to enable exchange of critical data for important business decisions, such as the situations I outlined above. Thus, instead of talking to several systems, you end up referring to a single system to make business decisions.
That's easier said than done, however. Because it involves multiple modules and large amounts of data exchange, the system could very well become difficult and highly technical. Thus, it has to be simple, easy-to-use, and scalable. These are the parameters I used to evaluate Bright Pearl.
The Basics: what does it look like?
This is definitely better than the command line interface I used back in the day. The user interface is fairly clean and consists of two panels. The left panel has one of the more interesting features in Brightpearl. Called the Jotpad, this feature enables you to detail notes or other activities related to a particular sale or contact. In addition, the timeline enables you to see all information and transactions related to a customer account. Think of it as an aggregation of your information about a particular transaction or customer.
There are nine tabs on the home page. Each tab is about a specific module. The modules covered are Sales, Purchases, Contacts, and Accounts. Each module has specific sub-modules consisting of tasks and reports related to that module. For example, the sales module has tabs for credit, sales, quotes, and reports. The options and navigations are based around tasks and are structured well and easy-to-use.
I especially like that, despite handling multiple modules and data streams at the same time, the system is quick. I tested it with raw data and the system response was rapid. Average transaction time was 0.2 to 0.5 seconds, which is commendable.
It is complicated, right?
Of course, it is complicated. But, it can be made simple. The first step is to make the interface easy. Migration from old systems to new is a critical second step. This is because there are time and resource factors involved in the move. The folks at Brightpearl have thoughtfully designed a guide that provides specific instructions and comments on migrating old systems to new. However, the guide does not provide a comprehensive list of systems (accounting or otherwise) that are supported by Brightpearl.
A typical system cycle begins with entering system data and setups. For example, you can add your own accounting codes, although the system already has pre-defined codes. Similarly, you can add customized statuses for each order. Once you are setup, a typical system cycle begins with creation of a purchase order. That is followed by system-updated inventory, sales, invoice receipt, and finally, updating inventory once again. Data is updated real-time; this means that system data reflects partially-filled orders or inventory mismatches.
Brightpearl is part of the Google App ecosystem; this means that it can be integrated with any and most of your Google Apps. What excites me most about this development is that it makes the entire system mobile-enabled and dynamic. Effectively then, you can update your system as you receive your inventory and other details. In addition, the system offers tax plan and currency localization for 39 countries.
Brightpearl seems to have missed out on some interesting scenarios. Most systems tend to assign statuses to purchase and sales orders as they move through the system. For example, an open purchase order refers to a purchase order that has not been received, an incomplete purchase order refers to purchase orders that are partially complete etc. I did not see similar statuses in Brightpearl. The flip side is that they have an open API; this means you can program the solution to your business needs.
While creating a website that integrates with a backend of CRM and accounting is a great idea, having pre-defined templates is not such a great idea. I did not across any widgets or features that let you import customized templates for your ecommerce website.
Supporting your business system
Brightpearl has an excellent help ecosystem consisting of a blog, feedback forum, user documentation and videos. The most interesting part is the feedback forum: it is segregated topic-wise and has a new features suggestion activity feed. This feed forms a loop for feedback and development. Thus, you can post your suggestions for interesting features and/or problems on the forum. Chris Tanner, one of the founders, will personally reply and, possibly, provide you with a status update on the new feature. Videos and help files in the support ecosystem are scenario-based. This makes it easier for you to understand how you can use Brightpearl to use.
Is it for you?
Overall, I think Brightpearl is a great tool for small businesses because it brings all elements of your business together, thus reducing the cycle time for most of your business processes from sales to inventory management to accounting. How scalable is it? I don't know but I think that would be something the application founders might want to highlight in their next release. In addition, it might be a great idea to have it integrate across various mobile platforms; this will ensure that it real-time updating of data.
However, all said and done, I would highly recommend this product for small businesses because it is affordable and provides excellent value to business.