ERP covers a multitude of topics, all integral parts of a very expansive and comprehensive process. In learning what it’s about and how it works, there are some central features one must understand.
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Business process reengineering: ERP is about leveraging a company’s information, as well as the information resources of partner companies, in the pursuit of more efficient ways of doing business. In general, a company’s business processes already leverage existing resources and information availability optimally in order to achieve the most efficient operation possible. But by reconfiguring information resources, combining and extending applications, and partnering with other companies in the sharing of information, new possibilities emerge in terms of how business processes (such as manufacturing, order processing, and inventory control) may be implemented. Making business systems better is a central ERP objective.
Database integration: Most traditional businesses store information by business function. Financial information is in an accounting database, customer data is in a customer database, and so on. ERP calls for the integration of databases into a super-database that enables logical links between records that traditional applications would not require but that process-oriented ERP applications do require. Often, ERP platform software simply creates convenient and easily maintained bridges between existing databases rather than requiring the awkward generation of new databases from old.
Enhanced user interfaces: ERP applications, in general, cease to be stand-alone and become steps in a process. Often, a user interface will initiate down-line processes, in addition to its primary function, in highly efficient ways (such as the triggering of updates in down-line databases when a record is changed in the database the user interface is using). It is also often the case that ERP-integrated databases offer wider reporting options via application interfaces than conventional systems do. It is important to learn what options are useful and how this extended reporting may be enabled.
Data transport between companies: As the Internet continues to blossom, the sharing of strategic information between partner companies and logistical data between companies partnered in supply chains is increasingly important. The enhanced databases and interfaces of an ERP-based company are made all the more valuable if partner companies are invited to the party. So a broad and detailed knowledge of the various data communication options is essential to an ERP designer.
Extended and distributed applications: What exactly does it mean to extend an application or to share in a distributed application? Basically, a conventional information system is much like a farm covered with ponds: you go to a particular pond and scoop out a bucket of water in order to water your plants. In an ERP environment, the ponds are all converted into an irrigation system: the water is routed to the section of the farm where it’s needed. And this includes sharing water with neighboring farms. An extended application has ancillary functions; a distributed application accommodates many users—even if the users have different needs and are all making use of different portions of database records. It is essential to understand how to facilitate this varied use of common data and to familiarize yourself with how a particular development environment can enable it.