People are often
told that the technological components that make up modern software
systems shouldn't matter and that it's what you see that counts.
Contrary to that belief, it's what you don't see that can kill a
project or constrain a business at a critical moment. It is
increasingly important that managers, both technical and
nontechnical, stay abreast of new developments in technology that
directly impact the ERP market. Most important are those
technologies deemed to be "enabling" in nature.
We begin our
discussion of ERP "technology layers" by first defining ERP itself.
The APICS Dictionary defines enterprise resources planning (ERP) as
follows: "ERP: A complete set of functional modules designed to
identify and plan the enterprise-wide resources necessary to take,
make, ship, and account for customer orders or services."
The Dictionary goes
on to say: "An ERP system differs from the typical MRPII system in
technical requirements such as graphical user interface, use of a
fourth generation language and computer-aided software engineering
tools in development, client/server architecture, and open systems
When you consider investing in ERP technology today, your choices go
much further than a mere consideration of the high-level
functionality that you require. As the APICS definition suggests,
you must also look at the user interface tools, the relational
database management system, and the "openness" of the operating
system. All of these elements in concert make up the integrated
technical environment of your ERP solution and its presentation to
FIVE TECHNOLOGY LAYERS
definition gives us a fair idea of what is deemed to be a baseline
standard for state-of-the-art ERP systems. On the other hand, it
stops short of truly defining the enabling technology beneath the
application programs themselves. Fundamentally there are five
components that provide the basis for workable enterprise systems.
They are (in reverse hierarchy)
2. networking systems and operating systems software (OS)
3. relational database management systems (RDBMS)
4. business logic layer
5. the user interface (UI).
We define these
components as "layers" because they are the necessary building
blocks for a complete ERP system. Of course, it is not only the
functionality that is required within each layer, but also the
integration and communications between the layers that is important.
Each layer must be considered in terms of the upward and downward
compatibility with the others.
systems practitioners extend the concept of requiredintegration
beyond the existing applications. They suggest that the ERP modules
must be designed in such a way as to anticipate future software
developments, both internal and external. This may be forward
thinking, but necessary to consider the impact of future
developments and ability of your ERP system to incorporate and/or
communicate with new technologies. The advent of advanced planning
and scheduling (APS) systems and the promises and challenges of
integrating them within existing ERP systems is one example. We
term such systems "E-ERP," or "extended" ERP.
Figure 1 depicts
our concept of the five technology layers that form the building
blocks for a robust ERP environment. During strategic planning for
information systems, it is recommended that any solution (and, in
fact, each layer) be measured in terms of its
• cost justification.
In the sections
that follow, and using the above criteria as a baseline, we will
describe each layer, discuss the strategic qualifiers that should be
considered when investing in each layer, and provide suggestions as
to how each layer can be leveraged to bring your company competitive
To Be Continued