Enterprise Systems Planning 




The second segment of enterprise computing is the one of how the user views and manipulates the database. Today, the graphical user interface (GUI) has become the standard. Users want to point and click, open and close windows, and forget all the arcane commands and special keys they have ever had to know.

It's not just enough to view the data on a screen through a GUI format. How you view the data is much more important. A view is a presentation of a segment of the database that a specific user needs. While the materials manager and the materials analyst both use the same data, they view it differently. The materials manager looks for trends, cost implications of inventory, and safety stock issues. The analyst is looking for shortage information, delivery dates and MRS dispositions. They both need to construct views that provide them with information and they need to be able to easily modify those views to meet changing situations. The challenge is that they, not MIS, will do this. Using a point-and-click front end, users today can literally pick from a menu of choices, and assemble an inquiry or report that might generate many lines of programming that they are completely unaware of. And, this can be done in minutes. The ability to give users the tools to view their own domains as they need reduces the cost of technical support. Maybe just as important however, it yields more current information on which to base real-time decisions.

It used to be that if a user wanted certain rules adhered to, they need to be programmed into any program that affected that data. An example would be if any time the on-hand balance of a part came within 10% of the reorder level, an on-line notice would be provided. This meant that if five programs updated balances, all five programs would need to carry this validation. You can imagine the cost of maintaining this when a change was needed to the rule, or the consistency if more than one programmer needed to effect the change. In a modern RDB, the rule can be programmed into the database as a stored procedure. This means that when the balance falls below 10% of the reorder value, the database will trigger a notice to the user. Programs that access balances do not need to maintain the rules anymore, the database will. And, a needed change to the rule is done in only one place. Now the user can enforce policies and procedures with consistency, and much more rapidly.

One of the most powerful benefits to the user of an enterprise system is its flexibility. Under a non-RDB system, adding data elements or changing the information that needed to be captured meant a change to the architecture of the database. This meant lots of system design and programming effort, and it took a long time. Suppose you wanted to be notified any time a certain product was received so you could capture serial number information for only those parts. Further, this need arose after the inventory system was fully implemented. With a fully robust RDBMS, the database administrator can add the columns (fields) needed to capture the data. An experienced user or support person would write a procedure to recognize the event and could cause a window to pop up on the user's screen asking for the serial number information. Today, this task would take a few days. In older systems this task would take weeks or months to complete.


Where does all this leave us? Enterprise systems with their databases and tools are providing users with unprecedented access to information, and with greater ease than ever before. They also are providing companies with an alternative to being able to move databases and software between hardware platforms without massive data conversions and software rewrites. We will save time, money and human resources. But that's only half the answer.

Today, users truly are harnessing all the power of computing at their keyboards. The can access data from their own databases and others in real time and mostly without any required programming skills. Text and graphics are being worked on by groups simultaneously and assembled as needed. Point-and-click devices, touch screens, and voice-activated data capture are making our experiences with computers much easier.

The Enterprise System capability is here. It is not yet affordable to all, but that barrier is diminishing rapidly as the cost of hardware falls. As the power of information technology passes to the users or owners of the information, so does the opportunity to transform the enterprise into a more highly competitive and profitable organization. Businesses will be able to make a higher quality decision, in a shorter period of time, and at less cost than ever before.


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