there was ever a time when users and vendors thought monster
enterprise resource planning (ERP) software packages could
solve all of a client's problems, those days are over. Even
as SAP AG, the leading ERP vendor, works to improve the
breadth and depth of its own warehouse management and logistics
solutions, the company continues to publish new interfaces
that make it easier for third-party solutions to integrate
with and add functionality to a company's R/3 system. Other
ERP vendors, including Baan, J.D. Edwards, and PeopleSoft,
are also publishing new interfaces and tools to allow data
collection, warehouse management, and other systems to integrate
more easily and reliably with ERP.
for a pleasant surprise in the working relationship they
find with clients. "I make sure my ERP clients realize
that failure is not an option," said Dave Czaplicki
of Systems Technical Sales (STS) in Bellevue, WA. "The
technical team assembled to implement senior management's
ERP investment will succeed, or their successors will."
This realization forms a fast bond between the client team
and the systems integrator and helps when the inevitable
implementation challenges arise.
the ERP world, a significant portion of the implementation
budget is typically earmarked for professional services
and quality advice. This contrasts sharply with the situation
familiar to automatic identification and data capture (AIDC)
integrators, in which the amount of money clients expect
to pay for hardware is about what they would pay at a discount
wholesaler, with handholding and training built into the
overall price quote. Getting into the ERP integration business
may be part of a strategic plan, or it may arise from a
particular business opportunity. Whatever the path, it is
important to understand that a variety of technical paths
are indicated when a client asks you to "integrate"
with its ERP system. Much depends on the client's definition
Power Moves Out
all a client really wants is to extend the value of its
ERP investment to its mobile workers. The ERP software may
already provide all the required business logic, but it
may be available only to someone sitting at a desk and manipulating
a full-screen display via multikey commands and mouse movements.
For example, the ERP software may already adequately address
materials receiving processes. Receiving personnel, however,
may not be comfortable with a full-screen computer interface.
Even with adequate training, time spent in front of the
keyboard is time not spent handling material. An integrator
with the skill to provide mobile access to the client's
ERP system can bring significant value to the client.
method for providing mobile access to ERP packages uses
handheld (or forklift-mounted) data collection terminals
and a radio frequency (RF)-based local area network (LAN).
An array of radio network controllers connects to the client's
wired network backbone and bridges RF traffic between the
ERP package and the mobile terminals.
software interface of choice depends on a client's current
and future needs, but for the most basic ERP extension projects,
terminal emulation fits the bill. All RF LAN suppliers offer
terminal emulation solutions that make their hardware appear
as wired terminals to the ERP (or other network-based) software
terminal emulation offerings give the integrator (or client)
the ability to map a complex screen appearing on a wired
terminal to a much smaller and more focused screen suitable
for a handheld terminal. For example, a receiving screen
from an ERP package might include the names, addresses,
and phone numbers of the trading partners' purchasing agent
and sales representative, plus use-by dates for perishable
merchandise and other such information not required by the
person unloading boxes from a truck. So-called "screen
scraper" software provides an easy way to extract information
required by the receiving clerk and format it for presentation
on the small display in his or her hand.
was exactly the solution STS recently provided to Tektronix
Inc. (Wilsonville, OR), a manufacturer of measurement instruments,
color printers, and video and network systems. Tektronix
had previously installed an ERP package from QAD Inc. (Carpinteria,
CA). STS used an RF LAN and terminal emulation to implement
two applications for Tektronix: a mobile receiving program
for the company's inbound international cargo area, where
intermodal shipping containers are unloaded into a high-bay
storage area, and a program that tracks incoming express
shipments (Airborne, Federal Express, and UPS) from the
receiving dock to the addressee.
of the mobile hardware was supplied by Symbol Technologies,
but STS used a network controller from Connect Inc. (Lisle,
IL). The controller can be purchased either as a complete
hardware/software unit or as a software-only product that
can be loaded onto standard Unix platforms.
in a client meeting, you can almost hear the guttural chant
of "More power and functionality. ..." No matter
how big and powerful the ERP system, many clients need more
than the current installation supports. Some clients want
you to implement business processes that are completely
lacking in their ERP systems, while others need you to translate
the overall business direction supported by the ERP package
into a series of "what do I do next" directions
for workers. Either way, you need tools that do more than
just modify an ERP package's user interface. How you go
about providing incremental power depends not only on what
the client expects but also on how the ERP package is organized.
Consider not only where the data resides but also how you
access and manipulate business logic.
systems are basically databases with functionality built
around the data," explained John Herendeen, manager
of reuse, research, and development at Primix Solutions
(Watertown, MA), an electronic business consulting and systems
integration firm. As Mr. Herendeen noted, however, the way
in which you get to and manipulate that data varies with
each ERP system. The 4GL (fourth-generation programming
language) used to modify the ERP system's functionality
is different from vendor to vendor. Furthermore, there is
more than one way to integrate with a specific ERP system.
For example, integration mechanisms supported by SAP's R/3
include BAPIs (business application programming interfaces),
IDOCs (intermediate documents), RFCs (remote function calls),
and BDC (batch data communication), to name but a few. (For
more information, see the sidebar, "Coming: More Stable
ERP-to-WMS Integration," and its accompanying table
knowing how to manipulate the database, however, is still
not sufficient to get business. STS managers tried this
market entry path when they found themselves encountering
a number of Oracle ERP installations in their target market
of midsize manufacturing concerns. Oracle programming talent
was readily available in their area, so they proceeded to
build an interface and pursue business. But STS learned
that technical expertise wasn't enough for its customers:
Oracle customers required certification of the software
solution. STS did not find it financially sensible to obtain
certification. Instead, the company called upon BPA Systems
(Austin, TX). STS continues to service its Oracle accounts
and sells hardware directly to the customer; BPA provides
the Oracle software.
BPA products are written in PL/SQL, the native Oracle database
language. The company provides Oracle-certified offerings
for common supply chain functions such as receiving, inventory
management, and WIP, plus an open interface to customize
applications. (See the figure for an overview of how BPA's
BP-Link works.) BPA's approach lets companies with Oracle
programming talent continue to use those skills in data
it integrates directly into the Oracle environment, BP-Link
is not middleware. But like middleware products, BP-Link
allows two systems (in this case, AIDC and Oracle) to communicate
where they otherwise could not. In fact, the need to integrate
AIDC hardware, as well as other software programs, with
ERP has spawned a new category of middleware and add-ins
called enterprise application integration (EAI) software.
than learn the intricacies of each ERP system and obtain
the attendant certification, many AIDC and WMS vendors are
instead partnering with companies that specialize in EAI
and already offer certified solutions. "Regardless
of whether one uses BAPIs, BDC, or any other interface approach,
the choice must still be made between manually coding the
interface or using an EAI solution," stated John Hanger,
vice president in charge of the SAP program at TSI International
Software (Wilton, CT). TSI's Mercator product helps integrators
build interfaces, convert data, and implement electronic
data interchange (EDI) for ERP programs, including R/3.
"The use of an EAI solution can mean a reduction [in
initial programming effort] by up to 80 percent, plus an
additional reduction in the total cost of ownership for
the interfaces over time, thanks to improved maintainability.
EAI solutions hide the technical complexity from the developer,
allowing [the developer] to focus solely on the data relationships
between the WMS and the ERP system."
addition to making ERP integration easier and more reliable,
EAI vendors are also changing their business practices to
better address the midmarket. For example, as Oracle and
BPA have begun addressing this segment—which has fewer resources
than the corporate giants that ERP vendors like SAP, Baan,
and PeopleSoft have traditionally targeted—BPA has had to
change the way it prices and packages its software.
typical midmarket ERP customer does not need high transaction
volume, but must do a little bit of everything, making the
entry price prohibitive under a formula that charged separately
for the application development tool and each application.
Explained BPA's David Brossette, "The typical middle-market
customer just needs two people doing PO [purchase order]
receiving and one person doing inventory transfer."
BPA now spreads the cost of its development tool across
the applications companies install. For example, BPA increased
the cost of its receiving application from $15,000 to $18,000,
but no longer charges separately for the development tool
needed to customize it.
Systems (Houston, TX) is developing a similar tool set for
SAP R/3. Junot's goal is to develop a suite that connects
multiple applications to multiple ERP packages. The company's
first product, now in beta testing at the Samsung Semiconductor
facility in San Jose, CA, connects RF data collection networks
to SAP's R/3. Samsung is using the software to receive,
pick, transfer stock, and perform cycle counts.
architecture uses a server running under Windows NT with
an ActiveX interface through which personnel can call functions
and pass data. (See "Junot's AIDC-to-R/3 Solution,"
right.) This server will eventually be used to tie different
ERP packages together or to tie ERP packages to other application
software or data collection hardware. The initial offering
ties SAP to data collection hardware; the data collection
interface is provided by RFGen, a software tool from DataMAX
Software Group (El Dorado Hills, CA).
SAP module currently uses RFCs, a low-level interface that
Junot considers necessary to provide sufficient flexibility
for data collection functions. According to Trent Andrews
at Junot Systems, the company was forced to use this solution
because "if a customer had a business transaction that
they had to have in SAP, and it happened not to be supported
by an IDOC or a BAPI, then it couldn't be done [without
RFCs]. All the BAPIs are not there yet. A lot of the data
collection activities take place in materials management
and logistics, and currently a lot of the BAPIs center around
human resource activities. By using RFCs, we can do anything
you can do in an SAP ABAP program."
Despite Junot's having to bypass SAP's API, working through
the APIs provided by ERP software vendors represents the future
of integration in this market. In fact, Junot plans to support
SAP's BAPIs next year.
major benefit of BAPIs, as well as other ERP vendors' object-oriented
interfaces, such as Baan's forthcoming BOIs (business object
interfaces), is stability. An API provides a stable portal
to an otherwise shifting application. "BAPIs will definitely
reduce the amount of code maintenance, because they will
stay compatible forever," stated Hartmut Schaper, vice
president of SAP's general business unit and business framework
modifies the BAPIs in such a way that it requires the customer
to rewrite code, Mr. Schaper said that SAP will announce
the change two "major releases" in advance, to
allow for smooth migration.
BAPI benefit is that developers can use APIs from within
a variety of programming environments, including Microsoft's
Visual Basic and Visual C++ and IBM's VisualAge for Java.
This lets programmers access SAP functionality from within
the tool they know, rather than learn SAP's ABAP 4GL. And,
SAP says it will continue to publish BAPIs to improve the
capability of third-party WMSs and logistics execution systems
(LESs) to integrate with R/3.
version 4.5 of R/3 [slated for general availability in the
second quarter of 1999], we will provide for a lot more
communication between a WMS and the R/3 system," said
Annigrette Sonnenberg, program director of SAP's logistics
development, warehousing, and shipping unit. "We found
out in setting up our own warehouse to support full SAP
processes that the [range of] interfaces we've published
was not broad enough."
ERP vendors work on their APIs, a word of caution is in
order: Before quoting a job based on an interface through
an ERP API, make sure the API can do what you need. APIs
may be optimized for financial or human resource applications
and not yet capable of the detailed materials tracking for
which AIDC integrators are typically hired. Being forced
to shift from an API to lower-level coding, such as SAP
RFCs, is a sure way to lose money on a fixed-price contract.
Market Place & Manufacturing Environment
market place has been changing continuously. With increasing
competition customers have become more demanding. The product
life cycles have come down drastically. New technologies
are changing the way organizations do business.
planning & control system like MRP II is becoming less
relevant in today’s context because of the following important
moving towards a make to order environment. This era
is seeing a transition of products from being standardized
to being highly customized. Hence making the planning
more on delivery. The quality and cost have become "entry-tickets"
for the players who wish to compete in the market place.
The competition is now going to be based on delivery
lead times and flexibility.
for a greater integration with the customers and suppliers.
does ERP stop?
doubt ERP has assisted companies in integrating various
functions and in enhancing the business performance. But
it is not totally free of pitfalls, which arise due to the
basic design of the system.
heart of the ERP is the transaction processing system and
the MRP, both of which are internally focused and which
help only in the planning and control of processes internal
to the organization. They do not provide means with which
the organization can be integrated with that of the customers
and suppliers. ERP also does not provide the means to optimize
the organizational resources.
have felt the need for going beyond mere transaction processing
and automation of business processes. What is required to
operate in complex business environment is a tool which
can help in identifying and planning resources based on
certain organizational constraints that are dynamic in nature.
(Supply Cain Management) is a concept which will look at
a business as a chain of inter connected entities and thus
providing a see through perspective of the entire business.
The supply chain can be modeled to reduce inventory, lead
times and cost at each link under the given constraints.
chain management has been used by a few organizations and
they have obtained immense benefit from the same. P&G
and Wall Mart in the US have linked their distribution and
retail systems using IT. Now P&G will monitor the shelf
inventories of Wall Mart directly and plan for replenishments
accordingly. Wall Mart has proven beyond doubts the benefits
of supply chain integration with suppliers and customers.
It is time that others take the lessons and use them to
is not just EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) or POS (Point
of Sales) systems, though they form critical elements of
a supply chain. It is a concept and a philosophy. Integration
of suppliers and Customers in to your systems, information
sharing for mutual benefits, Modelling your organization
in to a supply chain and improving the value addition at
each stage, using information technology tools like (EDI,
POS and ERP) for integration, all of these constitute a
supply chain exercise.
ERP Packages help?
question is how far the existing ERP packages can help in
Supply Chain Integration. ERP vendors are increasingly incorporating
Supply Chain requirements in to the standard ERP Packages.
The trends in the ERP packages include (1) Constraint based
planning (2) Applicability of the Internet – to enable integration
between the different links of the supply chain. ERP, as
it exists today, is necessary for providing Supply Chain
integration. It acts as the link between supply chain and
the demand chain.
ERP alone is not sufficient. We can either look at the enhanced
functionality provided by the existing ERP vendors or look
at Supply Chain Package vendors. Leading ERP vendors like
SAP, Baan, and Oracle have developed Supply chain capabilities
by developing in-house extensions and by integrating with
other third party solutions.
chain solutions provided by vendors like i2, Manugistics
and ProMIRA are also increasingly finding acceptance and
are being used by organizations. But how far these packages
have been able to address the supply chain requirements
and how it works in sync with existing ERP packages,
is to be seen over a period of time.
in store for ERP in 2001?
past year has been a rough one for enterprise resource planning
(ERP) vendors. On top of unfavorable perceptions of ERP
and falling stock valuations in Nasdaq, ERP vendors have
struggled to convince potential customers that they can
deliver e-business functionality. "(ERP) will be a
part of the total process of the need to make companies
flow information up and down the entire spectrum of the
future of ERP
been a tour de force for many organizations, but as other
segments of the enterprise application market fight for
the spotlight, the role of ERP in a company's application
strategy is changing. While ERP's heady days of huge budgets
and massive schedules may have passed, ERP (even on the
downside of a wave) has continued to thrive, according to
analysts. "ERP is very much alive," said Judy
Hodges, an analyst with International Data
Corporation in Framingham, MA. "It has become
especially strategic in e-commerce where transactions tend
to be more complex, smaller, and geographically diverse."
We will be
using ERP/MRP systems internally and other system externally
to satisfy our customer needs. I don't like the use of 'ERPII.'
It still has the flavor of ERP, and we need to think of
the complete process up and down the chain.I don't suggest
'supply chain management' is the new buzzword either—we
need to bring together all the terms, SCM, MRP, ERP, CRM,
EDI, WMS, APS, etc, and processes. What that new buzzword
is and what it represents, only time will indicate."
Thomas A. Bihun