J.D. Edwards Puts ERP Ideas into Action

Ed McVaney, founder and chairman of J.D. Edwards Co., has been in the ERP software business a long time, long enough to know that there are problems with his industry.

"The normal state of our industry is intolerable," says McVaney, speaking at the Comdex Enterprise show in New York last month. "It’s too complex, slow and expensive. And if you want to change anything, you have to have your programmers do it."

McVaney envisions ERP software being just as easily user-configurable as desktop software like Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes.

"We have to separate the business problems from the technology problems. ERP software should be an enterprise-wide version of that kind of human ingenuity and simplicity [found in Notes and Exchange]."

To that end, J.D. Edwards has released ActiveEra, a broad product and technology suite that enables companies to easily adapt their J.D. Edwards ERP software to meet changing business needs after implementation. ActiveEra consists of some 200 "activators", or extensions to J.D. Edwards WorldSoftware and OneWorld. These activators are for tasks such as e-mail, report design, order flow, lot control, supply chain planning and data warehousing.

"[ActiveEra] is built upon the premise that business is not static, events occur that are unforeseen," says Paul Barker, director of technical marketing at J.D. Edwards. "The activators allow people to make a run-time change in the system. They allow the business people to make a change without having to go to the technology people. Other vendors’ products, the business people have to work hand-in-glove with the technology people. They have to change the ABAP code or the underlying source code in some way."

Rod Johnson, senior analyst at AMR Research (Boston), says many ERP vendors do offer some degree of post-implementation configuration, with some better at it than others. But he confirms that AMR’s own research indicates that J.D. Edwards does have the most flexible ERP solutions, at least among the top five ERP vendors (SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Baan).

"Our research shows that they offer the most flexibility for ongoing changes to your business processes once the application is implemented," Johnson says. "It’s a pretty powerful story. A lot of people feel locked into a [ERP] solution that doesn’t keep up with their business. With J.D. Edwards, functional users have the power to use these activators to reconfigure the software. [J.D. Edwards] does this differently from a majority of ERP vendors."

Johnson says people with "deep data modeling and technical expertise" are often needed to make changes to many other vendors’ ERP solutions.

ActiveEra should also ensure smoother and faster implementations of J.D. Edwards software, according to Barker. This is because the improved flexibility will allow customers to install the software without having to worry about allowing for every eventuality they may encounter in their business down the road. Instead, those business changes can be dealt with when the time comes.

"You don’t have to be such a predictor of the future when you’re setting up the system," says Barker. "You can get up and running right away instead of taking the big bang approach."

Barker says J.D. Edwards’ products have always been flexible, but this "in-flight" method of changing the system known as ActiveEra is brand new. The 200 activators are available now. More activators will be added in next spring’s release, along with an ActiveEra console for improved management of and access to the activators and an extensible architecture to allow third party vendors to create their own J.D. Edwards activators.