a/d trends: Second Wave ERP Application Development

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software emerged in the early 1990s as “the” method for implementing enterprise-wide integration of applications and data. ERP packages promised standard business process transaction models, ease of implementation and maintenance, and platform independence, all in a single box. ERP software was typically deployed using the “thick” client server architecture, thereby providing the benefits of a strong graphical user interface.

ERP applications are developed or generated by their vendors using proprietary programming languages and using proprietary data dictionaries, in a similar fashion to a 4GL. The development environments and tool sets are made available to their customers to allow application customization.

The terminology, “Second wave ERP application development strategy”, is now emerging, reflecting the user’s desire to tailor the ERP product more specifically to a customer information and processing need. The definition is not yet very precise. It may mean any of the following:

  1. The movement by ERP vendors and other third-parties to extend their support to non-traditional or non-transactional business applications, in the domain of data warehousing and business intelligence, including data mining, trend analysis and forecasting.
  2. The argument might go something like, “now that we have standardized your transaction-oriented processes and captured your operational data by installing our ‘kernel’ ERP applications, let’s go after the full benefits of ERP by seeing what else we can do with your data.” It is problematic that many such activities have been deferred in recent times as both vendors and customers dealt with the Year 2000 challenge. Many companies would consider such DW/BI activity as new development.

    However, to the extent that ERP solutions have already been implemented, that the data is already catalogued in the proprietary data dictionary, and that the proprietary A/D tool sets are adequate for the task, this may be a very good A/D strategy. Assuming that the data itself exists in a traditional relational database and is also available using conventional methods, there may be other equally effective approaches to this new strategic development activity (see Data Warehousing/Business Intelligence Strategy in the New Development section).

  3. The movement by ERP vendors to support a more network-centric IS architectural model. The argument might now sound something like, “now that you have achieved the benefits of a Windows-based user interface on the PC, combined with the transaction processing benefits of our ERP software on the servers, we now believe that a network-centric architecture can provide the benefits of an even more comprehensive, cohesive and adaptable enterprise-wide solution.” Again, this activity would be considered by many customers to be new development in the domain of e-business and e-commerce.
  4. The underpinnings of the new architectural model described by the ERP vendor will include: a new browser mode in which applications are presented as Java applets from a Web server with a JVM; the introduction of a standard TCP/IP network; the capability for external customer/supplier interfaces via EDI-based transactions; and coexistence of these new ERP applications with your old ERP applications.

    Again, to the extent that ERP solutions have already been implemented and that the proprietary A/D tool sets are adequate for the task, this may also be a very good A/D strategy. There may be other equally effective approaches to this new strategic development activity (see e-Business / e-Commerce Strategy in the New Development section).

  5. Finally, there is a 3rd possible meaning for the term, second wave ERP A/D strategy, this time being the movement by IBM and a variety of business partners to support the assembly of traditional server-side business applications from commonly available parts. The parts are a Java-based collection of application-specific components for common business processes such as general ledger, order processing, inventory management and accounts payable/receivable and common business objects such as company, address, currency, business partner, unit of measure and cash balance.

Underlying the common components is an application independent distributed object-oriented infrastructure called the “Foundation” which deals with the component objects and provides utilities to manage their use. The intent is to provide a complete integrated application development environment and a core set of related tools designed to support a variety of different developer audiences to build on when producing enterprise applications. Application development will occur at different levels and may involve new component development, component reuse and specialization, component solution customization, and of course, component solution maintenance.

Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. mbuchner@astech.com