ANALYSIS: ERP Application Integration
By Mark Buchner
"The difference between winning and losing in ERP software can be the ability to integrate with existing applications."
This is perhaps relatively new news, since at one time people thought of ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) as a single, unified total enterprise solution. However, time has told us that the unifying architecture of ERP applies mostly to order processing, financials, purchasing and manufacturing, partially to forecasting, human resources, warehouse management and business intelligence, and scarcely to e-commerce. So, to extend ERP to full supply chain management, or just to ease the transition to ERP software, even the most devoted ERP customer is looking at application integration. This means that even for ERP, application development is an important topic! But what is the development strategy touted by the major ERP vendors to integrate packages?
SAP is a leader in ERP, and also one with a rigid design and implementation based on the SAP programming language ABAP-5. For example SAP provides ProductManager, an integrated suite of object-oriented applications designed to control product and process data in manufacturing organizations of all sizes. ProductManager provides a single, secure repository of data to support the business processes involved in new product introduction, engineering change management and the release and distribution of data across a multi-plant enterprise. It is also designed for worldwide implementation as it is available with date, time, currency format, screen prompts, help messages and online documentation in a variety of languages, including French, Canadian French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, U.S. English and Japanese.
The ERP Bridge Application Product links IBM data collection applications and other external IBM or non-IBM applications into SAP R/3 transactions via client scripts. Through the use of a standards-compliant and feature-rich interface, the ERP Bridge can be configured for inter-application communication--without any modification to the R/3 settings. The time and cost savings from having to burn administration cycles configuring to suit the customers needs would more than justify the initial cost of this product and provide the scalability required by small or large businesses. SAP IS-Software Solutions (Golden Gate), the Golden Gate solution combines standard R/3 functionality with additional extensions and enhancements to meet the requirements of companies in the software industry. Current extensions are primarily for sales and distribution systems, which must be able to handle a wide range of product licensing, billing, maintenance and service arrangements. These extensions and enhancements are developed on top of standard R/3 3.0 and will be packaged as add-ons to the standard release.
JD Edwards and IBM have a relationship, spanning 20 years, with the AS/400e as the only platform that can run all of J.D. Edwards' solutions. Like SAP, J.D. Edwards has built their application solution success on in-house (proprietary) development tools. J.D. Edwards' development tools have undergone radical changes, as reflected in their product offerings. The J.D. Edwards suite of products include: Small Business Solutions (SBS)--a quick way to implement a solution for smaller enterprises that can grow as you grow; Genesis--a solution optimized for the mid-sized enterprise; World and WorldVision--traditional and GUI interface server-centric solution for medium to large enterprises; and OneWorld--a network centric solution for medium to large businesses.
J.D. Edwards' software leverages the AS/400e for unique capabilities such as the ability to mix and match World, WorldVision and OneWorld components on the AS/400. Known as Coexistence Mode, this allows the customer to pick the modules that make sense for their business. This means that both J.D. Edwards WorldSoftware and OneWorld can use the same set of business data files at the same time without conflict. For example, one person can enter order information through OneWorld Sales Order Entry, while another person enters orders through WorldSoftware Sales Order Entry. Each person can see the other's work as soon as it is entered. This functionality reduces the time spent integrating data between applications and, by default, the cost. The primary advantage of coexistence is it allows companies to gradually migrate to the client/server and network centric-computing model. This makes the transition less risky than the "all or nothing" migration required by many software vendors. Another advantage is it allows the system users to choose the system with which they are more comfortable, reducing training issues since users can continue their work as usual while they are training on a new software solution. The only reduction in scalability is that for coexistence to work correctly, the release of OneWorld must be matched to a specific version of WorldSoftware, but this is not significant when compared to the advantages gained.
Java is a hot topic whenever application integration is discussed and IBM has embraced it wholeheartedly. VisualAge for Java Access Builder is becoming the choice for developers extending line-of-business server-based applications to the Internet. It contains a powerful suite of application development tools allowing the developer to build complete, 100-percent Pure Java applications, applets and JavaBeans by using the VisualAge 'Construction from Parts' paradigm. VisualAge for Java connects the thin Java client to existing server applications by combining the power of 'Rapid Development Environment' for Java with the ease of visual programming, thus extending your business to the Web. As a result, customers can continue using their existing applications, which staff are familiar with, yet, at the same time, open up new ways for deployment allowing for increased scalability and savings in retraining.
Whatever your choice of ERP solution, it should provide you with the ability to integrate your existing core business applications and data libraries to ease the migration for users, avoid downtime due to training and the costs associated with migrating data.
Mark Buchner is president and founder of Astech Solutions Inc. (Aurora, Ontario), which applies technology to the practical needs of the AS/400 market. firstname.lastname@example.org.