Analysing integration strategies for a postmodern ERP world
Gartner defines postmodern ERP as “a fundamental shift away from a single vendor megasuite toward a more loosely coupled and federated ERP environment.” While huge ERP systems can do virtually anything, many companies find that they are too complex or require too much customisation to meet their specific needs.
Therefore they go in search of specialised packages for their industry or for their region. And companies which acquire others often find that each business has its own ERP system. Sometimes the ERP of the parent company isn’t always the best fit for the subsidiary. While some companies choose to migrate all business units to a single ERP platform, others find that it’s better to have them co-exist. In addition, with many companies being enticed by cloud-based systems, some are trying them on a smaller scale before moving their entire business. Thus, most organisations operate in a “hybrid reality”.
Organisations need to be prepared with an integration strategy for this new hybrid reality. Because if they are aren’t already there, chances are it will happen soon. Working with multiple ERP systems presents plenty of business challenges on top of the need to connect different types of data and technologies. Organisations must be flexible and able to change processes quickly and cost-effectively while maintaining systems integrity, governance and compliance. Even if transitioning to with the same vendor from an on-premise ERP to a cloud-based one, organisations are responsible for their own data migrations and system integrations.
An integration strategy will enable businesses to look at the big picture and decide on the specific data and processes they need to integrate across ERP systems and with other systems, such as CRM, Warehouse Management, PLM and others. With so many integrations needed, it will be clear that organisations need an integration platform in place providing documented and uniform interfaces that can be easily adapted and maintained as opposed to having to resort to a maze of spaghetti coding to resolve immediate issues. By thinking out exactly what processes and accounts need to be integrated, and selecting a code-free integration platform that provides pre-built connectors to the most common ERP and IT systems, companies can reduce risk and derive maximum benefits of the postmodern ERP era.
An integration platform can be the glue that allows disparate applications to work together. For example, middleware can enable data from a Siebel CRM system to be translated into a format that an Oracle ERP system can use. However, enabling the exchange of data between systems is not enough. In order to make post-modern ERP solutions efficient and effective, middleware platforms need to have the following capabilities built-in:
- Reliability and scalability are needed to manage the huge volumes of data generated, stored and shared in ERP systems. With an In-Memory Data Grid architecture, if a node fails, the management system shifts the processing to a different node, thereby preventing any data loss. When traffic peaks and processing requirements increase, the management system automatically recruits more nodes, adding scale elastically when it’s needed.
- Support for any combination of on premise and cloud integration scenarios is essential since today’s ERP systems use a variety of cloud-based systems, which are often procured on short-term contracts and frequently switched from one supplier to another. An application integration platform should be able to handle multiple clouds architectures and to manage data in this highly dynamic environment.
- Ability to mobilise data across multiple devices and operating systems allows developers to create a native application from a single source which can present the data the most natural way based on the user’s device. This can be accomplished by taking the output of the integration flow, and then processing it through a presentation layer which can change the look and feel of the application depending whether it is a smartphone, tablet, or PC.
- Secured access to backend systems with the ability to connect in a predictable manner to other databases, frameworks, applications and endpoints is essential. Certified integration connectors are advisable meaning that that system has been approved and validated by the vendor. In many cases, using an approved integration solution means that your maintenance and support agreements with the vendor will be honoured. Using non-vendor-approved integration solutions could leave you without support in case you experience difficulties and the vendor blames the systems integrator.
ERP project size and complexities will always create a risk of increasing project cost overruns and less than optimal results. Having a flexible, scalable, robust integration platform that can work as the engine for Postmodern ERP provides the needed flexibility and functionality that can increase the chances for success.