Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is an integrated computer-based system used to manage internal and external resources including tangible assets, financial resources, materials, and human resources. It is a software architecture whose purpose is to facilitate the flow of information between all business functions inside the boundaries of the organization and manage the connections to outside stakeholders. Built on a centralized database and normally utilizing a common computing platform, ERP systems consolidate all business operations into a uniform and enterprise wide system environment.
An ERP system can either reside on a centralized server or be distributed across modular hardware and software units that provide "services" and communicate on a local area network. The distributed design allows a business to assemble modules from different vendors without the need for the placement of multiple copies of complex, expensive computer systems in areas which will not use their full capacity
The initialism ERP was first employed by research and analysis firm Gartner Group in 1990  as an extension of MRP (Material Requirements Planning; later manufacturing resource planning) and CIM (Computer Integrated Manufacturing), and while not supplanting these terms, it has come to represent a larger whole. It came into use as makers of MRP software started to develop software applications beyond the manufacturing arena. ERP systems now attempt to cover all core functions of an enterprise, regardless of the organization's business or charter. These systems can now be found in non-manufacturing businesses, non-profit organizations and governments.
To be considered an ERP system, a software package should have the following traits: It should be integrated and operate in real-time with no periodic batch updates. All applications should access one database to prevent redundant data and multiple data definitions. All modules should have the same look and feel. Users should be able to access any information in the system without needed integration work on the part of the IS department.
These modules can exist in a complete system or utilized in an ad-hoc fashion.
The term "Enterprise resource planning" originally derived from manufacturing resource planning (MRP II) that followed material requirements planning (MRP). MRP evolved into ERP when "routings" became a major part of the software architecture and a company's capacity planning activity also became a part of the standard software activity. ERP systems typically handle the manufacturing, logistics, distribution, inventory, shipping, invoicing, and accounting for a company. ERP software can aid in the control of many business activities, including sales, marketing, delivery, billing, production, inventory management, quality management, and human resource management.
ERP systems saw a large boost in sales in the 1990s as companies faced the Y2K problem (real or imagined) in their "legacy" systems. Many companies took this opportunity to replace such information systems with ERP systems. This rapid growth in sales was followed by a slump in 1999, at which time most companies had already implemented their Y2K solution.
ERP systems are often incorrectly called back office systems indicating that customers and the general public are not directly involved. This is contrasted with front office systems like customer relationship management (CRM) systems that deal directly with the customers, or the eBusiness systems such as eCommerce, eGovernment, eTelecom, and eFinance, or supplier relationship management (SRM) systems.
ERP systems are cross-functional and enterprise-wide. All functional departments that are involved in operations or production are integrated in one system. In addition to areas such as manufacturing, warehousing, logistics, and information technology, this typically includes accounting, human resources, marketing and strategic management.
ERP II, a term coined in the early 2000s, is often used to describe what would be the next generation of ERP software. This new generation of software is web-based and allows both employees and external resources (such as suppliers and customers) real-time access to the system's data.
EAS — Enterprise Application Suite is a new name for formerly developed ERP systems which include (almost) all segments of business using ordinary Internet browsers as thin clients.
Though traditionally ERP packages have been on-premise installations, ERP systems are now also available as Software as a Service.
Best practices are incorporated into most ERP vendor's software packages. When implementing an ERP system, organizations can choose between customizing the software or modifying their business processes to the "best practice" function delivered in the "out-of-the-box" version of the software.
Prior to ERP, software was developed to fit individual processes of an individual business. Due to the complexities of most ERP systems and the negative consequences of a failed ERP implementation, most vendors have included "Best Practices" into their software. These "Best Practices" are what the Vendor deems as the most efficient way to carry out a particular business process in an Integrated Enterprise-Wide system. A study conducted by Ludwigshafen University of Applied Science surveyed 192 companies and concluded that companies which implemented industry best practices decreased mission-critical project tasks such as configuration, documentation, testing and training. In addition, the use of best practices reduced over risk by 71% when compared to other software implementations.
The use of best practices can make complying with requirements such as IFRS, Sarbanes-Oxley, or Basel II easier. They can also help where the process is a commodity such as electronic funds transfer. This is because the procedure of capturing and reporting legislative or commodity content can be readily codified within the ERP software, and then replicated with confidence across multiple businesses who have the same business requirement.
Businesses have a wide scope of applications and processes throughout their functional units; producing ERP software systems that are typically complex and usually impose significant changes on staff work practices. Implementing ERP software is typically too complex for "in-house" skill, so it is desirable and highly advised to hire outside consultants who are professionally trained to implement these systems. This is typically the most cost effective way. There are three types of services that may be employed for - Consulting, Customization, Support. The length of time to implement an ERP system depends on the size of the business, the number of modules, the extent of customization, the scope of the change and the willingness of the customer to take ownership for the project. ERP systems are modular, so they don't all need be implemented at once. It can be divided into various stages, or phase-ins. The typical project is about 14 months and requires around 150 consultants. A small project (e.g., a company of less than 100 staff) can be planned and delivered within 3–9 months; however, a large, multi-site or multi-country implementation can take years. The length of the implementations is closely tied to the amount of customization desired.
To implement ERP systems, companies often seek the help of an ERP vendor or of third-party consulting companies. These firms typically provide three areas of professional services: consulting; customization; and support. The client organization can also employ independent program management, business analysis, change management, and UAT specialists to ensure their business requirements remain a priority during implementation.
Data migration is one of the most important activities in determining the success of an ERP implementation. Since many decisions must be made before migration, a significant amount of planning must occur. Unfortunately, data migration is the last activity before the production phase of an ERP implementation, and therefore receives minimal attention due to time constraints. The following are steps of a data migration strategy that can help with the success of an ERP implementation:
ERP vendors have designed their systems around standard business processes, based upon best business practices. Different vendor(s) have different types of processes but they are all of a standard, modular nature. Firms that want to implement ERP systems are consequently forced to adapt their organizations to standardized processes as opposed to adapting the ERP package to the existing processes. Neglecting to map current business processes prior to starting ERP implementation is a main reason for failure of ERP projects. It is therefore crucial that organizations perform a thorough business process analysis before selecting an ERP vendor and setting off on the implementation track. This analysis should map out all present operational processes, enabling selection of an ERP vendor whose standard modules are most closely aligned with the established organization. Redesign can then be implemented to achieve further process congruence. Research indicates that the risk of business process mismatch is decreased by:
ERP implementation is considerably more difficult (and politically charged) in organizations structured into nearly independent business units, each responsible for their own profit and loss, because they will each have different processes, business rules, data semantics, authorization hierarchies and decision centers. Solutions include requirements coordination negotiated by local change management professionals or, if this is not possible, federated implementation using loosely integrated instances (e.g. linked via Master Data Management) specifically configured and/or customized to meet local needs.
A disadvantage usually attributed to ERP is that business process redesign to fit the standardized ERP modules can lead to a loss of competitive advantage. While documented cases exist where this has indeed materialized, other cases show that following thorough process preparation ERP systems can actually increase sustainable competitive advantage.
Configuring an ERP system is largely a matter of balancing the way you want the system to work with the way the system lets you work. Begin by deciding which modules to install, then adjust the system using configuration tables to achieve the best possible fit in working with your company’s processes.
Modules — Most systems are modular simply for the flexibility of implementing some functions but not others. Some common modules, such as finance and accounting are adopted by nearly all companies implementing enterprise systems; others however such as human resource management are not needed by some companies and therefore not adopted. A service company for example will not likely need a module for manufacturing. Other times companies will not adopt a module because they already have their own proprietary system they believe to be superior. Generally speaking the greater number of modules selected, the greater the integration benefits, but also the increase in costs, risks and changes involved.
Configuration Tables – A configuration table enables a company to tailor a particular aspect of the system to the way it chooses to do business. For example, an organization can select the type of inventory accounting – FIFO or LIFO – it will employ or whether it wants to recognize revenue by geographical unit, product line, or distribution channel.
So what happens when the options the system allows just aren't good enough? At this point a company has two choices, both of which are not ideal. It can re-write some of the enterprise system’s code, or it can continue to use an existing system and build interfaces between it and the new enterprise system. Both options will add time and cost to the implementation process. Additionally they can dilute the system’s integration benefits. The more customized the system becomes the less possible seamless communication between suppliers and customers.
Many organizations do not have sufficient internal skills to implement an ERP project. This results in many organizations offering consulting services for ERP implementation. Typically, a consulting team is responsible for the entire ERP implementation including:
of any customized modules. Examples of customization includes creating processes and reports for compliance, additional product training; creation of process triggers and workflow; specialist advice to improve how the ERP is used in the business; system optimization; and assistance writing reports, complex data extracts or implementing Business Intelligence.
For most mid-sized companies, the cost of the implementation will range from around the list price of the ERP user licenses to up to twice this amount (depending on the level of customization required). Large companies, and especially those with multiple sites or countries, will often spend considerably more on the implementation than the cost of the user licenses—three to five times more is not uncommon for a multi-site implementation.
Unlike most single-purpose applications, ERP packages have historically included full source code and shipped with vendor-supported team IDEs for customizing and extending the delivered code. During the early years of ERP the guarantee of mature tools and support for extensive customization was an important sales argument when a potential customer was considering developing their own unique solution in-house, or assembling a cross-functional solution by integrating multiple "best of breed" applications.
Increasingly, ERP vendors have tried to reduce the need for customization by providing built-in "configuration" tools to address most customers' needs for changing how the out-of-the-box core system works. Key differences between customization and configuration include:
By this analysis, customizing an ERP package can be unexpectedly expensive and complicated, and tends to delay delivery of the obvious benefits of an integrated system. Nevertheless, customizing an ERP suite gives the scope to implement secret recipes for excellence in specific areas while ensuring that industry best practices are achieved in less sensitive areas.
In this context, "Extensions" refers to ways that an ERP environment can be "extended" (supplemented) with third-party programs. It is technically easy to expose most ERP transactions to outside programs that do other things, e.g.:
However, because ERP applications typically contain sophisticated rules that control how data can be created or changed, some such functions can be very difficult to implement.
In the absence of an ERP system, a large manufacturer may find itself with many software applications that cannot communicate or interface effectively with one another. Tasks that need to interface with one another may involve:
ERP Systems centralize the data in one place. Benefits of this include:
Some security features are included within an ERP system to protect against both outsider crime, such as industrial espionage, and insider crime, such as embezzlement. A data-tampering scenario, for example, might involve a disgruntled employee intentionally modifying prices to below-the-breakeven point in order to attempt to interfere with the company's profit or other sabotage. ERP systems typically provide functionality for implementing internal controls to prevent actions of this kind. ERP vendors are also moving toward better integration with other kinds of information security tools.
Problems with ERP systems are mainly due to inadequate investment in ongoing training for the involved IT personnel - including those implementing and testing changes - as well as a lack of corporate policy protecting the integrity of the data in the ERP systems and the ways in which it is used.