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Some Thoughts About ERP: The Devil Is Not so Black as It Is Painted

Under the pressure of such a keen interest in enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, I decided to share my impressions. Let’s try to understand who, why, and for how much money needs the ERP, whether it is necessary to regulate something, and where is that flexibility that ERP supposedly does not have.

When SAP, as Wikipedia informs us, took the first steps in 1972 what was its first main function? Yes, accounting and payroll. And still these days, many organizations start their SAP journey with the aim of improving accounting. Everything is relatively clear here.

What does any company do? The company makes money. That is, everything that happens is reflected in financial records. The new money came – we paid the bill. Raw materials arrived – new products left the warehouse. This scheme is known since the XIII century when Italians started to use it, long before SAP.

When SAP put its hands on accounting, and data entry began to be performed not using punched cards, but using the keyboard, lazy smart heads thought of using the same approach for business operations like purchasing, production, quality control, etc. And what did finally come out of it? Yes – ERP systems.

There is a huge number of different ERPs designed for large and small companies and for different industries. I had a chance to work with three ERPs, and all three were very different. And yes, there are people who love to write\develop something of their own. With ERP, you also will not be bored.

Almost everything that (from the point of view of the manufacturer) is designed to make life easier for a manufacturing enterprise has an ERP tag. God be the judge, I don’t want to say banal things like: “ERP has a warehouse accounting system.” Firstly, it’s not always there and in some places, there is a reservation system for hotel rooms. And secondly, it’s not something you are obliged to use. If you don’t want it – let your storekeeper bring the warehouse list\report every month to the accounting department, no problems with that. I would like to dwell on the question – what value such a system brings us.

There are some eternal problems of software developers:

  • What stack to use?
  • How to build and manage the development process?
  • Where to find good developers who know this stack?
  • Who to contact if everything is bad?
  • How to control the quality of development?
  • How to secure your system and data?

And some more questions, in addition to the above list, and specificity when dealing with business applications:

  • How to make your program work in 10 – 20 years?
  • How to preserve all the historical data during all these years?
  • How to print? Yes, for those who are surprised, printing is a big separate topic. For printing, SAP has three engines that exist in parallel.
  • How to guarantee data consistency?

Good ERP will solve these problems for you.

In the heat of battle, we forgot that SAP is a development environment, in which ERP and many other tools are added. You can try basic SAP, which is kind of naked. It contains only the very development system, server, database, and client. You will not find any ERP functionality there. But you will find graphic designers for database tables, your own programming language, a packaging system for transporting programs between systems, a window designer, user management, access rights, etc. (Now I am going to showered with rotten tomatoes, because a lot has changed in the “new” SAP. I repent, I confess).

If for ERP they invented their own language, then it is also aimed at this class of tasks. And this is all done to speed up the development process.

Yes, you can find a lot of SAP experts, just mind you will have to pay them a lot. Another thing is if the only programmer at your company, who, over the past 10 years has been rewriting using Java, all the programs from the button to open the door to the warehouse automation system, was unlucky and fell under the rink. It’s bad, and no one to help. But the cost of IT all these years have been ridiculous.

Years passed, SAP acquired new customers, and each customer had their own bugs in their heads. Someone sell oranges, someone gives loans, and someone provides taxi services. And so, the SAP system came to:

  • Multi-level logic, which is configured for a specific client.
  • Different entry points for programming a project.
  • A huge ecosystem of modules.

And what’s wrong with that? Nothing. Well, it’s no secret the code, which can be up to 30 years old, and which is written according to the standards of that time, is not very pleasant to maintain in the 21st century. Therefore, we have three engines for printing. Therefore, there are different options for working with memory. Therefore, we have an object-oriented ABAP. And in general, SAP is a mixture of “old”, “new” and “completely new” technologies. On top of this, new programs are written for each project that automate frequently repeated situations even more. Much can be done manually, but few users know the system so well.

In my opinion, most projects fail because:

  • Chose the wrong ERP.
  • Have no luck with good SAP consultants.
  • Fail to draw the big picture and systematize what is really happening in the company.
  • Those processes that were systematized and structured – do not work the same way in ERP. Clients really want it to be their own way and so end up with a mutilated ERP.
  • Staff members continue to work the old way.
  • Management wants to automate just everything and at once, and by 110%.
  • Fail to embrace the new security paradigm like proper authentication, privileges, VPN comparison, backups, etc.
  • Management decided that ERP is another toy for the IT department and lets them implement it according to their likes.

So, if we are talking about the implementation of ERP, just go slower, step by step, think of every new step thoroughly and you will succeed. And it is very important to remember that ERP is for decades, implementation is just the beginning.

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