My team recently attended the Oracle JD Edwards UK User group and in between the session with our partner Forza Consulting and on stand demos, they relayed to me the interesting conversations they had with attendees about ERP, so I thought I would blog about the most frequently asked question about how to manage ERP integration while sharing my suggest for how best to choose an integration tool.

The visitors were well aware that an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is, by its very nature, a very complex beast. Most ERP systems have many sub-systems and exchange information with multiple other corporate business systems.

A major concern that at least two visitors brought up is the ability to transfer transactions, invoices, customer information, inventory updates etc. between ERP their other business systems. By sharing, or integrating data and processes from all parts of an organisation ERP systems can approach the goal of a unified view of the enterprise.

There are many tools and systems that can help integrate ERP with the rest of the enterprise, these systems, are often referred to as Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and Business Process Management (BPM) platforms. The underlying technology upon which the ERP system is based is an important factor – the EAI and BPM platforms must (of course) support whatever interfaces the ERP makes available.

The choice of integration suite is not simple – it may seem reasonable to assume that if you already have an EAI product from a particular vendor, then that vendor’s BPM solution will work with it ‘out of the box’ and link to your ERP.

Sadly, just because a product is owned by a particular vendor doesn’t mean that it will seamlessly interoperate with that vendor’s other products. Many vendors in this space have grown their products through acquisition rather than a unified development strategy, making their EAI and BPM offerings disjointed, overlapping and difficult to understand.

I gave the delegates this advice:

  1. Having identified a set of candidate integration platforms, it is necessary to then look in depth at their capabilities.
    2. It is important to differentiate between integration platforms that provide rich integration between the systems you need to link and those that only provide basic integration – there seems little point in purchasing and EAI tool and then having your IT team write custom software to link it to your ERP!
    3. For example, an EAI solution might be able to link and SAP Business One, but does it integrate with SAP R3 or with legacy, or in house written applications?
    4. Low-level technology adaptors like encryption/decryption, multiple file systems and communications protocols should all be part of the tool or the cost of integration will almost certainly rise.

Careful planning and selection of EAI and agile, event-driven BPM platforms can significantly de-risk an ERP integration project and a considered review of the market will likely present alternatives that are a better and more cost effective solution than ‘big-brand’ integration products. We’re a long way from the days of ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’ – but many companies are still picking the ‘big-brands’ in an effort to avoid risk; in my opinion, that approach doesn’t avoid risk, on the contrary, it can actually make the integration effort more risky.