ERP software promotes itself primarily on the basis of single-handling data, or integration. In the early years of ERP, cost justification was mainly about integration. Large corporations could justify the cost of ERP simply because it allowed them to link together disparate operations. Smaller businesses that implemented ERP found that return on investment harder to achieve because their operations were not as geographically separate.
Integration is still a key feature of ERP but it’s no longer simply integration among order entry, manufacturing, and inventory, and warehousing. Today’s systems usually include features to allow integration with a variety of outside products and data sources.
Increasingly, this integration allows real time exchange of data between ERP systems and the outside world.
Sage 300, for example, has supported import for at least 10 years. The days when an import file came in a single flavor are gone. Today’s products allow mapping on the fly to a variety of data structures. The screen below shows Sage 300’s ability to map a variety of data file formats including Excel, ACCESS, CSV, and others into the files required for an item. The field values not present in the import can be supplied. Default values can be entered.
But today’s integration tools go far beyond this. Sage 300 also supplies an API that allows programmers to programmatically do virtually anything that can be done with the user interface in addition to other functions that cannot be done with the user interface.
Today’s business moves much more rapidly. Integration of accounting functions is often not enough. Even small businesses today need end to end integration that encompasses marketing, web site, CRM, ERP, manufacturing, inventory, and warehousing.
When ERP moves to the cloud, this integration becomes more and more important. Anyone that plays games on Facebook knows that integration is possible in real time between applications that are widely different. Web services are enabling this type of integration.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV has introduced web service technology that allows programmatic control and integration to virtually every feature in the product. This method assures both integrity of the data and real time access. Since web services in Dynamics NAV provide the same error checking and integrity features as the user has when entering information, they assure that part numbers are correct, and vendors actually exist.
In today’s world, integration means single entry. Enter a transaction, customer, contact, vendor, etc. only once, and the system pushes it to the appropriate places. It is this type of integration in the small business that assures return on investment.