Let’s start with the question, what is an ERP system application? According to Wikipedia, “Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems integrate internal and external management information across an entire organization. ERP systems automate this activity with an integrated software application. Their 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.”
Primarily a system for manufacturers (although there are many other broad-based information systems marketed as ERP in other industries), ERP is available from a wide range of vendors in a number of different forms to fill the needs of all types and sizes of manufacturing companies.
ERP solutions can be categorized in a number of different ways—by the size of the solution or the market share of the supplier; by the specific vertical industry that the system is designed to support; or according to the technology platform it runs on.
The two “800 pound gorillas” of ERP system examples are SAP and Oracle, with the most market share—between the two taking in about half of the total dollars spent on ERP. Next in line, and there are differing opinions about actual revenue and relative position, are Microsoft (Dynamics GP and Dynamics AX), Infor (SyteLine, VISUAL, and a number of other solutions), CDC, Epicor, IFS, QAD, Consona, and many more.
In years past, there used to be a significant division in ERP solutions based on the operating environment (hardware / operating system / database) in which they functioned. Much of that distinction has disappeared or become irrelevant with the near universal adoption of web-based architecture and Windows or browser presentation layer and user interface. Nevertheless, ERP solutions can be categorized by server platform and database, although many solutions can be implemented in several environments. For example, there are versions of SAP’s products that operate on mainframe systems, UNIX or Windows/Intel platforms. Many of Infor’s products use the IBM Systemi (AS/400) platform and integral DB2 database (Infor XA, Infor LX, Infor Prism, Infor System21) but other Infor products reside on WinTel platforms (VISUAL, Syteline).
Probably the most significant technology differentiator is database system but here again many products will work with a choice of databases, most often Oracle or SQLServer (Microsoft). Many ERP buyers prefer to limit the number of technology suppliers they want to deal with, simplifying the support and maintenance tasks. Microsoft is the winner in those accounts as companies almost inevitably standardize on Microsoft Office products, prefer the Microsoft SQLServer database, and gravitate toward an “all Microsoft” solution including the platform for their ERP system.
There are two major divisions in terms of industry applicability, with many products adding capabilities to “bridge the gap” and serve both markets. Initially, ERP evolved in support of the “discrete” side of manufacturing—companies that deal with hard goods fabricated and assembled from individual parts. The “process” side of manufacturing, working with materials and products that are or contain liquids and powders (materials and products that pour) felt left out and eventually got their own ERP solutions specifically designed to support their needs. More recently, discrete-oriented ERP solutions continue to add process capabilities (the ability to handle “recipes”, potency, continuous processing schedules, product grading, etc.). Examples of process industry solutions include Infor Prism and CDC Ross ERP.
Specific industries benefit from ERP solutions designed to support industry-specific needs. Examples include Encompix for engineer-to-order manufacturing; Axis for metals, wire and cable; Cimnet for printed circuit board manufacturing; DTR for plastics manufacturing; and Relevant for Department of Defense contractors.