‘Real-time’ is a commonly used yet loosely defined buzz word in the manufacturing industry. What does it mean in terms of ERP (enterprise resource planning) software and what does it take to be considered a real-time solution? For this article, we shall define an ERP system with real-time capabilities to mean that the ERP system has the ability to update information throughout the system and across your company as the new information is entered instantaneously.
Often with ERP systems, on-the-ground transactions might be executed at point of use, giving the impression of a real time update to the system. Downstream however, batch processes must be run to upload the effect of those transactions to the rest of the system so those effects are visible to users in other modules. These seemingly subtle differences could make or break important data accuracy throughout your shop.
This issue becomes even more complex when dealing with third party applications. There are certainly many good arguments for partnering with ‘best of breed’ third party applications in certain cases. One example might be Sales Force Automation (“SFA”) systems. SFA allows your organization to closely track contact management and sales activities up to the point of quoting and order acceptance. These systems should integrate at some level to your ERP, most likely once the sales lead has become a customer and ongoing order and invoice activity needs to be visible from the contact management system. However, sales prospecting, telemarketing and email campaigns do not directly impact order management, inventory tracking and shop floor reporting and movement.
Scheduling and shop floor reporting, however, are two areas that are served by many third party ‘bolt-on’ systems, but each of these areas directly impact your ability to deliver on time, and it is critical that input and output to and from these systems flow in real-time throughout the entire enterprise for you to have a clear picture at any moment where jobs are, what issues exist on the floor, and what inventory shortages might impact delivery to the customer.
A third party scheduling system might allow you to adjust work center queues, view capacity and view the latest schedule data from the host system download, but changes from the front office – rush orders, expediting from the customer and sales order cancellations may not be communicated to the scheduler until the next batch download. Your scheduling staff is operating with an incomplete schedule. Changes in the third party system might be made in real-time within that module, but input from other modules is not. This disconnect from the rest of the system is only exacerbated when the schedule changes themselves are pushed out in batch mode to a third-party shop floor labor data collection system – the work center queues are now in a second order disconnect from front office order changes.
Stay tuned for the third installation of this series where we will address key areas of your business where real-time integration is critical.
To see part 1, click here.Written by Ken Hayes, CPIM & APICS Certified Formatted & Posted by Jason Rourke, Marketing Director ProfitKey International