What is the ERP system architecture

Business software

Home builders and IT managers have a lot in common. Both have to pay attention to a solid architecture - this applies to the house in the country as well as to the enterprise resource planning system (ERP system) as a supporting IT pillar in many companies. Business software architectures require maintenance and must be carefully monitored.

The structure of classic ERP systems consists of several layers. Norbert Gronau from the Chair of Information Systems and Electronic Government at the University of Potsdam distinguishes between the following levels:

  1. The basis of an ERP solution is the database management system (DBMS), which holds all the important information from the various areas such as production, sales and financial accounting. As a rule, users rely on relational databases at this point. Systems like Oracle, IBM's DB2 and Microsoft's SQL Server are currently dominating the market.

  2. The application layer is based on the database and can in turn be subdivided into various components. A database-dependent part regulates access to the information in the database, an independent part forwards the data to the application core of the ERP system. This separation serves to be able to use optimization routines for the access to the database as efficiently as possible. In addition to the actual application core, in which typical ERP processes such as financial accounting, production planning and materials management or personnel management are handled, the systems usually also have their own programming environment. This enables users to supplement the applications independently. Middleware components in the application level also ensure that the ERP system can address other programs. This works, for example, via "Remote Procedure Calls" (RPCs) or via so-called user exits.

  3. An adaptation layer allows users to adapt their ERP system to individual requirements. How deep these adjustments intervene and modify the ERP system depends on the individual solutions. Many applications offer users a number of preconfigured adjusting screws that can be used to parameterize the system. The advantage of this parameterization is that the settings made here on the system are usually release-capable. If you want to change your system beyond these parameters specified by the manufacturer, you have to resort to customizing. Modifications via user exits are relatively unproblematic. These predefined connection points are maintained by the manufacturer and can therefore also be released. It becomes more difficult with changes directly in the ERP code. In this case, with all further changes to the system or in the course of updates, it must be constantly checked whether the individual customizing is still working.

  4. The top floor of the ERP building is the presentation level, which essentially consists of the user interface, the GUI (Graphical User Interface). Most current ERP systems typically use standardized web clients at this point. In this way, users can access the ERP applications from various end devices via a web browser. A special client installation with adjustments to the respective end device is not necessary with browser-based GUIs.

This layer model, which at first glance suggests a solid and orderly ERP architecture, is not set in stone. In recent years, various special disciplines have emerged in the business software league that want to be integrated around the ERP system. These include, for example, systems for customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM) and business intelligence (BI). With these software modules flanking the ERP system, the integration effort also increased.

  1. 10 trends in the ERP market in 2013
    Important developments in terms of ERP software and the ERP market are foreseen for 2013. Interesting for users to know, because ERP systems form the backbone of company information processing and devour a large part of the annual IT budget.
  2. 1. The ERP market remains dynamic
    The consolidation of the market for enterprise resource planning, which has been predicted for years but has not yet materialized, will not take place in 2013 either. Although some traditional providers will give up again or take systems from the current development, this effect will be more than offset by two significant inflows of new ERP providers: On the one hand, international providers are still pushing into the German market, as in recent years Plex or Jeeves. On the other hand, previous niche providers are developing more and more into full-fledged ERP providers, such as the Berlin provider Projektron, which offers a full-fledged ERP system for project-oriented service providers with its BCS solution.
  3. 2. Still high willingness to invest
    The 2012 ERP trend study carried out by the Center for Enterprise Research revealed an astonishingly high willingness to invest on the part of ERP users. Almost 70 percent of companies are currently investing in their ERP landscape, that is, they are planning to invest in their ERP systems or are currently doing so. Against this background, a significant cooling of the willingness to invest in the ERP environment is not to be expected in 2013.
  4. 3. ERP importance is decreasing
    Despite the high willingness to invest, the days are numbered when the ERP system was the only company-wide application solution. Companies with specialized processes in particular are increasingly turning to the addition of the ERP system to other company-wide applications. Nevertheless, the ERP system continues to be the benchmark for the economic evaluation of business processes and also the leading system for most of the master data.
  5. 4. Providers are becoming more professional
    Many German medium-sized companies have developed into international world market leaders and have adapted their organization and appearance accordingly. The software suppliers of these "hidden champions" have only partially completed this professionalization. However, the Center for Enterprise Research sees great efforts by many providers to significantly professionalize the sales, support and development processes that are important for software providers.
  6. 5. Big data ERP without business analytics
    While a few years ago the acquisition of data on customer behavior or production processes was a major problem, the focus has now shifted to the analysis of this large amount of data - big data. A current study by the chair www.wettbewerbs Faktor-analytics.de shows that ERP systems are not very efficient in this regard and that this shortcoming will hardly change in the near future.
  7. 6. ERP must map processes better
    The providers are currently struggling with completely different construction sites. More and more customers are demanding comprehensive solutions for business process management that are closely interlinked with the ERP system. Ideally, this is not only beneficial for the implementation project, but also for training and support in the operational phase. The providers below the SAP league are currently only inadequately meeting these requirements.
  8. 7. Technology and architecture are becoming more important
    The hype about service-oriented architectures is largely over. After the powder fume has cleared around this topic, the following becomes clear: The users are paying more attention to the architecture and the contribution of the technology used by the ERP provider to the integration capability of their ERP system. The functionality is still one of the most important ERP selection criteria.
  9. 8. ERP is becoming more mobile
    The trend report from the University of Potsdam shows a clear difference in mobile solutions between the interests of the users and the investment focus of the providers. While the expansion of functions for mobile ERP interfaces is the most important development focus for providers, the interest of users is still rather cautious. 40 percent of the companies surveyed currently have little or no interest in mobile solutions.
  10. 9. The cloud remains cloudy
    Hardly any other topic was discussed as intensely in 2012 as cloud computing. The main hurdles are how confidential information is handled and how the services used are billed. However, the following aspect, which has not been discussed so much, will gain greater awareness in 2013: the very strong industry-specific cloud usage. While almost 80 percent of the series manufacturers adopt a wait-and-see attitude, 50 percent of stationary retail and even 60 percent of online retail are keenly interested in cloud solutions.
  11. 10. ERP is exciting
    The nice thing about the presented trends and development prospects is that providers and users can contribute to shaping these trends through their market behavior. In this respect, 2013 will again be an exciting ERP year.