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Though enterprise resource planning (ERP) has gained some prominence in the information systems (IS) literature over the past few years and is a significant phenomenon in practice, through (a) historical analysis, (b) meta-analysis of representative IS literature, and (c) a survey of academic experts, we reveal dissenting views on the phenomenon. Given this diversity of perspectives, it is unlikely that at this stage a broadly agreed definition of ERP can be achieved. We thus seek to increase awareness of the issues and stimulate further discussion, with the ultimate aim being to: (1) aid communication amongst researchers and between researchers and practitioners; (2) inform development of teaching materials on ERP and related concepts in university curricula and in commercial education and training; and (3) aid communication amongst clients, consultants and vendors. Increased transparency of the ERP-concept within IS may also benefit other aligned fields of knowledge.
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What is ERP?
What is ERP?
Helmut Klaus, Michael Rosemann, Guy G Gable
Information Systems Management Resource Centre
Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Australia
Abstract: Though ERP has gained some prominence in the IS literature over the past few
years and is a significant phenomenon in practice, through a) historical analysis, b) meta-
analysis of representative IS literature, and c) a survey of academic experts, we reveal
dissenting views on the phenomenon. Given this diversity of perspectives, it is unlikely that at
this stage a broadly agreed definition of ERP can be achieved. We thus seek to increase
awareness of the issues and stimulate further discussion, with the ultimate aim being to: (1)
aid communication amongst researchers and between researchers and practitioners; (2) inform
development of teaching materials on ERP and related concepts in university curricula and in
commercial education and training; and (3) aid communication amongst clients, consultants
and vendors. Increased transparency of the ERP-concept within IS may also benefit other
aligned fields of knowledge.
Keywords (MISQ): transaction processing systems; management information systems;
management support systems; production planning information systems; information system
evolution; enterprise resource planning; literature review
1 Introduction
A new class of packaged application software has emerged over the past decade, ostensibly
consolidating under a single banner, a multi-billion dollar industry that includes the world’s
fourth largest software vendor, several other of the largest software firms and the world’s
largest management consulting organisations. Usually called Enterprise Resource Planning
systems (ERP), these comprehensive, packaged software solutions seek to integrate the
complete range of a business’s processes and functions in order to present a holistic view of
the business from a single information and IT architecture. Most very large organisations
world-wide have already adopted ERP, and increasingly small- and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) too are finding it cost effective and a competitive necessity to follow suit. Though the
breadth and tight integration of ERP has only become available in recent years, ERP have a
pedigree in large, packaged application software that has been in widespread use since the
Nonetheless, until recently, ERP and packaged software generally, though pervasive, have
been under-researched in Information Management and Information Systems and have been
under-represented in curricula (Gable 1998). While ERP have gained some prominence in the
IS literature over the past few years, we observe some dissent among academics on the nature
and definition of ERP. Some authors (Davenport 2000; Laudon and Laudon 2000) advise
against the use of the term ERP and suggest alternatives; others (e.g. (Pawlowski, Boudreau et
al. 1999)) posit that ERP is not a term referring to a distinct object but rather a category
(“umbrella term”) signifying a range of similar products. There are further suggestions that
explicate ERP as the outcome of the development of IT support for manufacturing (Chung
and Synder 1999) or as supply chain management (O'Brien 1999). Yet others believe that
What is ERP?
what ERP stands for, is determined by the product offerings of developers (Holsapple and
Sena 1999, referring to APICS). It is anticipated that MIS scholarly activities would advance
through increased consensus on the phenomenon of ERP.
Given the diversity of opinion illustrated above, it is unlikely that a broadly agreed upon
definition of ERP can be achieved. What we seek to achieve, is firstly to increase awareness
of the matter, and secondly to share observations on the problem at hand. We aim to depict
the state-of-the art of scholarly ERP-related activity in Information Systems, with the
objective of progressing the discussion on what ERP is for IS academics. Clarification here is
believed important to: (1) aid communication amongst researchers and between researchers
and practitioners; (2) inform development of teaching materials on ERP and related concepts
in university curricula and in commercial education and training; (3) aid communication
amongst clients, consultants and vendors. Eventually, increased transparency of the ERP-
concept within IS may also benefit other aligned fields of knowledge, such as Accounting or
Software Engineering.
To delineate the phenomenon of ERP in Information Systems, we rely on three ‘sources of
evidence’. In section two, we portray the prevalent view on ERP. This mainstream
perspective sees ERP as a software product that represents the final stage of an evolution
towards integration, originating from IT supported manufacturing. As mentioned earlier and
as detailed following, this view has now been subject to scrutiny for never being completely
correct, and now has become outdated due to the further extension of ERP products. In
section three, we reflect on ERP-related activities in the IS field, based on a meta-level
appreciation of IS-publications in the area. This summary literature review is concerned with
showing levels of activity and general trends and pointing to emerging research topics; it has,
however not been the objective to discuss research results per se. In section four, we sought
the opinion of twelve notable academics having ERP-related expertise in relation to the
following issues: important technical, managerial and marketplace determinants of the
evolution of ERP; definitions of ERP; and the appropriateness of IS attention to ERP to date,
both in research and curriculum.Section five includes a discussion on the appropriateness of
the ERP term based on the findings from the three preceding sections: the characteristics and
history of ERP, the Information Systems literature, and the expert survey. Finally, section six
lists limitations of the study, as well as possibly useful future research activities to increase
and extend consensus on ERP-related concepts.
2 ERP – the Product and its Underlying Concept
The ERP concept can be viewed from a variety of perspectives. First, and most obviously,
ERP is a commodity, a product in the form of computer software. Second, and fundamentally,
ERP can be seen as a development objective of mapping all processes and data of an
enterprise into a comprehensive integrative structure. Third, ERP can be seen as the key
element of an infrastructure that delivers a solution to business. The latter is the perspective
taken by Information Systems, and the perspective we take throughout the remainder of this
essay. What ERP software is and how the underlying concept evolved has been addressed by
many authors and below we synthesise these definitions and accounts of concept evolution as
the ‘mainstream’ view on ERP.
What is ERP?
As a commercial product, ERP software is offered by a range of vendors that specialise in this
segment of the software market. As of this writing, the main ERP vendors are SAP, Baan, J.
D. Edwards, Oracle and PeopleSoft. This ERP market is significant. Gartner Group (Gartner
Group 1999) forecasts that it will grow to more than $20 billion by 2002; approximately half
service revenue and half license revenue.
ERP software is highly configurable to accommodate the diverse needs of users across most
sectors of the economy. Because of this, currently ERP-software exists in three different
forms: generic, pre-configured, and installed:
(a) In its most comprehensive form, the software is generic, targets a range of industries, and
must be configured before it can be used;
(b) Packaged, pre-configured templates have been derived from the comprehensive software.
These templates are tailored towards specific industry sectors (e.g. automotive, retail) or
companies of a certain size (SME).
(c) For most users, ERP-software presents itself as the operational installation after the ge-
neric or pre-configured package has been individualised according to the particular firm’s
requirements on site.
Only in its generic state can ERP software be purposefully characterised, since any configura-
tion, by either adding or reducing detail, creates distinct instances of the product, rendering a
generic description impossible. Criteria used below for characterising the software have been
derived from an analysis of currently available generic ERP solutions.
ERP software is a standard software package. All standard packages targeting an anonymous
market must, during the process of system deployment, be tailored to the specific
requirements of the individual enterprise. This process of software individualisation is called
customising. More or less sophisticated tools for project management, step by step guidelines,
further implementation tools, remote checks, and various other useful materials (e.g. generic
presentation files) support the ERP implementation. However, it is not the mere fact that the
software can be customised that differentiates ERP software; it is rather the rich potential for
customising that distinguishes ERP from other packages. Some might regard the need to
customise as a negative, yet this allows an individual configuration, and unique ERP
implementations. The rich configuration potential of ERP software derives from the range of
pre-configured alternatives (e.g. number and variety of chart of accounts) and the number of
alternative processes and transactions.
ERP-software is obviously application software. Thus, it can be differentiated from software
like database management software, middleware or operating systems. The application
modules of ERP are integrated across the functions supported and the data involved. ERP
software is based on an underlying integrated database that stores master and transactional
data in a consistent way and with controlled redundancy. The main features of ERP-software
are the provided business solutions, which support the core processes of the business and
administrative functionality. High functionality is one of the main differentiators of ERP. ERP
purports to support all business functions of an enterprise, especially procurement, material
management, production, logistics, maintenance, sales, distribution, financial accounting,
asset management, cash management, controlling, strategic planning, and quality
management. In addition to these general business functions, ERP often supports industry
specific functions like patient management in hospitals, student administration at universities
and high volume warehousing transactions for retailers.
What is ERP?
The high functionality of ERP software also distinguishes it qualitatively. Although
components of the main ERP solutions are at the highest level organised in different
functional modules like financial accounting or sales, they all follow a process-oriented view
of enterprises. Typical business processes are supported in a seamless way across functions,
so that the user often does not realise in what functional module he or she actually works.
The comprehensive functionality of ERP requires corresponding documentation. In addition
to the usual software documentation, the supported processes and organisational structures as
well as the structure of the data and objects are usually depicted in reference models. These
models enable rapid access to the functionality and allow navigation through different
abstraction levels and between different views. Furthermore, there exist hot-links to the ERP
documentation and related screens.
ERP targets multiple industries with very different characteristics. Consequently, it is difficult
to characterise ERP by simply listing functions. ERP supports multiple industries in two
ways. ERP can have either the ability to support different industries within one solution (e.g.
coexistence of manufacturing and retailing functionality) or offer pre-configured enterprise-
individual solutions. For example, PeopleSoft provides industry-specific solutions for the
following sectors: communication, federal government, financial services, healthcare, higher
education, manufacturing, public sector, retail, service industries, transportation, and utilities.
ERP is designed for companies that act (purchase, produce, sell, administer) in various coun-
tries. Thus, it is a prerequisite that ERP can handle the specific requirements of different re-
gions. This includes pre-configured country-specific chart-of-accounts, pre-formatted docu-
ment types like quotes, delivery notes or invoices, or HR-related rules (e.g. payroll). The
ability to handle multiple currencies in all transactions is also a mandatory feature.
Finally, frequency and repetition of its use could also be seen as an important and distinguish-
ing feature. ERP supports recurring business processes like procurement, sales order process-
ing or payment processes and is not focused on less structured, irregular processes like mar-
keting, product development or project management.
ERP software can also be characterised from a technical viewpoint. Although technical fea-
tures do not distinguish ERP from other currently available applications, they are useful in
differentiating ERP from previous similar software packages such as integrated, but
centralised software packages with strict platform requirements. Furthermore, technical
features significantly determine the functionality and potential of this type of software.
In addition to integrated applications and data, a further technical characteristic of ERP
software is the consistent graphical user interface (GUI) across all application areas. Thus, a
user perceives the ERP solution as a single application regardless of the module he or she is
working with. Current ERP solutions are based on a three-tier client-server architecture, in
which the database, the applications and the presentation, form three logically independent
levels. As ERP software targets all types and sizes of companies and industries, it must handle
large volumes of transactions. This is a crucial technical criterion as it is often more compli-
cated to evaluate the performance (efficiency) of ERP than its effectiveness (Does it support
the required functionality?). Current ERP is typically ‘open’ regarding the possible software
and hardware platforms. Most solutions run under Windows NT, various UNIX operating
systems or Linux. This is another argument, which highlights that ERP is characterised more
by its functionality than its technical design or requirements. Finally, the complexity of ERP
calls for adequate administration of the system. ERP software includes various solutions for
user administration, database configuration, system monitoring, or performance measurement.
These solutions are either part of the software or available as add-ons.
What is ERP?
A common perspective on Enterprise Resource Planning is one that concentrates on the his-
torical development of business integration concepts. It can be assumed that the name “ERP”
was derived from the terms Material Requirements Planning (MRP) and Manufacturing Re-
source Planning (MRPII) (see also (Chung and Synder 1999), (Gunmaer 1996), (Holland,
Light et al. 1999), (Yusuf and Little 1998)). MRP (Material Requirements Planning) was
developed to calculate more efficiently the materials needed. MRP evolved into MRP II
(Manufacturing Resource Planning), which encompassed new functionality like sales
planning, capacity management and scheduling. Though MRPII was initially seen as the next
logical step in efficient manufacturing planning, companies quickly realised that profitability
and customer satisfaction are objectives that apply to the entire enterprise – extending beyond
manufacturing, and encompassing finance, sales and distribution, and human resources.
Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) is regarded as the next step, embedding at least
the technical functions of the product development and production process in a
comprehensive integration framework. The concept of a totally integrated enterprise solution
is now called ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning).
Besides General Ledger, Material Requirements Planning (MRP) were the first off-the-shelf
business applications designed in the 50s (Orlicky 1975). MRP software supported the
creation and maintenance of material master data and bill-of-materials across all products and
parts in one or more plants. Furthermore, bill-of-materials processors (demand-based
planning) and forecasting algorithms (consumption-based planning) were typically parts of
MRP. These early packages were able to process mass data, but had only a limited processing
During the 70s, MRP packages were extended with further applications in order to offer com-
plete support for the entire production planning and control cycle. Manufacturing Resource
Planning (MRPII) starts with the long-term sales forecast from which the Master Production
Schedule (MPS) can be derived. The gross primary requirements are, as an output of the
MPS, input for MRP, which followed. The materials management module calculates the
secondary and net requirements using demand-based and consumption-based planning
methods and taking the stocks into account. After these tasks, which are focused on the
materials, a capacity management module integrates the available machines in the planning
process. The rough production schedule, which only includes a lead-time shift as time-based
data, is translated into capacity demand, which has to be compared with the available
resources. Via backward and forward scheduling, a possible, not optimal production schedule
can be derived. Various approaches to adjust the capacities can be applied next. The most
current production orders are selected through an order release module. Together with related
documentation they are forwarded to the production process. Finally, scheduling algorithms
support the detailed assignment of work tasks to specific machines.
Though the theoretical MRPII stresses the importance of various loops in the planning
process, the practical implementations of MRPII were in most cases purely linear. Thus, the
existing interdependencies between the functions were not taken into account. Consequently,
it was accepted that MRPII supports an integrated and manageable, but far from optimal
planning process. Figure 1 (Scheer 1994) shows the main functions of the production
planning process as a part of MRPII, which is followed by scheduling (production control).
What is ERP?
Forecast Customer
planning Capacity
scheduling Capacity
Figure 1: Production planning within MRPII
The MRPII approach was extended in the 80s towards the more technical areas that cover the
product development and production processes. These functions were named with various
CA-acronyms and included: Computer Aided Engineering, Computer Aided Design,
Computer Aided Planning, Computer Aided Manufacturing, and Computer Aided Quality
Assurance. The entire conceptual framework for the integration of all business-administrative
and technical functions of a company was named Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM)
(Scheer 1994).
Generic integration frameworks were based on the MRPII functions and the technical CA-
functions. They discussed the interrelations between these functions (Becker 1991). Though
this approach was focused on manufacturers, it can be easily generalised. An example is the
integration model for retailers, which depicts information flows between the main functions
of a retail company. Furthermore, some approaches exist in which these types of integration
models were extended towards business partners (Figure 2) (Becker, Rosemann et al. 1997).
The other aspect that was advanced significantly by the CIM discussion was the integration
issue, and important contributions were especially made to data and process modelling tech-
niques. The design of integrated and enterprise-wide data models was a major focus of CIM
projects in the 80s. These projects were based on the assumption that an integrated database is
the core element of an information systems infrastructure. Process modelling became the
focus of attention when reference integration architectures were developed that cover more
than the information flow between two functions. Entire process chains were designed in
order to explain typical business processes. These models existed initially only as such, since
applications to implement the design was not available yet. “Process Management was
possible prior to Enterprise Systems” (Davenport 2000). Thus, data and integration (function)
models were extended with a fast growing number of process models. Besides the functions
involved, these models depicted organisational roles, applications and data. One of the most
popular methodological frameworks evolving from this research is the Architecture of
Integration Information Systems (ARIS) consisting of data, function, organisation, output and
process views (Scheer 1999). Today, data and process models referred to as reference models
are applied to document ERP-software and software supporting enterprise modelling of data
and processes (like the ARIS-Toolset) are widely used in ERP implementation projects.
What is ERP?
Figure 2: An integration framework for retailers and external interfaces
3 ERP in the Information Systems Literature – a Meta-Analysis
New fields of knowledge and practice become visible through publication activity. In the field
of Information Systems (management), new concepts spread through a range of outlets in-
cluding the trade press, books for practitioners, periodicals directed at both practitioners and
academics, academic journals, university textbooks, and conference proceedings. Since our
aim has been to describe how ERP are dealt with in the academic context, we decided to
exclude the first two categories from the following elaborations, thus to take into account only
sources that had been authored by academics and for the academic environment. The
following presents an overview of ERP literature in conference proceedings, in core IS
journals and in MIS textbooks.
Despite growing prominence and pervasiveness of ERP in practice, related publications
within the academic Information Systems community, as reflected by contributions to
international conferences and journals, is only emerging. We are aware of several recent, or
about to appear, journal special issues on ERP (including this one: Journal of Information
Technology, Journal of Decision Systems, Database, Journal of Management Information
Systems, Business Process Management Journal, and Australian Accounting Review). This
sudden spurt of activity in the area may be seen as an indication that the topic has been
neglected for too long and that the IS academic community is now playing catch-up.
In order to develop an overview of academic activity relating to ERP systems, key IS confer-
ences and journals were scanned for the period 1997 to mid 2000. Conferences surveyed are
What is ERP?
those supported in the past by the Association for Information Systems (AIS), and held during
the years 1997 through August 2000: International Conference on Information Systems
(ICIS), Americas Conference on Information Systems (AMCIS), European Conference on
Information Systems (ECIS), Australasian Conference on Information Systems (ACIS), and
Pacific-Asia Conference on Information Systems (PACIS). Our intention was merely to
account for ERP-related publication activity in mainstream IS outlets, which of course does
not reflect the total output of ERP related presentations and articles. Thus, other events like
conferences in the area of Accounting or Software Engineering, events associated with user-
conferences held by vendors, or the special event “1st International Workshop on Enterprise
Management and Resource Planning: Methods, Tools and Architectures, EMRPS'99,
Venice”, have not been included. Table 1 lists the conferences, and Table 2 lists journals
Table 1 - ERP papers presented at selected international Information Systems confer-
ences 1997-2000 (August)
Conference 1997 1998 1999 2000
ICIS 1 3 5 n/a 9
AMCIS 1 1 29 24 55
ECIS 0 2 3 3 8
ACIS 0 1 1 n/a 2
PACIS 1 n/a n/a 3 4
Totals 3 7 38 30 78
Table 2 - Selected academic Information Systems journals canvassed 1997- June 2000
Journal Period Articles
Communications of the ACM Jan97—Jun00 8*
European Journal of Information Systems Mar97—Mar99 1*
Information & Management Jan97—Jun 00 1*
Information Systems Research Mar97—Mar00 0
Journal of Management Information Systems Winter97/98 — Fall99 0
Journal of Information Technology Mar97—Jun00 2**
Journal of Strategic Information Systems Mar97—Sep99 0
Management Information Systems Quarterly Mar97—Jun99 0
Management Science Jan97—Aug99 0
*published in 2000
** published in 1999
Articles were located by visually scanning contents pages of the target publications
(hardcopy, online) or program announcements where no other details were available at the
time of writing (ECIS ’00; AMCIS ’00). Relevance to ERP was established by searching for
terms like ERP and Enterprise-wide Systems (EWS) in the title of documents or the
keywords, as well as by searching for key ERP vendor names (e.g. SAP, Baan, Oracle).
References retrieved were then used to access the original documents. Full text, abstracts, and
in a small proportion titles only, were used to subject index the references in a small database
in order to establish a systematic overview of current themes.
ERP are highly applied, multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary and there are undoubtedly publi-
cations to be found in other than the IS discipline. Furthermore, conference proceedings,
which account for the bulk of sources identified, somehow exist outside firmly established
What is ERP?
publication channels: most proceedings are not distributed by commercial publishing houses,
and only a selection of conferences achieves wider publicity by being indexed and abstracted
for publicly accessible services. This creates a technical limit to producing a comprehensive,
up-to-date overview of ERP literature. Thus, partly due to the selective approach detailed
above, the study sample is small and two conferences (AMCIS ’99 and ‘00) account for the
majority of papers identified. Nonetheless, we observe steady increase in the number of ERP
papers (ignoring AMCIS ’99 and ‘00, total papers rise from 3 to 7 to 9 in 1997, 1998 and
1999 respectively). Steady growth is also observed at ICIS (1 to 3 to 5), the most
academically rigorous and selective of all major IS conferences. In 1998/99 nearly all the IS
conferences mentioned in table 1 (AMCIS (Philippakis and Hardaway 1999), ECIS
(Rosemann 1999), ACIS (Gable 1998) as well as the ICIS (Veth 1998) included panel
discussions about teaching ERP. In 2000, ECIS will again host a panel on ERP at universities,
while the number of ERP-related papers at AMCIS 2000 is similar to the previous year.
The term ERP made the press probably for the first time in 1992 ((Lopes 1992), (Ricciuti
1992), (Lindholm 1992)). The article by Lopes, ironically of Dun & Bradstreet Software, a
company soon after out-of business, shows how ERP had been conceived of at the time the
term was coined. Under the heading ‘CIMII’ [sic!] the features of these new systems are laid
out in full: a qualitative leap beyond MRPII, integration across suppliers, departments and
customers, relational database, and on client-server architecture. Moreover, Lopes praises
ERP systems as “better, faster and more economical business solutions” (1992:45) and
ascribes to Gartner Group to have defined ERP, and proclaimed it as the new information
systems ‘paradigm’. More than three years later, Thomas Davenport introduced the IS
community to ERP systems at AMCIS ’96 (Davenport 1996). Thomas Davenport avoided the
ERP label and called these systems ‘megapackages’, highlighting the challenges they
allegedly posed for companies both in technical and organisational terms. One year later, ERP
papers were presented at three international Information Systems conferences; this marks the
beginning of the period of literature reported following.
Conference publications during the years 1997—August 2000 are mainly about: (1) ERP
implementation issues, (2) Teaching with and about ERP, and (3) further ERP research in
3.3.1 Implementation Issues
Implementation related publications account for about one third of the articles reviewed. This
corresponds with the focus taken on ERP systems by the trade press, which also deals
predominantly with implementation and associated problems. Several publications (Holland,
Light et al. 1999; Stefanou 1999; Sumner 1999) attempt to identify critical success factors of
implementations. Shanks et al. strongly recommend consideration of national cultural issues,
since critical success factors may vary significantly, depending on the country in which an
implementation is carried out (Shanks, Parr et al. 2000). Implementations have also been
investigated through case studies with varying intent: to describe the impact of ERP on job
characteristics (Pawlowski, Boudreau et al. 1999); to explore strategic options open to firms
beyond the implementation of common business systems (Holland, Light et al. 1999); to make
recommendations on how to maximise the benefits from ERP (Niehus, Knobel et al. 1998) or
how to avoid ERP project failures (Scott 1999); to identify issues of alignment (Smethurst
and Kawalek 1999; Volkoff 1999), Business Process Reengineering (Slooten and Yap 1999),
What is ERP?
and change management (Pérez, Rojas et al. 1999); to assess the ambiguous role of large
systems as both catalysts and inhibitors of change (Mahrer 1999); to analyse the special
challenges of ERP implementations outside the business world (Sieber and Nah 1999); and to
describe global supply chain management (Chatfield and Andersen 1998). Implementing ERP
with or without BPR has been surveyed and analysed (Bernroider and Koch 1999).
Theoretical considerations have focussed on global business processes (Basu and Palvia
1999) and IT architecture options (Chan 1999), as well as on enhancement of process
engineering and development methodologies (Sato 2000). The complex question of how to
assess the organisational benefits derived from an ERP system has been addressed by
Rosemann and Wiese (Rosemann and Wiese 1999). This requires looking beyond the
implementation phase to consider the operational performance of the system. Rosemann and
Wiese suggest a variant of the Balanced Scorecard Approach to grasp the main impact of an
installed system. Spanning multiple phases of the ERP life cycle is also the suggestion of an
ERP knowledge management framework, to aid companies in optimally handling information
and expertise in relation to implementation, operation and enhancement of a system
(Rosemann and Chan 2000).
3.3.2 Teaching
A further significant number of articles reviewed relate to ERP subject matter in tertiary
education. Access to ERP software systems and collaboration with their vendors provide
tertiary educational institutions with effective and novel means for exposing students to
valuable business and business systems concepts (Gable, Heever et al. 1997; Watson,
Rosemann et al. 1999). The partnership between an ERP vendor and universities may be
beneficial for both parties involved, but requires careful management to overcome the
challenges (Scott and Gable 1997). The university ERP-vendor link has already spawned new
curricula at the postgraduate level, either under the banner of a new breed of MBA program
(Winter 1999), or within the Information Systems area as a Master of Science program
(Holmes and Hayen 1999).
The impact of reorganising ERP subject matter into existing curricula and the special
challenges posed to faculty has been reported by Stewart et al. (Stewart, Gable et al. 1999).
An example of a syllabus for remote delivery of an introductory subject via the Internet is
given by Holmes et al. (Holmes and Hayen 1999). The benefits and pitfalls of teaching
conceptual knowledge with ERP systems as a learning vehicle have been critically evaluated
in terms of learning outcomes and effort by Noguera et al. and Scott (Noguera and Watson
1999; Scott 1999). Case studies of implementations proved also to be a common method of
teaching about ERP (Hirt, 1998 #89; Avital, 1999; Ross, 1998).
3.3.3 Research in Progress
Initially, Heever et al. (Heever, Erlank et al. 1997) identified the potential and challenges for
Information Systems education and research in tertiary education posed by this new category
of manufacturing and business packaged software. A historical perspective has been taken by
Chung and Kelly (Chung and Synder 1999; Kelly, Holland et al. 1999), who, from different
contexts, emphasise the maturing of IS towards an unambiguous business focus, as attributed
to ERP systems. This is seconded by Holland and Light, who argue that other, traditional
approaches in systems development have proven to be less beneficial in the long-term than
ERP systems (Holland and Light 1999). A historical view, albeit from a business perspective
is suggested by Sor (Sor 1999), expecting a better understanding of issues surrounding ERP
systems to be achieved by moving the discourse towards management theory and dealing with
ERP as a special case of theoretical premises that were developed already in the sixties.
What is ERP?
Problems of managing the systems themselves have been thematised by Gable et al. (Gable,
Scott et al. 1998), who argue the value of cooperative knowledge management links between
all business partners in implementation projects in order to better cope with the scale and
expertise requirements of such projects. In a similar vein it has been proposed that the
potential advantages of Competence Centres to support and maintain these large-scale
systems be explored (Eriksen, Axline et al. 1999).
The benefit of ERP systems is seen as improving organisational decision-making by
Holsapple and Sena (Holsapple and Sena 1999); consequently they claim that ERP and
decision support systems should be further integrated and that further research and
development effort directed in this area. ERP solutions have recently become increasingly
accessible to small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Gable and Stewart have therefore
proposed to study adoption and application of ERP in SMEs as an objective of research
(Gable and Stewart 1999). An explicit social science approach to ERP has been suggested by
Southwick and Sayer (Southwick and Sawyer 1999), who argue the importance of analysing
managerial and social issues surrounding ERP implementation by applying critical social
theory. Strong theoretical foundations have already been applied in investigating ERP
implementations. Using structuration (Volkoff 1999) and actor network theory (Hanseth and
Braa 1998), the organisational changes brought about by the new system are critically
highlighted; these changes are unintended and can affect the social environment (Volkoff) as
well as reshape the whole information infrastructure (Hanseth).
Tertiary education in ERP systems has also been thematised in some of the few journal
articles relating to ERP. As cases reported on by Winter (Winter 1999) and Holmes and
Hayen (Holmes and Hayen 1999) (see above) show, engagement in the area of ERP in
teaching has resulted in a complete redesign of curricula at both under- and postgraduate
levels, in order to respond to the new competence requirements created in the labour market
(Becerra-Fernandez, Murphy et al. 2000). Creating and implementing these new curricula can
only be achieved through interdisciplinary collaboration across university department, a
phenomenon reported on elsewhere as well (Victor, May et al. 1999). Extensive teaching
cases have been provided by Ross and Hirt (Ross 1999) [Hirt, 1999 #50].
Process engineering is a crucial step in ERP systems implementation. This will be even more
true in future, when manifold relations between businesses have to be set up to conduct e-
business. Scheer (Scheer and Habermann 2000) emphasises the significance of business
process models to manage the ever-increasing complexity arsing from these solutions; process
models are supposedly also a useful medium to communicate about business processes across
various cultures. However, evidence from practice (Soh, Kien et al. 2000) suggests, that the
best practices built into ERP software might not always be transferable on a global scale due
to very country specific requirements relating to very fundamental processes. Closer
cooperation between vendors and users and comprehensive knowledge on the part of the user
appear to the only remedy to these misfits (Soh, Kien et al. 2000). How this cooperation can
be successfully achieved, has been demonstrated by Scott et al. (Scott and Kaindl 2000); they
have shown that collaborative efforts between vendors and customers can lead to the mutually
beneficial result of rapidly added systems functionality. Yet, new functionality may not
always be what companies are particularly keen on, especially when this requires moving to a
new version of the installed software; this is one of the conclusions drawn by Kremers
(Kremers and Dissel 2000) who discusses vendors’ and clients’ attitudes towards migration of
software. These attitudes appear to be adverse: while vendors prefer not to support too many
What is ERP?
versions simultaneously, due to the high personnel costs involved, client companies do not
acknowledge that new versions always have the potential to enhance the business, and
sometimes change versions only out of technical considerations. Technical problems relating
to updates and new versions are anticipated to be overcome in the future with the introduction
of component based software according to Sprott (Sprott 2000) and Fan et al. (Fan, Stallaert
et al. 2000). Software components are supposed to overcome the ‘monolithic’ character of
ERP systems, and increase the adaptability to business requirements considerably.
A new aspect of ERP systems, implementation for global companies across many sites has
been investigated by Markus et al. (Markus, Tanis et al. 2000). They have identified that
issues of large scale tend to evolve with regards to business strategy, software configuration,
platform and management execution; the combination of these issues must be addressed by
the implementing company very carefully and a generic approach cannot be applied.
Achieving the best fit between software and business is the main criterion for selecting a
package for SMEs in Europe, as reported by Everdingen et al. (Everdingen, Hillegersberg et
al. 2000); they point to the fact that the diversity between countries and industries sets up a
new challenge for vendors in the new emerging markets, if they want to respond to the
demands of clients in a comprehensive way.
For Willcocks et al. (Willcocks and Sykes 2000), old managerial issues relating to the
management of IT are perpetuated into the era of ERP systems. They maintains that lessons
from the past still need to be learned for successfully implementing and operating an ERP
system, and argues that the IT department needs to have established itself as the strategic
partner of the business, and that systems should be viewed as a “business investment in
R&D” rather than on a cost efficiency basis.
Given the low degree of stabilisation of research activities indicated by the number of journal
articles, it appears to be rather early to point out articulated areas of investigation.
Considering both conference papers and articles, however, some observations can be made
with regards to themes and methods in current ERP research. A new, ERP-specific issue
appears to arise out of the scale of some ERP implementations and the internationalisation of
the software market. This ‘globalisation’ issue has the facets of implementing international
business processes on one side and the adaptation to local environments on the other. Though
the dominant concern appears to have so far been to study implementations through multiple
case studies, issues regarding the further evolution of the installed ERP have already attracted
some interest. These can be characterised as pertaining to knowledge management, small and
medium enterprises, supply chain management, maintenance and enhancements regarding
new functions and application areas, such as e-business. The research method most commonly
applied is the case study which underlines the rather descriptive type of research currently
undertaken, aiming at immediate applicability for practice or teaching. Theory-driven
approaches are still rare, but are likely to emerge in the future.
Textbooks are fundamental elements for introducing novices in the university education
system into a field of knowledge. They are commonly perceived to contain a consensually
established set of problems and solutions that characterise the field of knowledge: textbooks
rely on an accepted research tradition, or simply research precedes instruction. MIS
textbooks, however, may need to deviate more or less from this principle, since the whole
area is subject to frequent changes. One of the most recent of these changes that has had to be
taken into account, was the rapid adoption of ERP packages by corporations all over the
What is ERP?
world. The following discussion of a sample of MIS textbooks shows that the synchronisation
of research with production of learning material may be a matter of concern.
Steven Alter (Alter 1999) tackles the complexity of today’s information systems by following
the traditional typology of systems that takes into account their abstract tasks as the
distinguishing feature; thus there are e.g. transaction processing, decision support,
management and executive information and execution systems to name but a few. It is
obvious that ERP systems cannot be easily accommodated in such a categorisation that does
not consider the application areas of Information Systems in terms of business functions.
Consequently, ERP systems are seen as hybrids, meaning that they contain a range of features
from diverse categories of the systems typology. The development of ERP is depicted as a
succession of extensions originating from MRP and leading into the current software
offerings. However, ERP systems supposedly have an unexplained “focus elsewhere”. The
author characterises ERP systems as being controversial, mainly due to their “integrated
database” which “structures […] incorporate many process variations” making them
“enormously complicated”. Installations of single modules “may be called ERP” too, due to
their provenance, even though they do not “accomplish the integration” aimed at.
In contrast, James O’Brien (O'Brien 1999) maintains that “information systems in the real
world are typically integrated combinations of functional information systems […] that
support business processes.” Furthermore, “cross-functional information systems” enable re-
engineering of business processes and may be used in a “strategic way” to “improve the
efficiency and effectiveness of business processes”. He fails to distinguish between ERP and
SCM, claiming that these systems run with “enterprise resource planning (ERP) or supply
chain management (SCM) software. This suggests that “ERP software focuses on supporting
the supply chain processes […] of a business”.
Crossing functional boundaries within a company and integration of business processes is
also the main emphasis of ERP according to Turban, McLean and Wetherbe [Turban, 1999
#79]. They contrast the promises of “benefits from increased efficiency to improved quality,
productivity, and profitability” with the difficulties of implementing such a system, usually
associated with changes of existing business processes.
One of the core principles of ERP, the interdependence of business functions has also been
stressed by Effy Oz [Oz, 1998 #80]. He discusses “strategic information systems” and links
re-engineering efforts to this concept. Furthermore, a detailed account of what is commonly
seen as one of the origins of ERP, production management systems like MRP and MRPII as
well as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), is given, yet, ERP is not mentioned at all.
For Laudon and Laudon (Laudon and Laudon 2000), ERP systems, or as they call them –
enterprise systems— need to be viewed from a contextual and comprehensive perspective,
which they call “enterprise computing”. This is composed of the concepts of “IT investment
portfolio”, “IT infrastructure”, “business logic, and “information architecture”. External
factors that have driven the deployment of enterprise systems are identified as resulting from
changed market dynamics, industry structures, and an orientation of managerial thinking
towards business processes and entrepreneurial strategy. On the technology side, networks,
relational databases, client/server architecture and enterprise software applications, paralleled
the shift in the business world. Enterprise systems are then discussed by contrasting the
“promise to integrate the diverse business processes of a firm into a single information
architecture” and the resulting business benefits with the five “issues” that have to be tackled
to make these promises real: implementation, cost/benefit analysis, robustness,
interoperability and the realisation of strategic value.
What is ERP?
This random selection of textbooks shows that ERP systems are often simply presented as
being problematic, if they are not ignored. Except for Laudon and Laudon (Laudon and
Laudon 2000), ERP is dealt with more in a cursory fashion, ie., a few paragraphs or pages.
Nearly all of the authors point to severe issues related to ERP. The criticism of Alter (Alter
1999) is mostly from a software perspective, suggesting that ERP systems are poorly
implemented databases. Also software focussed, albeit without critical remarks, is the
definition of ERP given by James O’Brien (O'Brien 1999), which strongly implies that ERP is
very similar to supply chain management. For Turban, McLean and Wetherbe (Turban,
McLean et al. 1999) the problems of ERP systems appear to be more related to the change
that the business must undergo. Problems of ERP systems are not reducible to software or a
business issue for Laudon and Laudon (Laudon and Laudon 2000), who rather holistically see
ERP as a complicated product within a complicated business and market environment.
Apparently, ERP attracted attention from the IS field once it became obvious that large, and
especially US based corporations had begun to install these systems; in other words, only
when their significance had been firmly established in the marketplace.
The time-line below (Figure 3) relates the advent of SAP R/3 (the most prevalent of the ERP
products), with evolving IS and trade-press attention to the concept. The ERP marketplace
gained considerable momentum after 1995 when the main vendor introduced its client-server
software into the US. Given that it often takes many months to install an ERP system, Thomas
Davenport’s 1996 announcement of the arrival of megapackages does not appear to be
delayed. 1997 saw the first papers on ERP presented at international IS conferences. On the
other hand, although there was a significant increase in articles from the trade press in the
same year, the so-called ERP-hype is a more recent phenomenon: eg, in ABI/INFORM
references to ERP articles exceed 1000 during the years 1998 and 1999.
Figure 3: Adoption of the ERP concept in IS academe
In summary, we present the following broad observations from our meta-review of the IS
literature. Conference activity has grown rather suddenly and dramatically, but appears to
have levelled off (this is difficult to predict). As a result of the sudden spate of activity in the
area, a consequential burst of journal activity is expected to follow (e.g. this special issue).
Numerous case studies have already laid the groundwork for further research, and to inform
related teaching that is occurring within redesigned curricula. It can be anticipated that
following the first wave of exploration into ERP implementation issues, a range of more
focused research topics will emerge, addressing their complexity and far reaching
organisational impingements. The review of textbooks suggests that authors not directly
involved with ERP have tended to offer superficial and often distorted treatment of the
T Davenport
ERP first
1997 / 1998
ERP at
IS conferences
released in
the USA
1995 2000
ERP in
IS journals
Strong ERP
coverage in
the trade press
What is ERP?
subject area. This situation will improve as research on ERP accumulates, and awareness
across the IS academic community grows.
4 Perceptions of ERP: an Expert Opinion Survey
With the objective of gaining further insight into perceptions of ERP, we contacted and
received email responses from twelve notable researchers working in the area. Whether a
requirement or not, all experts surveyed were assured in the original e-mail that “Respondent
names will not be recorded in our survey database […]. No data reported will be related to
individual respondents.” The twelve senior researchers whom graciously responded are:
Jörg Becker, Institut für Wirtschaftsinformatik,
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster,
Peter Best and Glenn Stewart, Queensland University
of Technology, Australia
M. Lynne Markus, The Peter F Drucker Graduate
School of Management, Claremont Graduate
University, USA and Faculty of Business, City
University of Hong Kong
Jeanne Ross, Center for Information Systems
Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
August-Wilhelm Scheer, Institut für
Wirtschaftsinformatik der Universität des Saarlandes,
Judy Scott, Graduate School of Business
Administration, University of Colorado at Denver,
Graeme Shanks, Department of Information Systems,
The University of Melbourne, Australia
Christina Soh and Kenny (Kwai Fong) Lee,
Information Management Research Centre, Nanyang
Technological University, Singapore
Iris Vessey, Kelley School of Business, Indiana
University, USA
Michael Vitale, Melbourne Graduate Business
School, Australia
Following is a synthesis of responses in relation to each of four questions posed (note that
respondent codes used below e.g. E1, E2, etc., reflect the sequence in which responses were
received and have no relationship with the list sequence above).
The literature review suggests that academic interest in ERP and packaged software began to
emerge only in the second half of the 90s. Yet the common view (section 2) suggests that
large, packaged application software has been an important phenomenon since the 70s and
that the concept of complete integration has also been pursued for more than two decades (see
also (Markus and Tanis 1999)). Here, respondents were asked whether academics have been
slow to appreciate the importance of ERP software, and if so, why.
4.1.1 Why a Lag? - The lag is understandable
Several respondents suggest that the lag has not been very long, the lag is natural, or that
some researchers were in early, perhaps even on time. Several respondents imply that ERP
was the ‘big bang’ (in an evolutionary sense). A major question this raises, is whether ERP
represent a quantum leap in packaged application software, or the next stage in an evolution?
Gable and Rosemann’s (Gable and Rosemann 1999) survey data supports the contention that
the lag has not been as long in Germany. Anecdotal evidence also supports the view that
Computer Science have mostly paid little attention to this area, but are now like IS,
increasingly interested.
What is ERP?
4.1.2 Why a Lag? - Today’s packages and package implementation are different
Several of the experts suggest that today’s ERP are different from earlier packages, thereby
justifying the lag. We fully agree that package implementation is quite different from
implementing custom software. Also, ERP packages have evolved dramatically over the
years. Nonetheless, we expect (E5) would agree that IS academics have to some extent been
lax. Perhaps this is due to ERP selection and implementation often being driven by the
business unit rather than IT, with IT playing a lesser role; perhaps to some degree a
consequence of the ‘not invented here’ syndrome; perhaps because ERP implementation is
even more multi-disciplinary than earlier IS projects (less IS).
4.1.3 Why a Lag? – Because its too hard!
(E6) states “I agree; there's a bit of a learning trajectory involved & there isn't that much
good ERP reference material around - most of which are practitioner- or vendor-generated.
Also there are a number of knowledge & expertise domains to be traversed before getting to a
stage of being comfortable with such systems & their potential - first, a familiarity with the
complex, advanced business environment & enterprise structures within which such software
are deployed for strategic advantage (e.g. that of the large conglomerates, MNCs, M&As,
etc) is beneficial. So is a good (systems) background in one business process or key value
chain area - featuring in-depth, real-world expertise in the activities & information flow
complexities that make up the area … There is also the need to get a handle on the various
ERP-related technologies such as client/server distributed architectures, open systems,
RDBMS concepts, etc. Added to these, package vendors have never made it easy for those
outside their customer/user base to grasp the design concept that they employ, having
shrouded their design philosophy & system configuration convention in a vocabulary unique
to themselves & packaging it all in a complex, proprietary design that is intended to lock in
their customer base … Coming to grips with such "entry barriers" therefore takes a bit of
time & effort, following which it becomes possible to appreciate the strengths of the software
design, & the unique environments to which they bring their advantages to bear.”
Thus, whether seeking to teach or research ERP, there is a significant investment required in
understanding the complex melange of technologies, processes and issues involved; a
daunting and risky undertaking. Also, it would appear that there exist significant economies
of scale in pursuing system-building research into large-scale application package software.
Small-scale system-building efforts of academics are unlikely to yield insights into the
complexities of large-scale systems integration.
Finally, though not explicitly stated, several survey responses alluded to a further source of
reluctance being the high cost of installing and operating an ERP system for teaching and
research. Perhaps not surprisingly, increased ERP research and publication activity appears to
coincide with increased university activity with ERP in teaching, and correspondend
increased ERP vendor support of their systems for this purpose (In example, SAP’s
University Alliance Program only came into existence in 1997, with the first SAP systems
installed in universities for the purposes of teaching and research going live that year. Note
that SAP had given their software away freely in Germany for several years prior.).
4.1.4 Why a Lag? - Fear of change
(E2) implies that fear of change has been a motivation for the delayed response from IS
academics. “ERP are a competency-destroying innovation, not only for traditional IS
developers, but for some traditional IS researchers as well. Neither group has been in any
hurry to abandon (or perhaps even to question) their existing competency base.” (E5) notes
that “Many IS academics have come from a systems development background. Their expertise
What is ERP?
is in the areas of traditional requirements acquisition and modelling and systems design. This
is particularly the case with the many academics obsessed with object orientation. ERP
systems implementation is much more concerned with understanding business processes and
focuses on implementation rather than development. I think the realisation that most software
is now packaged and much of that is ERP systems is finally dawning.” (E3) suggests that “If
we are not researching this topic, it may mean that we are afraid to face the implications for
our own intellectual capital.”
A further possible explanation for the lag in IS attention to application packages may be the
tendency for academics who develop depth and breadth in the area, to move out of academe.
The pull from practice is strong. Universities must move quickly to adjust their reward
systems and structures to encourage closeness with practice, while at the same time enticing
their increasingly marketable staff to remain.
The alternative strategy is to continue researching and teaching on a micro-scale and avoid or
discourage staff gaining the exposure, breadth and relevance they require to be involved with
large application software packages. It is our belief that this approach cannot be sustained.
Table 3 reflects a synthesis of comments made by the experts in relation to question 2.
Most often mentioned ‘technical developments’ impacting ERP were: the advent of the
Internet; faster, better and cheaper computing power; and the scalability and openness of
client/server technology. (E5) suggests that ERP themselves are the technical innovation that
has made organisation-wide systems integration possible.
It is not always easy or useful to separate technical, managerial and other influences. (E9)
suggests that “… there is a loop-back, ie. from the managerial point of view these
[managerial] concepts will influence and promote new technical developments. Inter-
organizational data transfer, which is essential for supply chains, requires standardized data
formats and convenient ways to perform the transfer. This requirement had a major impact on
the development of XML which it is now experiencing. Obviously new forms of business arose
due to changed conditions on the markets. Many of them shifted from seller to buyer markets
and concurrently consumer needs became more demanding. A way for companies to react
was to improve their internal and external structures and processes. The control of these
processes implied the use of ERP systems which could provide the necessary information.”
Comments on marketplace dynamics were relatively sparse, most ideas having already come
out in relation to technology and business dynamics. More respondents mention the Y2K
problem here than under Technical Dynamics. Whether an overreaction to market-hype or a
practical reality, Y2K undoubtedly contributed to dramatic growth in ERP sales in the second
half of the 1990s as many organisations scrambled to replace their non-2000 compliant legacy
systems. This glut of activity is also part of the reason why ERP sales plateaued in 2000.
Overall, respondents have cited a breadth of influences on the evolution of ERP, beyond the
more readily identifiable technological developments of clients/server, Internet, and declining
costs of computing power. Important managerial developments include: process-orientation,
globalisation, outsourcing, new organisational designs, e-business, a focus on timely
performance management and supply chain management. Major marketplace developments
have been: Y2K, the IT skills shortage, ASPs, customer relationship management, and the
emergence of a small number of strong ERP vendors.
What is ERP?
TABLE 3 - Dynamics that have influenced the evolution of ERP
ondent D
(E7, E9, E10, E6, E12) the advent of client/server / scalability
(E1, E4, E8, E9, E12) Internet / need to clean up the back-office for e-business
(E2, E8, E6, E12) Faster, more reliable and cheaper computing capacity (processing, storage,
(E2) Improving understanding of how to put together very large systems
(E3) frustration with client/server for in-house development
(E5) the dream of integration was too complex for in-house development
(E9) XML and standardized data formats
(E10) telecommunications and networks
(E6) Microsoft NT, GUI/Unix, workflow, data mining, executive IS, mess from legacy
(E3, E5, E6, E8, E10,
a desire to fulfill the promise of BPR / move to a process-orientation / recognition of
(E4, E10, E6) globalisation – 1 face to the customer, 1 view of the customer
(E2, E4, E6, E12) larger and more complex organisations / The evolution toward ‘federal’ firms / lean,
flat, flexible, ada
tive or
anisational desi
(E1, E10) continuing desire for improved managerial decision making
(E7, E11) focus on timely performance management and ‘balanced scorecard’ approach
(E7, E10) need to respond rapidly to the changing marketplace
(E10, E6) e-business / increasingly demanding customers
(E2) continuing growth in demand for access to more and more data
(E3) need to integrate across functions for competitive success
(E4) standardisation of base-level processes in order to empower decision-makers
(E5) trend towards outsourcing of IT
(E5) the need for integration to support CRM
(E6) German strength in manufacturing and production management
(E9) supply chain management
(E1, E3, E5) Y2K
(E2, E3) Strong ERP vendor marketing
(E2, E10) IT skills shortage augers in favour of ‘buy’ over ‘make’
(E3, E5) emergence of a strong slate of alternative ERP vendors, and assured ongoing
(E3, E10) the promise (maybe not fulfilled) of lower IT/support costs
(E2) Application service providers put ERP in reach of SMEs as well as large firms
(E3) Lots of hype
(E7) availability of industry solutions
(E10) the right solution and message at the right time … following the BPR craze
(E6) supply chain competition
(E6) increasing customer service/value orientation
Table 4 reflects a synthesis of responses to question 3. Over half of the respondents
mentioned the movement to integrate intra- and inter-organisational systems, as reflected in
the current stampede to e-business and customer relationship management systems. Both
client demand and vendor posturing were mentioned. The web is clearly the network and
interface of choice. Application hosting was cited as a means of reducing implementation and
support costs and for broadening access to ERP. Componentisation was cited as the ‘holy
grail’ in the face of exponentially increasing software complexity (note that the holy grail has
never been found).
What is ERP?
Table 4 - Significant Further Developments Coming
ondent Comin
(E1, E6, E7, E8, E9, E10) ERP vendors seek to transform themselves into e-business solution providers /
ration of intra- and inter-or
anisational s
(E4, E5, E9, E10, E12) Dominance of the web interface
(E3, E10, E6) Componentization of ERP
(E5, E7, E9) Application Hosting / Success in the SME marketplace
(E2, E11) ERP will become more feature rich
(E3, E9) Emergence of 3rd-party electronic markets (aka hubs and exchanges)
(E2) The ERP marketplace will consolidate (as has happened for other packages,
. The Deskto
(E4) Move away from standard, global processes to data warehouses and middleware
(E5) Support for interorganisational systems
(E5) Focus on customer relationship management
(E6) Partner Relationship Management (PRM)
Table 5 reflects a synthesis of comments made by the respondents in relation to question 4.
Table 5 - Salient Characteristics of ERP
ondent Charafcteristics
2, E4, E5, E11, E7, E8, E9, E10) complete set of integrated software modules (e.g. Production,
istics, finance, human resources, out
ut desi
(E3, E5, E6, E7, E12) cross-functional integration (intra-organisation)
(E3, E7, E8, E9) configurable software
(E3, E6) best practice' process models
(E7, E9) single, common, enterprise-wide database
(E2) cross-enterprise business processes (inter-organisation)
(E7) single, common user interface
(E9) hooks to other systems (e.g. output design)
(E9) multi-tier, client/server architecture
Definitions tended to be brief with several expressing difficulty doing justice to the question.
Not surprisingly, there was some overlap between responses to questions 2, 3 and 4. Defining
ERP seemed to distract from the real issues or in some sense belittle the impact of ERP.
Emphasis was on cross-functional integration of internal processes, comprehensiveness,
configurability and ‘best practice’ process models. (E1) notes that “ERP is difficult to define.
The enterprise software is only part of the concept. From an academic point of view, the
interesting issues are organizational. The impact of ERP has been massive. Industries,
organizations, IS departments, outsourcing and employees' jobs have been affected.” Like
(E1), (E4) also suggests that “it is not the ERP that is interesting. It is the implementation and
the accompanying new processes that are interesting.” (E10) suggests that “‘Enterprise
resource planning’ system is not an appropriate term for these systems. The term is too close
to MRP/MRP II, and many people, even some who should know better, like to say that ERPs
developed from MRP systems. Clearly, this is not true for the major players. I support the use
of the term “enterprise system [or] …. Perhaps we might call ERPs BOISEs – back-office
integrated systems for enterprises (with thanks to Bob Glass).”
What is ERP?
In this section we presented results from a survey of twelve notable researchers working in
the area. The experts, like the authors have difficulty arriving at a complete definition of ERP;
they too appear to feel that ERP is ‘in the eye of the beholder’, its definition being a function
of perspective and intent. Many feel that IS have not been lax in studying and teaching ERP,
that ERP exploded onto the IS scene only in the mid-90s, and that the lag in IS academic
activity is thus understandable. Other reasons given for the lag were: fear of change and loss
of intellectual capital, the complexity of ERP and the significant investment required in
understanding the complex melange of technologies, processes and issues involved; and the
high cost of installing and operating an ERP system for teaching and research, all of which
make a commitment to researching and teaching ERP a daunting and risky undertaking.
Whether system-building or studying practice (empirical research), survey responses
implicitly argue for closer cooperation with practice in research, R&D and curriculum and
closer academic awareness of practice. A further difficulty implied in the survey responses, is
the need to adjust university reward systems to both encourage the study of large multi-
disciplinary systems, and to retain academic staff who are increasingly attracted to industry.
The expert opinion survey has revealed that there are conceptual obstacles to overcome, such
as the label ERP and the fact that ERP is strongly rooted in manufacturing. The following
discussion will hopefully shed some light on these issues.
5 Discussion: ERP – a Meaningful Label?
There exists dissent regarding the term ERP. Objections to the term usually read as follows:
ERP denotes a particular category of software; this software, however, is not necessarily
focused on managing resources; it has furthermore, no particular strength in the area of
planning; and finally, current software extends its functionality beyond the enterprise.
Thomas Davenport and Laudon & Laudon, therefore have attempted to match words with
‘reality’ by suggesting we refer to integrated packages as Business Systems. The underlying
assumption is that the term ERP should denote something unambiguously by the words it
contains. We concur with the observations of these authors, without necessarily sharing their
recommendations. To clarify this matter we revisit critically the development path of MRP
(50s) MRP II (70s) CIM (80s) as suggested in section two and compare these
predecessors with ERP in more detail. This path suggests a continuous extension of generic
integration models.
Firstly, there are strong similarities between the approaches taken by MRPII and CIM and the
successor ERP. CIM has been defined as "The integrated management of information for all
business and technical functions of a manufacturer". ((Scheer 1994): 2), while the broader
approach of ERP has been captured as: "It (ERP) integrates logistics, manufacturing,
financial and human resource management functions within a company to enable enterprise-
wide management of resources." (META Group 1998). In a similar vein, MRPII software
solutions in the form of Production Planning and Control systems can be regarded as the
predecessors of ERP software. Davenport (Davenport 1996) sees in ERP as a "turbocharged
version of manufacturing resource planning (MRP II), modified and strengthened to help
manufacturers face the competitive challenges of the 1990s."
Thus it can be said that, like ERP, MRPII systems support a range of typical business
functions, are based on the concept of one (logically) integrated database, and have one
common user interface. In the period of the CIM discussion, various integration models were
designed, that served as conceptual models for the development of integrated packages. From
a methodological viewpoint, the related CIM research led to the design of easier to understand
What is ERP?
modelling techniques, that in addition to the traditional data models (Chen 1976) also
included process models. However entire turnkey off-the-shelf CIM solutions were never
available, yet related research helped to develop internally and externally used standard
interfaces (like STEP or EDIFACT). Despite these similarities several key differences
separate ERP from MRPII and CIM and cast doubt on the theory of a linear, incremental
MRP, MRP II and CIM are comprehensively addressed in the production literature where
accepted integration concepts, independent from specific solutions, are presented. ERP
however, is at this stage mainly driven by currently available software products. A reference
integration model for ERP, similar to the CIM approaches does not exist. This can be
regarded as a major weakness of the ERP-related research up to now. This deficiency may
also help to explain that a wide consensus across academe and practice for ERP related
concepts and terminology has not been established.
MRP, MRPII and CIM were characterised by the continuous extension of production
functionality. ERP however, can be implemented without any production-related
functionality. MRPII e.g. is not a sub-module of ERP solutions targeting industries like
banking or retailing. Moreover, while CIM included many technical functions like CAD or
CAM, ERP solutions typically do not have embedded modules for these functions. Moreover,
the problems with integrating an ERP solution with the more technical systems are a major
challenge for many companies. As MRP, MRPII and CIM concentrated on internal functions,
they could not contribute to current ERP issues like the integration of business partners
(Supply Chain Management, Customer Relationship Management).
In conclusion, the suggestion that ERP derives from the MRP discussion is misleading in
three ways. First, ERP does not have a particular focus on resources. At least of equal
importance to the resource view is the process view. Second, the planning functionality is not
the main strength of current ERP packages, which emphasise the execution of operational
transactions like sales order processing, more than support for sophisticated planning
procedures in the areas of procurement, production, sales or finance. Third, the term
‘enterprise’ is now too narrowly focused. While MRP covered all functions related to material
management, and MRPII and CIM indeed concentrated on manufacturing issues, the
development of integrated solutions for processes that span suppliers, customers or banks,
extends the classical perspective that was limited by the borderlines of a company. The term
ERP suggest the outcome of the historical development process; yet this process has some
discontinuity, and it would be erroneous to assume that ERP literally means enterprise-wide
planning of resources.
Thus, Thomas Davenport (Davenport 2000) and Laudon and Laudon (Laudon and Laudon
2000) have argued strongly in favour of replacing the term ERP with Business Systems. This
would also take into account that these systems are universal and not limited to manufacturing
installations. Furthermore, this would more closely align the rest of the world with continental
Europe, which appears to favour the phrase ‘Standard Business Application Software.’
Regardless of these terminological deficiencies, scholars in IS have adopted this “island of
technology” term and an IS research domain is now evolving steadily under this banner. The
phrase Enterprise Resource Planning has become the most commonly used term to signify
integrated business application packages; this is evidenced by the pervasiveness of the words
‘enterprise resource planning’ and their abbreviation ‘ERP’ in the commercial press, in all
types of IS publications, and in the vocabulary of widely used indexing services. We prefer to
remain impartial in this debate over terminological normalisation; it might suffice to know
What is ERP?
how a phrase is used, in order to understand its meaning, and the widespread usage of ERP
signals that the ambiguity assumed to exist due to its provenance, is apparently a non-issue.
Wittgenstein compared those who demand definitions to “tourists who read Baedeker while
they stand before a building and through reading about the building’s history, origins, and so
on are kept from seeing it” (cited in (Blair 1990):154).
6 Limitations and Future Directions
Finally, we discuss what we believe to be both limitations of the study reported and
opportunities for further valuable research.
A major limitation of the analysis is due to our constraining the literature review to
Information Systems academic publications. While we hope this approach yields a clearer
indication of developments and insights specific to the IS area, we are very well aware of
contributions made to the ERP area from different disciplines like Software Engineering,
Production Management and Accounting. These contributions need to be considered in order
to arrive at a more complete repository of ERP publications and conceptions. The variety of
competing terms like COTS in Software Engineering present a special challenge. This is a
central goal of future work we are continuing to pursue in the area.
Further, our historical analysis has emphasised the lineage of ERP in MRP II and CIM. Yet
we admit there has occurred a parallel evolution of large, administrative application software
packages in practice. An example is the predecessor of the current market leading ERP
solution, SAP R/2, which entered the market in 1973. A more complete analysis of the history
of packaged software would carefully consider this parallel evolution; reasons for the
apparent divide, and how the divide has ultimately been bridged by ERP. A further level of
important integration not reflected in the preceding discussion and yet to be well addressed in
practice, is between data collection hardware and devices and the ERP software.
Our expert opinion survey too is skewed, the sample including a preponderance of empirical
researchers. Though the Software Engineering perspective is marginally represented, a more
complete canvassing of alternative perspectives (e.g. OR/MS, OM, and Manufacturing)
through a similar survey approach would be revealing.
In tackling the question ‘what is ERP?’ we did not intend to be prescriptive and arrive at an
authoritative definition. While we believe the analyses and discussion have helped to surface
complexities associated with ERP-related concepts, we recognise that we are yet far away
from compelling and complete definitions.
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