The fascination with data continues to proliferate, just like data itself. “Big data” used to be considered a collection of data sets so large and complex that it was difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing . Now it is seen less as something to grapple with and more as a source of tremendous power that can maximize value, identify new revenue streams, and ensure advantages in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. While this may be true, and the growing concern with big data understandable, there’s a more manageable and often underutilized source right in the heart of most enterprises: ERP data.

According to Aberdeen, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions are an integrated suite of modules that form the operational and transactional system of record upon which any business is based. “As such, ERP systems contain large amounts of data that can be used to gain visibility into business operations and underpin informed management decisions,” says the introduction to a recent study by the analyst. “Often there is difficulty in finding the data needed and analyzing it to gain insight. Data may be siloed or inaccessible to business users, preventing these organizations from gaining the full return on investment (ROI) from their ERP implementations.”1

One of the major reasons many ERP implementations have not lived up to expectations is that they were employed as a software project per se, rather than as a business improvement tool.2 Failure to fully understand the value of ERP data may be a part of this misapplication. “Information is the lifeblood of the organization, and the primary goal of ERP is to provide decision makers with the information that they need in order to make properly informed decisions; to provide a solid foundation of truth,” notes Sean Culey, a member of the Supply Chain Council’s European Leadership Team. “Accurate and timely data can enable rapid, incisive decision making, whilst poor and inaccurate data slows down everything, [creating] excess management, duplication, and indecision. Many businesses use tools like ERP as transactional recording devices to capture what they have done, rather than pour their intelligence into the system so it can plan what they should do.”3 As a result, many users say that ERP presents information they disagree with, constraining the flexibility of their supply chains.

In contrast, those who are leveraging their ERP data, integrating it with other enterprise systems, and delivering it in a timely and understandable manner to decision makers are seeing significant benefits in operations. “It comes down to getting the data stream right, and that data stream comes from our ERP, CRM, and other enterprise systems,” says Doug Sheffield, vice president of information technology for Dallas, Texas-based Heritage Bag Company, the largest manufacturer of industrial trash bags in the United States. “We’re able to take that data stream, whether it’s customer, sales, production or manufacturing data, and make it available throughout our organization. By consolidating the data, we get a holistic view of where we are as a company; then we can see the different areas in which we can work, improve, and become more efficient.”

According to Sheffield, ERP provides a single trustworthy data source. Without that, companies struggle to:

  • Close out the month properly.
  • Meet compliance requirements.
  • Plan production accurately and effectively.
  • Understand what has shipped versus what has been billed.
  • Communicate across multiple facilities, be they plants or corporate offices.
  • Establish communications for visibility into all areas of the business from all areas of the business.
  • Make well-informed decisions.

To facilitate these essential activities, ERP solutions have evolved different ways of delivering data. Analysts note ERP’s expanding footprint, indicating its value will grow as long it continues to evolve to meet customer needs, and that those customers realize the value of this data.  These goals can get lost when these users become fixated on what they run day-to-day.4

Up Next: ERP Data Part 2:  Four Manufacturers Who Get It:   Or Download the Entire White Paper Now:  http://bit.ly/fs_erpdata

  1. “ERP Plus BI: Maximizing the Return on Your ERP Investment,” Aberdeen, 2012.
  2. Cutley, Sean, “Ensuring the ROI from ERP Has a Bigger ‘R’ than ‘I,’” The European Business Review, October 2012.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Goulart, Karen, “Other IT Systems May Get the Buzz, But the Value of ERP Remains,” TechTarget.com,  February 29, 2012.

Designed for Microsoft Dynamics AX users, each month Fullscope publishes a short technical tip to for greater insight into this powerful ERP system.

Technical Tip#2: Record Level Security

Microsoft Dynamics AX lets users easily manage screen/table and report filters through record level security. Use this feature to filter screen and report data that you specifically design by user group.

To begin, open the Record Level Security screen (in the Administration module), and choose the appropriate user group. Click on the “new” button and the Record Level Security wizard will walk you through the remaining setup. This feature allows you to apply specific queries to data tables resulting in data security and an enhanced end user experience where the user doesn’t have to filter through irrelevant data. The table queries also apply to report data, which allows you to filter down to critical data.

Companies in pharmaceutical and life sciences manufacturing share a technology requirement for a strong enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to enforce the common principles of validation projects. The goal of these validation projects is to demonstrate consistent, secure and traceable transactions for any product throughout all stages of its lifecycle. By examining three key pillars of applications validation, the importance of the underlying ERP system becomes evident.

Consistent Processes: Life sciences and pharmaceutical companies depend on ERP systems to help maintain consistent and repeatable quality. First and foremost, the recipes (the formula or bill or material [BOMs] and the routings) must be approved and locked into place so that when production is launched, only the authorized recipe is issued. These recipes are tied to specific documents called “operations procedures” which outline the specific materials, quantities and processes necessary to make a consistent quality product. The recipes require valid quality control testing with operational tie-ins to ensure an intermediate meets the specifications before it moves to the next operation. Any raw material, intermediate or finished product that is tested and falls outside of the pre-defined specification must immediately generate a non-conformance alert that is sent to internal stakeholders. An authorized formula, tied to its approved operations document, tied to an internal quality management application, is the first step to maintaining consistent processes.

Secure Processes: The CFR Part 11 compliance code addresses security.  ERP applications help support security requirements by applying electronic signatures to insure authorization for certain business process steps. For example, many life sciences companies lock down their formulas or BOMs in order to comply; and in most cases, authorized individuals can look and review formulas, but not change them. Electronic signatures can add another level of password requirement, so if someone tries to change or update a formula, a pop-up window requests an additional password. Electronic signatures frequently are used with formulas, BOMs, routings, quality specifications, and operations procedure documents.

Traceability:  The final pillar of control is the ability to track all components of the product from its raw material purchase through work in process to the final customer ship-to location. Many pharmaceutical manufacturers have co- and by-product issues, and some split and merge lots during the production process. It is essential for an ERP application in companies with highly regulated environments to manage both discrete (medical device manufacturing), as well as process (pharmaceutical and life sciences manufacturing) production requirements.