Big Data and ERP – should you integrate the two?

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I’ve been thinking a lot about Big Data and ERP lately. I wrote a post about why it is important to start nurturing data analysts. And I’ve been working with a new client who are already benefitting from Big Data tools in their operations.

What I’ve concluded might be a little controversial, so indulge me while I drop a little disclaimer on you.

This post is my opinion. I’m just a humble business development manager trying to make it in this world and have no influence on the product roadmap.

ERP is just another input for Big Data

ERP has been at the core of the biggest businesses for over three decades now, so we can be forgiven for assuming that most, if not all business information will continue to go through ERP.

But that reality is changing.

I’ve been working with a brewery that is doing some really interesting things with Big Data, combining various outside data sources with a number of internal data sources to figure out which markets to target and how much beer to make.

When they first told me about their application, I told them that we would run it in SYSPRO like all of the other third-party applications we come across. But as I looked at what they were doing and the complexity of the data manipulation going on in the application, I realized that it was best to keep it separate.

Big Data tools are designed to take disparate data sources and manipulate the data into a form where the data can be used together. From a Big Data perspective, ERP is just another database like any other.

Big Data is just another input for ERP

ERP systems like SYSPRO typically take in all data from other applications and then the system manages the data including security and access.

However, ERP systems aren’t designed to handle Big Data and, while you could build an ERP system on top of a Big Data repository, the cost of doing this exceeds the benefit for a mid-market product.

ERP systems will consume the output of Big Data just fine. Businesses will benefit from Big Data and ERP as separate systems just as readily as they would an integrated system.

Finally, Big Data is maturing very quickly with a number of companies creating tools that allow regular business managers to use Big Data without a lot of technical expertise. Integrating ERP and Big Data systems would prevent you from taking advantage of these advances while locking you in to a system that requires a high-level of technical expertise.

Big Data and ERP Standing Apart

The tendency to think about ERP as the backbone of the business will continue. But Big Data is going to be an exception – perhaps the exception that proves the rule about the centrality of ERP. Without appropriate data your ERP has less value – with the right data to provide two-way feeds of information the value of your ERP increases dramatically. It’s all about the synergy, folks.

ERP data is going to feed Big Data and Big Data is going to feed ERP, but they are going to run in parallel.

Our customers will still be able to benefit from Big Data, and even feed the data outputs into the ERP system. But it will be at least four or five years before it makes sense to completely integrate these two systems. Four or five technology years is roughly the equivalent of 134 human years, so that’s a long time.

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