ERP systems are designed around a single, defined data structure (schema) that typically has a common database. This helps ensure that the information used across the enterprise is normalized and based on common definitions and user experiences. These core constructs are then interconnected with business processes driven by workflows across business departments (e.g. finance, human resources, engineering, marketing, operations), connecting systems and the people who use them. Simply put, ERP is the vehicle for integrating people, processes, and technologies across a modern enterprise.
For example: consider a company that builds cars by procuring parts and components from multiple suppliers. It could use an ERP system to track the requisition and purchase of these goods and ensure that each component across the entire procure-to-pay process uses uniform and clean data connected to enterprise workflows, business processes, reporting, and analytics. When ERP is properly deployed at this automotive manufacturing company, a component, for example, “front brake pads,” is uniformly identified by part name, size, material, source, lot number, supplier part number, serial number, cost, and specification, along with a plethora of other descriptive and data-driven items. Since data is the lifeblood of every modern company, ERP makes it easier to collect, organize, analyze, and distribute this information to every individual and system that needs it to best fulfill their role and responsibility.
ERP also ensures that these data fields and attributes roll up to the correct account in the company’s general ledger so that all costs are properly tracked and represented. If the front brake pads were called “front brakes” in one software system (or maybe a set of spreadsheets), “brake pads” in another, and “front pads” in a third, it would be tough for the automotive manufacturing company to figure out how much is spent annually on front brake pads, and whether it should switch suppliers or negotiate for better pricing.
A key ERP principle is the central collection of data for wide distribution. Instead of several standalone databases with an endless inventory of disconnected spreadsheets, ERP systems bring order to chaos so that all users—from the CEO to accounts payable clerks—can create, store, and use the same data derived through common processes. With a secure and centralized data repository, everyone in the organization can be confident that data is correct, up-to-date, and complete. Data integrity is assured for every task performed throughout the organization, from a quarterly financial statement to a single outstanding receivables report, without relying on error-prone spreadsheets.