Because I have about 25 years or more until I retireif Im ever able toI give a lot of thought to what I need to do to remain gainfully employable. I love my job with Midrange Computing and have no immediate plans to work anywhere else, but things change and a guy needs to be prepared.
If I were to have to return to full-time work in the information processing industry today, Id want a job as an IS manager in a manufacturing environment. Ive worked in other fieldslike healthcare and educationbut I like manufacturing most. But even more important, Id want to work in an environment that is implementing or has implemented an enterprise resource planning (ERP) package.
Im trying to keep up with ERP (as much as a guy can whos not actively working with ERP software) because I keep hearing about all kinds of wonderful benefits organizations of all types are deriving from it.
For instance, I recently met a consultant who travels around installing SAPs R3 package. I asked him why SAP has had great success selling R3. His answer: Because it works. Unlike the homegrown software Ive written through the years and the packaged software Ive had the dubious honor of supporting, SAP R3 puts the people who run the business in control of the software. They no longer have to go to the computer weenies and ask for a report, only to be told itll be ready in a matter of months.
That R3 is a roaring success is undeniable. Organizations of all sortsprivate businesses and government entities alikeare using R3.
The biggest part of SAPs sales have been to the big guys, the large organizations with deep pockets, but SAP is not content with dominance of that market. They want the little guys, too. SAP has implemented a program, called ASAP (Accelerated SAP), targeted specifically at smaller businesses. To quote the consultant I met, SAP implementation partners commit to a fixed bid and implementation time. The company agrees to use SAP R3 as configured. The partner, the client, and SAP team up, and in 10 months, the system is implemented. Then, theres a series of rollouts, and the whole enterprise is implemented. Business process are changed later. The company gets a fully functional system that they use to run their business, and eventually they change it to compete in the fiercely competitive business environment. SAP R3 is a strategic decision and results in great payoff for the companies that are up for the challenge.
SAP is not the only ERP vendor targeting the midrange market. Oracle Corporation reported in mid-May that more than 100 midsized organizations had pulled off the
impressive achievement of implementing Oracle applications in less than six months. In fact, one shop claims to have implemented Oracle in 50 days. Oracle calls its marketing program FastForward and offers it to customers in eight flavors. In addition to hardware and software, the customer gets tailored education services, a repository of end-user training, and a year of 24/7 telephone support.
Of course, now everybody and his brother claims his software is an ERP package. Perhaps some of the MRP packages that have been around for years have been sufficiently enhanced that they could now be considered ERP, but I suspect the truth is some of them are the same old stuff with new marketing hype. As Shakespeare wrote, A skunk by any other name still stinks (or something like that).
Anyway, what does this mean for me and you? First, it means that what you and I knew years agothat packages would eventually get so good it would no longer pay to write homegrown softwaremay finally be reality. I dearly love RPG, and I could stay busy working in RPG shops for a good portion of my remaining career, but Id really prefer to work in an atmosphere of greater and faster technological growth.
Second, I think it means that platform-specific computing is an endangered species. The R3 server runs on many platformsS/390, AS/400, UNIX, Windows NT. The presentation layer also offers a wide variety of choices: Web browsers, Java AWT, Macintosh, Windows, OS/2, OSF/Motif. AS/400 professionals look for a new job working on an AS/400. R3 professionals look for a new job working on R3.
Thanks to my consultant acquaintance, I hope to soon be visiting some shops that are running SAP, Oracle, and Baan applications. Im interested in seeing if these packages really work as well as Im told they do. Ill be asking whether the software adapts to the business or the people adapt to the software. I want to know if people who like these packages have tangible proof or just warm and fuzzy feelings that the ERP package is making them more successful.
If youre interested in keeping up with ERP, start with the Web sites of ERP vendors, such as www.oracle.com and www.sap.com. Let me also recommend that you read Midrange ERP magazine (www.mfg-erp.com), edited by David Turbide. That magazine is written for the smaller businesses, a category into which many AS/400 shops fall. It will also make you aware of many ERP vendors besides the few Ive mentioned here.
I also ask a favor of you. If you have experience with an ERP package, either currently or sometime in the future, please share your observations with me. My email address is below, or you can write me in care of Midrange Computing.