ERP and Content Management: Harmonic Convergence? - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

ERP and Content Management: Harmonic Convergence?

To drive collaborative processes, businesses need embedded intelligence. BI, focused on structured data, is only half of the story: Businesses need content management for the unstructured stuff. ERP wants to be the point of convergence.

Not long ago, perhaps hundreds of data warehouse and business intelligence (BI) vendors filled the marketplace. Then along came the packaged enterprise resource planning (ERP) application vendors (such as Oracle, PeopleSoft, and SAP) to swallow much of the BI market by providing suites as part of their extended ERP business applications. Today, we're seeing this happen with the Web services paradigm.

Along with its offshoots — service-oriented architecture (SOA) and enterprise services bus model — Web services are hot, and again ERP vendors are converging on a new opportunity. As they evolve their proprietary platforms toward J2EE-centered, open business-application platforms, ERP vendors are kicking up a big struggle among leading application and integration server industry leaders, including BEA, IBM, and Microsoft.

Urgent business drivers are forcing stovepiped and proprietary applications providers to offer open, standards-based, services-oriented platforms that allow customers to adapt quickly to business change by managing, subscribing to, and collaborating with services rather the large-grained applications. Such flexibility and adaptability requires, first, a close and intimate understanding of the business rules that drive processes; and second, the intelligence to monitor key performance and process indicators so that the organization can act when something requires immediate attention.

To meet these evolving requirements, it was logical for ERP vendors to start by incorporating BI infrastructures, as SAP has with Business Information Warehouse (BW). The top part of Figure 1 shows the convergence of BI and ERP (and how it fits with other trends I'll discuss in this article). The turbulence in the traditional BI marketplace and among customers caused by the ERP thrust continues to be felt keenly. Starting from a standalone environment, BI vendors and their customers must first collect data and then integrate the "intelligence" back into the business processes to enable smarter decisions. This isn't easy for BI vendors or for their customers.

FIGURE 1 - Intelligent collaboration: enterprise content management convergence.

Reaching Out

Now, with ERP vendors marching down the SOA road, we're seeing them refashion their systems on top of open, J2EE-based platforms. Initial Web-enablement attempts weren't based on open standards; simply "J2EEing" applications and building wrappers doesn't bring much business value unless the processes themselves can support runtime, configurable business services. SAP, for example, offers not only J2EE-compliant business applications but also a unified platform, NetWeaver, upon which it can stack other key technologies needed to architect, model, design, implement, deploy, and monitor service-oriented business solutions.

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