Technology Focus: ERP and Supply Chain: A Distinction Without a Difference? PDF Print E-mail
Application Software - General
Written by John Ghrist   
Monday, 19 May 2014 00:00

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ERP software traditionally covers a lot of corporate territory and is defined by many as including supply chain apps. How valid that distinction might be remains an open question.


Consult just about any definition for enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and you're likely to find extensive definitions that declare ERP apps are characterized by the ability to track all corporate functions in a single app. Whether you deal in products or services, ERP is supposed to cover corporate functions as diverse as tracking incoming materials and managing product-manufacturing steps through costing and financials, ultimately extending to customer relationship management and goods transportation. That's not to mention human resources, engineering and product lifecycle management, and even warehousing of finished goods. So when one speaks of ERP, how do we know we mean the same aspects of managing corporate activity?


Adding to the confusion is the fact that, across all computer platforms, we find vendors that offer software labeled "ERP" as standalone packages, solutions tailored to specific industries, and suites offered by some of the largest vendors that count business intelligence, inventory management, project management, and facilities space planning as legitimate components of ERP. Some ERP definitions are broad enough that one could conclude that software apps covering such aspects of corporate governance are converging, or have already merged, under the umbrella of ERP.


Perhaps most typical of such ambiguity is the role of supply chain software in the ERP universe. Some ERP definitions show supply chain as simply a subset of ERP, while others maintain supply chain is a software type all its own. Various software vendors will happily sell you apps labeled either way.

Is ERP in Too Much Flux to Pin Down?

MC Press Online put several questions along these lines to twelve ERP vendors in the IBM i market. Only one chose to respond, although whether this was due to the very ambiguity of the ERP market or simply the press of time is indeterminate.


There is a difference between ERP and supply chain, declares Kevin Beasley, CIO at Vormittag Associates. "ERP is within the four wallson premisewhereas supply chain applications focus on the external aspects of business such as transportation."


When asked if he thought ERP and supply chain apps are converging into a single application type, Beasley said, "No, because transportation, ordering, and fulfillment are still evolving and dynamic."


If one looks at the IBM i ERP market alone, which is still mostly dominated by SMBs with limited lines of manufactured or other product types, the question seems only slightly simplified. If an enterprise produces a limited number of products or product types, it can be easier to differentiate between internal and external processes, even if it doesn't help with the larger picture of defining ERP generally.


When asked if he saw any difference between ERP for the IBM i and in the larger market of all computer platforms, Beasley stated, "The IBM i market will continue to focus on low cost of ownership, ease of use, and ability to maintain."

Amorphous and Ambiguous

As with so many concepts, the more closely we look at ERP software definitions, the more likely it seems that the boundaries between ERP and other software types exist primarily in the eyes of the beholder. Or it may simply depend on what line of business the beholder might be engaged in. A regional manufacturer of a few kinds of widgets clearly might have a different view of ERP than a producer of more common commodities for a national or international market.


Below are product listings for vendors producing applications self-labeled as ERP or supply chain. Please be aware that the descriptions simply mention a few highlights of each product. For more complete information, use the hot links embedded in the product names or consult individual vendors directly.


For more supply chain-related product listings, see also the MC Press Online article "Technology Focus: Distribution, Warehousing, and Trucking Apps."


ERP and Supply Chain Applications for System i


American Software


Enterprise is an integrated suite of applications. The manufacturing portion includes facilities for bills-of-material management, capacity planning, engineering change, manufacturing accounting, master scheduling, materials requirements planning, product costing, production scheduling, route and work-center control, and shop floor control. It also includes functions for financials, logistics (order processing, inventory control and accounting, purchasing), and planning (demand forecasting, inventory planning, distribution requirements planning). In addition, the suite interfaces with American's e-Intelliprise e-business solution.


ComMIT Systems


ComMIT offers four integrated products that make up a planning, scheduling, and supply chain management system. The suite helps users synchronize production activities and optimizes use of manufacturing resources. The modules are deployable standalone or together. Users can also integrate them with legacy MRP II, ERP, or other information systems.


Computer Software Solutions

Compsoft ERP

Compsoft ERP is an integrated suite for managing company resources in the wholesale distribution and retail sales industries. Its 14 modules include cash reconciliation, financials, fixed assets, human resources, inventory control and purchasing, order entry, payroll, point of sales, and sales analysis. The product offers a single database structure, customization options, and unified communications tools.


eC-LINK ERP is designed for companies in distribution or light manufacturing industries. In addition to normal ERP functions, eC-LINK ERP offers customization features and tools for converting legacy data, helps users achieve nearly paperless environments, provides automated stock replenishment reporting, and enables stock availability views across multiple locations. The product also supports multimedia and multiple national languages.


Friedman Corporation


Frontier is a solution for made-to-order manufacturers that helps users manage customer orders as well as supply chain and internal manufacturing and financial processes. It also coordinates multiple manufacturing and distribution points and provides tools for manufacturing-related materials management, sales analysis, and accounting activities.



HarrisData ERP Applications

HarrisData ERP Applications is a modular set of integrated functionality software packages that span accounting, EDI, inventory, manufacturing, planning, purchasing, and sales functions. Each application includes detailed features, reporting capabilities, and analysis tools.



IFS Applications

IFS offers multiple ERP software applications for manufacturing companies. Manufacturing solutions include apps for companies specializing in engineer-to-order, lean manufacturing, make-to-stock, project-based delivery, repetitive manufacturing, and to-order manufacturing methods.


Supply Chain

IFS' Supply Chain software mixes supply modes simultaneously and adapts to new supply models as products mature or are retired. Capable of handling both order-based and orderless production, it meets changes in customer requirements, reduces lead times and stock requirements, and provides collaboration portals.



Infor LX

Infor offers multiple ERP applications, but LX is specifically designed for the System i and is modeled on the legacy BPCS application. The product is aimed at mixed-mode and process manufacturers and focuses on helping users improve core business processes such as channel management, financial management, logistics, manufacturing, and customer and supply relationships.


Infor Lawson Mobile Supply Chain

Infor Lawson Mobile Supply Chain is an application that lets users manage and track supplies, control package receiving and delivery, track stock issues and returns, and perform other functions, all from mobile devices.


Infor M3

Infor M3 helps enterprises manage their supply chain activities with modules for procurement, supply chain execution, plant scheduling, and other aspects. It also includes a Trace Engine feature, which is a web-based configurable information repository that can receive, filter, and trace product line information from internal, business-partner, and third-party sources.


Infor SCM

Infor SCM assists the supply chain professional with job aspects such as contract management, distribution management, EDI for supply chains, mobile supply chain management (for handheld devices), procurement, credit-card self-service, strategic sourcing, and supplier order-management.


Mosaic Data Solutions

Mosaic M21 Manufacturing Software

Mosaic M21 couples control of manufacturing activities with management tools for handling accounting financials, customer orders, inventory, payroll, and purchasing. Additional features include credit-card processing, master production scheduling, material requirements planning, multiple-level bills of material, and production schedule and order controls.


Oracle Corporation

JD Edwards EnterpriseOne

JD Edwards EnterpriseOne is a suite of 70 integrated application modules that can support diverse business operations. Modules include asset lifecycle management, financials, customer relationship management, human resources, manufacturing and engineering, order processing, supply chain execution, and supply chain management. The suite supports a variety of operating systems, databases, and middleware, which makes it well-suited for larger, multiplatform enterprises.


Oracle JD Edwards World

Oracle JD Edwards World is an ERP application built expressly for System i SMBs and focuses on financials, distribution, human resources, and manufacturing management. It incorporates built-in interfaces to Oracle solutions for customer relationship management and demand management. World also features customizable business-process templates that users can adapt to their existing practices.


Vormittag Associates

S2K Enterprise

S2K Enterprise is ERP software for the IBM i that includes solutions for distribution, manufacturing, retail, service, and rental companies. The product family includes industry-specific features and applications for apparel, durable goods, food, and pharmaceuticals.




SAP's ERP application is part of the company's SAP Business Suite product line. As well as standard ERP operations, SAP ERP controls areas such as business performance management, corporate services, end-user service delivery, financials, and human capital management.


Service Information Access

Common Sense

Common Sense is based on IBM's Express Advantage middleware. It provides ERP, supply chain management, customer relationship management, and human-resource management functions in an application designed to integrate with custom and third-party software. It lets users build a data warehouse to support ERP functions such as back-office accounting, distribution, manufacturing, project services, transportation, and warehousing.


Software Concepts


DS90 is an ERP tailored for light manufacturing in SMB-sized companies. The light manufacturing module helps enterprises coordinate production, kit assembly, and component processing into production of a finished product. In addition, DS90 includes functions for commission management, financials, inventory control, order management, and sales analysis.


Xdata Solutions

GXD?Graphical ERP

GXD is a suite of graphical enterprise applications designed for companies of up to $500 million annual revenue engaging in manufacturing and distribution. The ERP app is a menu-driven system that handles financials, inventory management, labor reporting, master scheduling and material requirements planning, order processing, pricing, product configuration, purchasing and receiving, returned-goods authorization, and routing processes.




Xperia's EXECUTIV is a suite of ERP-related solutions that includes integrated applications for managing supply chains, production and distribution, customer relationships, financials, e-commerce, and business intelligence. The company's offering also includes ADAPTIV, which is a combined IBM i hardware and software package with a focus on EDI.


John Ghrist
About the Author:

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982 and has worked with IBM midrange and mainframe, H-P, Unisys, and PC platforms. A former editor-in-chief of Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. He is currently CEO of John Ghrist Agency, a marketing communications firm for technology companies. You can reach him at

Last Updated on Monday, 19 May 2014 00:00
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