Web Services and ERP
by Eric Marks
Many agree that the information technology (IT) industry is going through a transitional phase that ushers out the old technologies and brings in an entirely new wave of products, services, solutions and acronyms. This seems to happen every 10 years or so, give or take, and tends to last about that long, give or take. Enterprise resources planning (ERP) solutions certainly exemplify this trend.
Today’s IT landscape is a shifting sea of outsourcing, optimizing existing assets, driving software asset re-use initiatives and other “get more out of what you’ve got” kinds of activities. On-demand, grid or utility computing are compelling ideas driven by a desire to fluctuate what have traditionally been fixed costs. Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA) are hot topics for IT executives as well. Given that they are on the rise, what are the implications for ERP vendors? How will SOAs be deployed in firms where ERP solutions are the dominant business application, yet the end-users want to move to a SOA and leverage Web services and standards-based solutions to break vendor lock? ERP solutions are not agile business solutions. They are more like digital concrete.
I believe that the ERP vendors will have to face the services revolution sooner or later. If I were running an ERP company, I’d be thinking about how to make my solutions SOA-enabled. The following are helpful hints for ERP companies on how to make their solutions more relevant in a Web services and SOA world:
– Embrace service-oriented architecture (SOA) and all that it represents — lower cost IT, standards-based computing, re-usable IT assets and business agility. Help your customers become agile rather than keeping them locked into a proprietary architecture.
– Partner with Web services software firms on UDDI registries, management platforms, security and enterprise services bus (ESB) functionality. Give your customers compelling reasons to keep your ERP as part of their SOA strategy.
– Build support for Web services into your products. Use SOAP messaging for communications and integration to other computing environments in the end-user’s enterprise. Build WSDL at the edges of your solution architecture to expose your ERP’s functionality for use in new end-user business processes that should not be locked up within ERP solutions.
– Help your customers understand SOA and Web services and how your ERP solution can play a role in their SOA business objectives. Be clear on whether your solution supports SOA and Web services. Do not sell your ERP solution as a Web services platform if it isn’t one.
– Get rid of digital concrete. End-users will increasingly begin SOA and Web services due diligence efforts on all commercial software. If your ERP applications do not support Web services standards and embrace the fundamental tenets of an SOA, you are in danger of being supplanted by something else. Get moving toward SOA and Web services now!
These SOA due diligence efforts are already underway as part of end-user SOA strategies. They are rapidly evaluating incumbent vendors as well as challengers for possible inclusion in an SOA. The sooner ERP companies accept this new reality, the better it will be for them and their customers. SOA and Web services are the beginning of a new decade of IT innovation. For ERP vendors, they can either accept this new reality or ignore it. Ignoring it is not the wise path, and if they choose it, I guess there’s always Larry Ellison as a contingency plan.