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ERP Systems

The technology in the todays world has truly changed the way we live. The same can also be
said for the business world. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have allowed
businesses to reach new levels of productivity. While these systems can be a great asset and tool
for businesses, their potentially costly and involved implementation can be a burden for
companies unprepared for the transition.

Enterprise Resource Planning systems are business information systems that use shared
databases to help streamline business processes (Valacich & Schneider, 2016). In normal
business operations, its common for different areas in the business to use the same set of data.
For example, the sales department and the marketing department might both use the same set of
customer and demographics data in their day to day operations. Rather than having both
departments independently maintain two sets of data, ERP systems allow both departments to
access the data. This integration helps eliminate redundancy, and could give departments access
to data they might not have had before.

In todays business world, companies looking towards implementing an ERP solution often
choose to use a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) solution rather than creating an ERP system
from scratch. Developing custom software can be a costly venture, and a business can often get
most of the functionality out of using a COTS solution (Valacich & Schneider, 2016). Another
benefit is that most COTS software has already been tested and implemented in the field. There
are consultants and advisors available that know the typical problems a business will have, and
can guide them through to help smooth the implementation process.

One entity that has decided to implement an ERP solution is the United States Army. The
Army has tried to adapt to the changing fields of conflict and society. This includes trying to run
much of their operations like a business. Taking a cue from the business world, the army decided
to implement an ERP system that would replace its legacy information systems. The Armys
previous information systems were stand-alone modules. Each module, like equipment
maintenance, material acquisition, and property accountability, were run separate from each
other, with their own programs and data set. Exchanging data between programs was often a
lengthy process, and in some cases, couldnt be done. This led to a very redundant system, and
the constant need to manually reconcile data between the different modules to keep them
effective. The Armys initial plan was to build a custom ERP solution. In 2003, they decided to
cancel development, and instead decided to pursue a COTS solution (United States Army, 2017).
They decided on a variant of SAPs ERP software, which would be customized by Northrop
Grumman to better meet their operational needs (Northrop Grumman, 2017). The SAP software
is web based, and allows users to access their data from any workstation, and in near real time.
The shared databases also allow the Army to track the total cost of ownership of equipment,
something that was difficult with the compartmentalized nature of the legacy systems.

Successful implementation of an ERP system can be a tall task for any organization. There
are four steps in the systems development life cycle (SDLC). These include, planning and
selection, analysis, design, and implementation (Valacich & Schneider, 2016). To the end user,
implementation is a very important and involved step. To help ease the transition, a company
might decide to do a phased conversion; where a new systems components replaces the old
system on an incremental basis. The Army decided to implement GCSS-A in two waves (United
States Army, 2017). Wave 1 consisted of the financial and material management modules, while
wave 2 implemented the unit supply, plant maintenance, and property accountability modules.
Breaking down the implementation into these waves helped to keep the transition from
overwhelming the end users. It was set up where the Wave 1 modules interfaced with the legacy
systems to be fielded in Wave 2. New user training was separated by functional modules to
better tailor the training to the processes the end users would use most on a day to day basis.

My personal experience with ERP systems (specifically GCSS-A) has been a mostly positive
one. During my career with the Army, Ive experienced two other iterations of legacy systems,
and am very familiar with the drawbacks. Countless manhours were spent just making sure the
data coming from one database matched another one. At the time, it was hard to think that there
was a better way of doing things. Another visible benefit has been the cloud based nature of the
system. With the legacy systems, much of the interfaces between workstations were done using
external media such as compact disks and floppy disks. Interfaces in GCSS-A are instantaneous
from one workstation to another. This has really simplified processes like forwarding work
orders or purchase requests. Another benefit of the cloud computing has been the ability to
access the program from any workstation. The legacy systems were actual programs that were
tied down to standard issued hardware. We now have the flexibility of working from a desktop
workstation one day, and from a laptop via satellite communication out in the field. One of the
systems greatest benefits happens in the background. GCSS-A uses a material resources planning
(MRP) process to calculate material needs and availability. If the systems external criteria are
accurately inputted (i.e. inventories of stock), they MRP process calculates which demands it can
fill and which it needs to procure from elsewhere.

ERP systems are a big step towards reducing redundancy and optimizing our resources in
todays business world. Their advantages can help some businesses increase their productivity
and profits. As the Army starts to finish up the implementation of their ERP system, it can look
forward to reaping much of the same benefits as traditional businesses.

Work Cited

Northrop Grumman. (2017). Retrieved from Global Combat Support System - Army (GCSS-
Army): http://www.northropgrumman.com/Capabilities/GCSS/Pages/default.aspx

United States Army. (2017, 04 24). GCSS-Army. Retrieved from Global Combat Support
System - Army: http://gcss.army.mil/?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Valacich, J., & Schneider, C. (2016). Information Systems Today. Boston: Pearson Education,
Inc.