It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it is a question many companies are asking today. It’s a question that is particularly relevant to organizations that are currently mapping out their digital transformation as they attempt to both maximize their existing technology frameworks and monetize their technology investments. The question applies especially to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). ERP is the lifeline for many businesses today. As such, it is the collective depository of shared databases that support multiple functions that are used by business units across the organization. It provides the backend magic that powers so many business processes such as orders processing, pricing, billing, inventory and reporting.
The Pros and Cons for Coupling the Two
The Advantages of Joining ERP & Web Platforms
The primary advantage of coupling your ERP and web platforms together is the apparent simplicity of consolidating them into one package. That means one purchase decision, one implementation and one vendor to support it all. Sounds nice, right? This approach has been popular since the early years of IT as IT centers focus on building large monolithic systems. In fact, the practice of consolidating different component types is in vogue today as large networks are reducing their datacenter footprint and turning to hyper-converged infrastructure solutions. HCI (Human Computer Interaction) consolidates the compute, storage and networking components of the datacenter into a single box, allowing admins to manage all components through a single pane of glass. This manner of coupling different technologies is highly popular today as companies strive to simplify their network architectures. But coupling ERP and web platforms isn’t all rainbows and roses.
The Disadvantages of Joining ERP & Web Platforms
Consolidation has definite disadvantages. If you are old enough to remember the single-console entertainment systems of the early 90’s (the ones which combined TV, DVD and VCR) or the all-in-one boom boxes – it is easy to see the primary shortcoming of consolidation. No individual component can be upgraded without purchasing an entirely new console. While coupling platforms through HCI has great benefits, it’s able to do so by commoditizing the technology of each component.
ERP, however, is not commoditized. It is a highly complex business process management system with proprietary elements and intricate dependencies. Coupling it with a web platform simply adds to this complexity, greatly restricting the ability to scale out. Changing web technologies and upgrading the ERP platform can also pose issues that negatively impact web and mobile applications. Because of this, new release frequencies are reduced which in turn limits new functionality innovation. This doesn’t bode well at a time when agility and nimbleness create huge competitive advantages.
The Pros and Cons for Decoupling the Two
The Advantages of Decoupling ERP & Web Platforms
The speed of innovation today far outpaces the upgrade processes and traditional software development practices of yesterday. That is why so many organizations use the new approach of DevOps in order to increase an organization’s ability to deliver applications and services. Under DevOps, developers can work in unison to create and upgrade separate features which speed the velocity of development and deployment. By decoupling your ERP and web platforms, developers can work independently and in parallel. This modular approach allows for subtle differences to be made without worrying about dependencies or corresponding changes to the other end. This can greatly increase a company’s operational efficiency and agility, giving it the ability to respond to changing needs in quick fashion. Decoupling also increases resiliency as down time on one platform does not affect the other.
The Disadvantages of Decoupling ERP & Web Platforms
Decoupling does introduce some drawbacks, however. When you decouple your web platform, it often means that more vendors are involved, increasing the complexity of communication and responsibility. Also, implementation and initial costs can be higher as more players are involved. Higher costs are seen on the front end and are offset by a lower cost of ownership because of the increase in flexibility and increase in the rate of innovation. Organizations that choose to decouple should also plan on an influx of personnel with the web development skills required to build and maintain the platform.
Sorting Through Your Organization’s Individual ERP Situation
The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer to the question at hand; only an answer that is best for your particular situation. It depends on what your business’s processes and goals are, and how each path lines up with your organization’s particular requirements.