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The State of the Acronym

When I was putting the new website together a couple of weeks ago, I reviewed some of our older website designs and content to see what might still be applicable or relevant. I also did a little checking up on the competition, just to make sure I got all the bases covered. Along the way, I kept coming back to the question "Why is this called an 'ERP' system?"

Some of you know that I've been in this business for quite some time. I started as an Inventory Control manager way back in 1981, and cut my software teeth writing an MRP "system" in a Lotus spreadsheet in the early 1980's. (Lotus was about the only spreadsheet option back before Excel, for you kids out there.)

I've been through "MRP' and 'MRPII' and 'JIT' and 'ERP' and 'CRM' and 'SFA' and many other acronyms for business (and software) processes. Of all these, 'ERP' bothers me the most, especially in today's world, and I wanted to take a few minutes to examine why that is, and see if my impressions are valid and/or widespread.

So, is it just me, or is Decade (and others, to be fair) something other than an 'ERP system'?

First, for the uninitiated, 'ERP' stands for 'Enterprise Resource Planning'. The term was first coined in the 1990's (see this for an excellent history), possibly by the Gartner Group, when some MRPII systems began to be extended to areas outside of materials and product/capacity planning. My discontent with the term's continued usage is with each word in that phrase.

'Enterprise' implies, at least for me, some faceless, multi-tentacled organization - the antithesis of your local mom-and-pop shop, or of the one-guy-in-a-garage 'maker', or of -really- any small business. Maybe SAP or Oracle aren't written for them (as good as they may be in their space); I know Decade is, because that's who I have in mind when I'm making product decisions: "can the average user do this process effectively, with no (or minimal) mistakes, and does it make sense?"

I know that Decade scales up very well. I've put it in organizations with hundreds of users, so it may be that the word "enterprise" is appropriate there. But Decade also runs well for those little businesses with four or five users, and most of these operations are too busy doing business to thinks about how "enterprise-y" they are.

Secondly, 'Resource' is pretty simple in the business world. Any business has resources in the form of money, products, people and time. 'Resource Planning' implies that the system focuses on "planning" those "resources". This was emphatically true back in the MRP days - the sole function of an MRP system was to make sure you had the inventory you needed in the right place at the right time to meet your customers' needs. CRP was the "b-side" of MRP, focusing on capacity (of faclities, machines and workers). In both cases, the focus is on the future, and while this is supremely important for a business's success, it's a small part of today's business software, and -more importantly- assumes the existence of other critical business foundation components.

Decade, and its kinfolk, does materials requirements planning (although the forecasting function still needs some work). It can advise when you need more inventory, more machines, more people. But this is a small fraction of its functionality. Many hundreds of Decade functions are devoted to those "other critical business foundation components", like Order Entry and Invoicing, Payable Processing, Product Costing and Pricing, Customer/Vendor management, etc. etc.

OK, I've vented now. Back to the question: "Is Decade something other than an 'ERP system'"? Absolutely. Is it an 'ERP system' as well? Equally absolutely. But all in all, I'd rather not be known as "another ERP system." I think the term is obsolete. If you need an acronym for the current crop of software to help manage your business, let's try something like 'BCS' for "Business Control Systems". Or if you have other ideas, I'd be glad to hear them.

Back in my day (and I never thought I'd use that phrase), there was a comedian, Bill Saluga, who created a character "Raymond J. Johnson" that resonates with me today. I invite you take a look here: So maybe 'ERP' isn't that offensive after all.

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