Enterprise Resource Planning Systems

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Literature review

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) generally refers to the application of a computerized system in the management of resources in the organization. The resources here include assets, finances, human resources as well as inventories. Efficiency in the management of these resources is critical in the overall performance of the organizations. The concept of ERP is widely embraced by the industry as it presents a practical approach towards the achievement of the much-needed integrated information systems (Sandoe, Corbitt, & Boykin, 2001, p22). Numerous academic articles have been developed since the concept started gaining momentum in the late 1990s.

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Most articles focus on the implementation element of the ERPs. This is in the understanding that implementation of ERPs requires the application of a sizeable amount of resources and more importantly introduces substantial changes in the organization. This being the case, the success of the implementation stage is most critical in the application of ERPs in the organization (Moon, 2007, p24). Failed implementation can result in a worse-off organization. This is evident by the numerous failed cases across the globe some of which have led to the collapse of companies (Themistocleous, Irani, & O’Keefe, 1999, p23).

In addition, the utilization of the successfully implemented ERPs is critical in achieving the desired results. The ultimate value of an ERP is determined by how effective and efficient it is in resolving the problems targeted by the organization. Numerous articles focus on the different aspects of utilization including the period after implementation, acceptance by users, elements of uncertainties introduced to the management as well as processes of upgrading. The ability of ERPs to support decision-making processes also emerges as a critical issue in many articles especially because the decision-making process in the organization is the main foundation that gives strength to the organization and enables it to prevail when faced with different circumstances (Sarker, & Lee, 2003, par54).

Organizations that are satisfied with the implementation stage have the option to extend the benefits of the ERP to reap even bigger benefits. Several articles enlighten on the intention of the industrial players in extending and integrating functionalities of ERPs in the future. Finally, a sizeable number of authors provide benchmarks for establishing the value of ERPs. Such analysis is backed b statistical evidence on the savings introduced by the ERPs versus the costs incurred in procuring the systems.

ERP systems types

Generally, there are two major categories of ERPs available for different organizations. They are the horizontal as well as vertical ERPs. Horizontal ERPs are packages developed for application across all industries. They are more general and flexible as well as standardized systems that can easily fit a wide range of industrial specifications. Examples of Horizontal ERPs include ORACLE and SAP. Vertical ERPs on the other hand are industry-specific. They are systems developed for certain industries that posse’s unique features thus necessitating special considerations in the development of suitable software (Bool, 2010, par4).

On a different categorization, three types of ERPs emerge based on the nature of the industry applied. There are those ERPs applicable in production companies. Here the aim is to control resources used in the production process. They are mostly applied in organizations operating in the manufacturing sector. Secondly, there are ERP types applied in managing resources for distribution. The main introduction here is that the resources to be managed are not used in production but rather in distribution processes that are fundamentally different from production. These ERPs are mainly applied by distribution companies but can also be used by manufacturing companies with elaborate distribution networks. The third type of ERP operates in finance. This is where distribution and manufacturing converge. Consequently, it is a secondary process but which has immense importance in ensuring business efficiency.

Systems Application and Products (SAP) is horizontal application software developed by the largest software developer in Europe based in Germany. It is applied globally by firms that desire to achieve the benefits of integration. Most packages developed by SAP are standardized to apply in many businesses but there is the option of engaging the company to develop customized systems for certain businesses.

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ERP systems (especially SAP system) adaptation or adoption in KSA Companies and Arab countries

Since its inception, ERPs are applied across the globe. In the early years, the application was limited to the big corporations mainly due to the high cost of procurement. With the entry of more players in the industry, the cost of implementing ERPs has come down drastically allowing a sizeable proportion of Small and Medium Size (SMEs) businesses to purchase the systems (Al-Mashari, et.al, 2006, p70).

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the expansive Arab countries, the application of SAP systems is highly entrenched in recent years. This has been occasioned by the high rate of penetration of the internet in the region. Saudi Arabia is the largest market for IT products in the entire gulf region. One notable milestone which largely defines the trend in the adoption of SAP systems in Saudi Arabia is the signing of a contract between SAP and NOMAC, Saudis first private power generator. Again, in August 2009, ministers in Saudi Arabia approved the formation of Tabadul a joint-stock company formed with the aim of creating opportunities in the sector and expanding it even wider. The focus and extension of IT services saw SAP systems being implemented in a wide range of businesses from the big oil companies to small businesses in the Gulf region (Xavier, 2009, par4).

ERP systems (especially SAP system) adaptation or adoption in Australian Companies

The concept of ERPs is definitely a global phenomenon. In Australia adoption of the systems is becoming fully entrenched among the companies there. At the initial stages, like in many other countries, only the largest companies and multinationals could afford to implement the systems. However, in recent years, the systems have been adopted by midsized companies as the vendors started to develop systems for smaller businesses. Apart from the businesses, educational institutions have also applied the systems to integrate and rationalize their operations. Universities such as Fahd Alizai Victoria University and Stephen Burges Victoria University have successfully implemented the system.

A multi-cultured society such as Australia presents unique challenges to the process of implementation of ERPs. This is due to the fact that the diversity of culture may not be fully incorporated into the development of the system. Consequently, most companies in Australia choose to implement the standardized version of the SAP systems to enhance acceptability.

ERP systems (especially SAP system) adaptation or adoption in the European countries and developed countries

The European countries together with the North American region pioneered the adoption and adaptation of ERP systems. SAP is headquartered in Germany. Today a majority of the companies have an ERP functioning. SAP is the largest developer of ERP systems has the largest share of the market among most of the European countries. Most of these countries have distinct cultures. This means that there are significant differences in the ERP systems as adapted in the different countries in line with the different cultures (Olhager, & Selldin, 2003, p34).

In developing countries, the penetration rates of ERP systems are still low. Most of the organizations with fully-fledged and functional ERPs in these countries are multinational companies operating as subsidiaries or a few big local corporations. This being the case, there is a low incentive for SAP and other ERP system developers to adapt their software in line with the situation in the developing countries (Huang, & Palvia, 2001, p81).

Advantages and disadvantages of ERP systems

There are numerous and weighty advantages of the ERP systems mainly viewed in terms of the benefits gained by the firms on implementation. The most important is the fact that in its absence, several different and software will be in place thus introducing inherent inefficiencies. The ERP chains all functional areas and improves the overall efficiency of the organization. Secondly, the system has capabilities of smoothening or streamlining different workflows as well as processes in the organization. In addition, ERPs introduce easy and relevant communication among different departments thus improving the overall outcome of the organization (Wagle, 1998, p235).

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They also enhance the process of developing accurate forecasts of the future in addition to improved tracking in the areas of application. In the case of distribution, tracking may be applied to cut costs of transport while in the case of production; the system enables relevant officers to track products from the start to the end of production. Finally, ERPs lead to a general improvement in services offered to customers as leading to improved satisfaction. This is mainly a result of the general improvement in the production, forecasting as well as communication in the organization.

Some disadvantages of ERPs include the fact that in many cases, the scope of customizing packages in order to fit the organizational requirement may be limited. This rigidity may lead to poor results upon implementation. Again, in order to efficiently implement ERPs, there is usually the need to rethink the business processes in operation with the aim of ensuring that they are in sync. This may lead to additional costs as well as unintended changes in the production process which may be counterproductive to the aim of implementing the ERP. Also, in many cases, the cost of implementing ERPs is high and out of reach for many organizations which desire to implement them. Despite these demerits, it is clear that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of implementing ERPs mainly due to the long-term benefits described above.

Comparing the firm performance of adopters and non-adopters of ERP system

Evaluation of the effectiveness of applying ERP systems can be accurately pegged to the performance of the firms which apply the systems in comparison to those which do not apply them. Firm performance is mainly got from the analysis of financial statements (Sedona, P. and Willcocks, L. 2003, p51). A closer analysis of specific items in the financial statements especially with the use of accounting ratios could accurately bring out the effect of the ERPs. One such measure used by analysis to measure the effect of ERPs is Return On Assets (ROA). This is a ratio between the returns accruing from the use of the company’s assets about the value of the assets employed. It comprises both elements of profitability as well as efficiency. The main reason why analysts propose the use of the ROA is due to the proposition that ERPs result in improvements in both profitability levels as well as efficiency. These two effects can be accurately separated by the introduction of two ratios which include Asset Turnover (ATO) and Return On Sales (ROS). ATO measures asset efficiency by establishing the sales value occurring from a single dollar in value of assets. This focuses on the level of efficiency of the organization. The ROS on the other hand measures the level of income generated by a single dollar of sales. It focuses on improvements in the margins of the company (Hunton, Lippincott, & Reck, 2003, p272).

Return on Investment ratio can also be effectively used to evaluate the feasibility of implementing the ERPs. If gains made by the ERP system are higher than the cost of implementation then there is a positive ROI. If the reverse is true, then the ERP implementation is not justified.

Comparing the firms which have adopted ERPs against non-adopters can be done using these yardsticks as the measures but adapting them to ensure comparability.

How does the SAP system actually work?

Taking the example of an international shoe manufacturer it is possible to demonstrate how an ERP integrated system works. When a customer places an order, a chain of events is triggered throughout the organization. Take the example of a customer in Canada who places an order for 20000 pairs of different shoes of different sizes. The sales representative keys the information into the SAP system (Robey, Ross, and Boudreau, 2002, p30). The system immediately avails information regarding the price for the different shoes, any discounts available as well as the customer’s credit history. In addition, the system tells on the availability of specific shoes in the production center nearest to the customer. The rest would need some time for shipment from a different production center. This information is availed to the sales rep to inform the customer. On confirmation, manufacturing modules immediately provide for the production of the second batch in the nearest production center (Garg, Goyal, and Lather, 2008, p34). This action triggers the need to engage the workforce and in case a shortage is envisaged, the human resources department is alerted on this. At the same time, the material planning module prompts the purchasing department to purchase the required materials in consideration of the available inventories. As time goes on, the customer has the option of logging in and tracking his order until he/she receives it. In addition based on the data on orders made, the management can assess which types of shoes are in high demand as well as which are most profitable. This way, he/she can plan effectively for the immediate future.

Below is a graphical representation of how it works:

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a graphical representation of how it works

The Impact of national culture on ERP systems success

Bearing in mind the fact that the implementation of ERP systems often introduces radical alterations in the way things are done within the organization, the acceptability of the systems is crucial in ensuring improved efficiency. Acceptability in different cultures may vary due to the different cultural orientations and interpretations among people. In a bid to ensure that ERPs are better acceptable among people with different cultures, it becomes important to make alterations in the systems (Gienn, & Gienn, 1981, p34).

Chaudhary researched the impact of national culture and ERP systems success. He concluded that national cultures are an important facet in the development of sound information systems (Ibrahim & Ahmad, 2010, par4). The implementation stage is highly prone to cultural influence and this being the most important stage, the success of the system can be facilitated or curtailed (Hall, 1976, p21).

A case study from Saudi Arabia that using SAP system

Saudi Aramco was experiencing high growth when it implemented the SAP system in the 1990s. There was the need to rationalize the organization’s activities as well as the expanding human resource. There was software in use in the different departments but there was one major limitation: data sharing in the organization was highly curtailed. Analysts understood that attempts to upgrade the existing systems would not only be expensive but would achieve little (Case study: Saudi Aramco brought together by SAP, 2006, par1-6). The decision to implement a comprehensive software system that could integrate all the organization’s departments was thus made. Activities range from aviation, geosteering, hydrocarbon supply, project management as well as medical supplies (Shanks, Seddon, & Willcocks, 2003, p43).

First, a team of about 80 experts reviewed the situation at the organization about the benchmarks set worldwide. The team analyzed data and modern trends and recommended a shift to the integrated software offered by the German company SAP. The decision was approved in September 1997 by management. The complexity in implementing the system necessitated the establishment of an SAP Computer Center in Dhahran. The center had three main divisions and four departments aimed at offering support in the implementation process. The center aims to ensure that Saudi Aramco adopts the best practices which erase boundaries among departments, streamline processes and identify customized applications which can support SAP modules to achieve complete integration. With time the system was developed touching on different areas of the organization (Weston, 2001, p56).

In the human resources department, the aim was to integrate a wide range of activities including recruitment, personnel administration, human resource development, benefits, recruitment time, and vocational management. This data was also linked with elements of healthcare and finance. Hydrocarbon management was the first area touching on the company’s core business to be targeted by the system. The system was able o adequately replace 35 different systems in place to control the entire flow of oil from the refinery through the distribution networks to the customers. Today, the system is in use at 8 gas plants, 33 bulk plants, 4 terminals, 5 refineries, and 20 aviation fueling stations. The entire financial accounting, sales, materials management, and distribution processes for hydrocarbon are fully integrated (Hafid, 2009, p28).

SAP plant maintenance has improved the huge continuous task of maintenance carried out by the company. Operations have shifted from the paper-based system to a faster and efficient real-time system leading to lower costs. Other areas integrated by the system include finance, supply chain management, medical systems, drilling processes, quality management, and many more. At the end of the implementation of the Sap modules, it was clear that there was an addition of 800,000 barrels of oil daily attributable to the system and offering immense returns to the company. It was clear that implementation of the system does not only result in the improvement of core business activities but also the opening of new doors for opportunities for firms (Slevin, & Pinto, 1986, p78)

The influence of the ERP systems on financial accounting

Financial accounting is an integral part of the organization as it enables the evaluation of the performance of the firm while at the same time availing crucial information to parties with different interests. As has been mentioned above ERPs enhance communication within the organization and also ensure integration of different processes. ERPs enable accurate data recording in the organization, perform relevant analysis before relaying the information to relevant officers in the organization (Booth, Matolcsy & Wieder 2000, p10).

Due to the integrated nature of ERPS different departments can coordinate more smoothly hence in case of inconsistencies, the system can immediately notify operators for correction. In addition to accurate data capture and analysis, ERP systems consolidate multiple information thus eradicating cases of redundant data entries (Poston, & Grabski, 2001, p280). Also, information can be maintained and accessed over a long period without having any effect on the performance of the system (Debreceny, Gray, and Lee, & Yau, 2005, p10).

Most ERPs are developed with an inherent ability to leave tracks of the audit. This is very crucial as it supports the audit process by offering information on the origin of transactions. Again, the systems do not require special closing. This leaves room for the introduction of retrospective entries which improves the authenticity of financial reports. Overall, the ERP systems enable better reliable, and more precise accounting processes throughout the organization (El Sayed, 2006, p91).

The influence of the ERP systems on another type of accounting

ERP systems also affect the process of management accounting. Analysts assert that tools included in ERP systems support aspects of forecasting as well as budgeting. However, in most cases, the tools are too complex to apply in many organizations. The fact that ERP systems collapse boundaries mean that distinct departments and divisions which engage in budgeting and forecasting at the low level to inform the master budgets no longer exist (Lodh, & Gaffikin, 2003, p90). The single huge system makes it difficult to develop accurate forecasts unless the application of complex processes requires expertise that may not be readily available in the organizations (Caglio, 2003, p125).

However, the systems are very supportive in developing reports to be utilized by management in decision making. Through reports generated using ERP systems, it is easier to identify trends (Scapens, & Jazayeri, 2003, p206). Again ERPs take care of the routine tasks enabling staff to focus on analysis. Also, the fact that the system is real-time, reports can be generated on demand rather than periodically hence giving a more accurate picture for decision making (Jack & Kholeif, 2008, p44).

The functioning method and the components of the ERP systems

Common ERP systems use a myriad of software and hardware tailored to each other but attend to different departments to achieve integration. However, there is usually a centralized data management system serving the different packages at the same time. The most common modules are in manufacturing, supply chain management, financial control, project management, human resources management, customer relationship management, and data warehouse (Delone, & Mclean, 2003, p22).

In manufacturing, the module integrates the process of scheduling, capacity management, materials, quality control, as well as the general flow of the manufacturing process. Supply chain management modules integrate the entry of orders, purchases, inventory control, goods inspection, as well as supplier scheduling. Financial modules on the other hand focus on cash management, accounts receivables, accounts payables as well as the management of general ledger. Project management modules take care of the management of activities, billing as well as costing. The human resources module attends functions such as payroll, benefits, and training and development. Customer relationship management modules integrate the processes of customer contact, sales and marketing, and service delivery in the organization (ERP System Components and Implementation Process. 2010, par4). The chart below gives a graphical representation of the integration of the departments.

System Components and Implementation Process

As can be seen, the entire process is highly integrated and there are several processes triggered by the introduction of one new transaction.

Influential factors in the stages of the application of ERP systems

Due to the enormity and the sensitivity of implementing ERPs, there are numerous factors likely to affect the success of the systems in organizations. The first is vendor support. Vendors fully understand the working process of the ERPs as they develop them. Close support is required in solving most of the problems which may arise as the system is implemented (Hayes, Hunton, & Reck, 2001, p9). Cases, where the vendor is not easily available to offer support, can lead to disastrous disruptions in the organization’s processes causing huge losses. The vendor should have a permanent residence near the organization to attend to emerging issues years after the system is implemented (Rugg, & Krumbholz, 1999, p34).

Secondly, there is a need to set aside adequate resources to ensure that unexpected cases are dealt with adequately. Inadequate resources may hinder the purchase of adequate hardware and other supportive devices for best implementation. In addition, issues of trust have emerged in recent years. Companies with highly confidential information find it difficult to share sensitive information with the vendors or consultants who on the other hand require full information to ensure implementation is successful. Such a conflict can easily derail the success of the system (Dillard, & Yuthas, 2006, 209).

Again, the internal project team has to be competent enough to ensure that there is an adequate conceptualization of the working of the system and its application to the organization. This way, the larger team incorporating the vendors is better placed to implement the system. The final factor is the need for ‘cultural fit. This implies that the system should be developed to fit as much as possible to the organization’s culture. This reduces resistance among staff members in the organization enhancing chances of success in implementation (Bradford, & Florin, 2003, p210).

Conclusion

ERP systems have proven to be worth investing in as the benefits accrue to the organization for the long term. The need to improve competitiveness in global trade necessitates the search for better systems that improve efficiency. ERPs are multidimensional and collapse the boundaries among departments in organizations by improving communication and data sharing (Davenport, 1998, p126). They either solve inefficiency by improving the flow of processes as well as by enhancing early detection and subsequent resolution of emerging problems. The most prohibitive factor to the implementation of ERPs is the high cost as well as the need to input other resources such as time in implementing (Ross, Vitale, & Willcocks, 2003, p23). It is however very clear that the benefits of implementing the systems far outweigh the associated costs. It is, therefore, recommendable that any business entity with the willingness to become a global player apply the system in its processes in a bid to acquire the requisite competitiveness required in the international markets. Success stories are clear in most of the companies where implementation is done well. ERPs represent the future of organizations across the globe. The west is leading in terms of the percentage of firms implementing the systems but it is also clear that the rest of the world is fast catching up. In the future, it may be impossible for any firm which has not implemented ERPs to even attempt to compete in the international arena.

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