Where's the beef? Remember the ad campaign that launched Wendy's from a distant third in the hamburger wars to the leadership position? Unfortunately their tenure in the number one position was short-lived because of difficulty in delivery. Of course, Dave Thomas jumped back in and saved the day. Billions have been spent implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, but businesses are still asking, "Where's the beef?" Businesses are finding that although they have successfully integrated their data into one software package, eliminated numerous duplicate vendors and streamlined operations, many duplicate vendors still exist and decision-makers responsible for managing enterprise functions are still unable to access data from a cross-functional, integrated viewpoint. Like Dave Thomas, data warehousing is helping to solve this issue of delivery.

ERP vendors and the Global 1000 are turning to data warehousing to deliver the analytical promises of the ERP systems. Generally, organizations completing their ERP installations fall into one of the following categories:

Fatigued ­ Many organizations are so overwhelmed by the effort of the ERP installation, Y2K issues and overall consulting- and software-fee fatigue, that they don't have the energy to address the management reporting needs that go unmet by the implementation. These organizations are postponing management reporting initiatives.

Bewildered ­ Other organizations are bewildered and disappointed because they expected all their decision support needs would be addressed with the ERP installation. They are faced with the reality that expectations were either improperly set or misunderstood, and now they must implement a data warehouse to provide the answers they are seeking.

Gung Ho ­ Finally, other organizations are aware that the ERP installation was simply a step providing integration of data at the operational level. They know the next step to completely integrate data from the ERP and other source systems is to implement a data warehousing strategy.

No matter which category an organization falls into today, eventually a data warehouse must be employed to deliver integrated data to the desktops of decision-makers. There is still a great deal of confusion for organizations in every category concerning the best architecture for their environment. Most ERP vendors now offer a data warehouse solution. These solutions are often comprised of components that the ERP vendor engineered along with partners who provide extraction, transformation, loading and management, data quality and database management capabilities. To provide the final link in the total solution, the ERP vendors also have forged partnerships with on-line analytical processing (OLAP) vendors. The best solution is often a combination of components.

Data Management ­ Along with the power of the ERP solutions comes complexity. One of the difficulties facing all ERP installations is access to the data housed within the hundreds or thousands of tables. Access to the source data is either through proprietary interfaces provided by the ERP vendor or through certified vendors such as Informatica, Platinum (soon to be Computer Associates) or Ardent. Without employing one of these approaches (or selecting a vendor that has racked the code), going it alone and extracting directly from the table can yield unintelligible results. Therefore, a key issue addressed by the ERP data warehouse architecture is the data acquisition approach. The easiest route is to employ an approach certified by your ERP vendor.

Data Access and Data Model ­ Over the years, most data warehouses have been crafted using a best-of-breed approach. Using the same approach in an ERP environment could be a costly mistake. For example, while a robust OLAP solution may be preferred over the one recently crafted by the ERP vendor, the underlying database packaged with the ERP system's OLAP may be difficult and costly to construct on your own. Careful evaluation of the desired data model, whether you want to make or buy it, and how it should be delivered to the desktop are critical components within the ERP data warehouse architecture.

Operational Data Store (ODS) vs. Data Warehouse vs. Data Mart ­ Although most of the ERP vendors' solutions are advertised as a data warehouse, look carefully. What you are getting isn't always clear. What makes most sense ­ and what many ERP vendors have done ­ is to construct an ODS that integrates the data from a complex table structure into an integrated data store. This leaves the construction of the data warehouse or data marts to other vendors or to internal projects. According to Sam Clark, a research analyst with the META Group, enterprises tend to prefer this approach. A recently conducted study by META on data warehouse solutions for ERP packages found that 65 percent of enterprises would rather build a warehouse on their own or use a third-party solution than select the ERP vendor's solution.

The first step ­ to be accomplished long before selecting the right components ­ is to understand the needs of the organization. Once you know the answer to the "where's the beef" question, you can continue to leverage the ERP investment and employ the right set of data warehouse components to deliver the information to decision-makers.

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