ERP Communication: Why Can’t We Speak the Same Language?

Once upon a time there were a people who wanted to build a tower. You probably have heard of the Tower of Babel – it was famous. But those people were never able to finish the project because of communications problems. Poor ERP communication can have a similarly devastating effect on any implementation.

Here we are today, millennia later. And we still have communications failures. Sometimes they stop big projects and often they just interfere with day-to-day business.

What is going on? We have technology. We have ERP systems that are supposed to cure all ills.

I have seen spreadsheet template order entry systems used when a multi-million dollar ERP system could have been used. At another job I know there were sophisticated electronic measurement tools in use. There was a data cable that seemed to go nowhere and a technician who wrote the values on paper. We had complex routing systems to plan work through many production operations. The router showed the work to be done at each operation. Along side was another document with work instructions and recipes. This business has hundreds of work centers and many thousands of operations. Did the two systems match 100%? Of course not! Engineers had developed their system as a stand alone before the ERP system was in place. Any reader could add their own experiences of poor ERP communication to this quick list.

What is wrong? Why can’t we speak the same language? Why can’t we even use the same vocabulary? Why do the people in one silo assume the people who live in another silo will know what they meant and not what they said?

The Bucket of All Data

Today’s ERP systems are wonderfully adaptable. You can add fields to existing tables. You can add whole tables if needed. Once the data is collected from a keyboard or a measurement tool or any transaction it is available for anyone to use. And use it we must. Data is just facts and figures that have no value on their own. But when presented properly, data becomes information. Information is needed to make decisions. Decisions go on all the time, and they rely on adequate communication of ERP data and processes. Should we pull in this purchase order? Should we build a new factory? Should we drop a customer?

Our Tower of Babel systems make the development of information difficult or even impossible. Sure, the field from an outside database can be combined with a field from the ERP system – if we know about it. But what about the case where a smart engineer developed the outside database to solve an issue at a certain tool somewhere in a factory? It works great! But no one beyond the immediate area knows it exists. We don’t want to employ the preventer of information systems who works with Dilbert. But IT does need to know about improvements and move quickly to move them to the ERP system and make them available to the whole enterprise.

We just need to all agree that the ERP system is the bucket of all data and learn to use the same tool set throughout the whole business. That shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

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Tom Miller

About the author…

Tom completed implementations of Epicor, SAP, QAD, and Micro MRP. He works as a logistics and supply chain manager and he always looks for processes to improve. He lives near San Francisco Bay in California and can be found on the water in his kayak or on the road riding his motorcycle. Contact Tom at

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Tom Miller

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