Integrating APS and ERP is Getting Easier

Increasing numbers of manufacturers are turning toward advanced planning and scheduling systems to complement their enterprise resource planning systems. One hitch: Integrating the two systems together.


Wouldn't it be nice if all enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems were like an all-in-one Swiss Army Knife? Alas, what "all-in-one" ERP systems gain in seamless data flow from one module to another, they often lose in functionality.

One functionality that automakers and suppliers are most likely to miss is advanced planning and scheduling (APS). "About 90% of our clients have an ERP system, and a lot of them have determined that an APS system complementary to an ERP system adds a lot of business value," says Edward Sitarski, Vice President of R&D for Numetrix Ltd. in Toronto, Ontario.

Marketing hype notwithstanding, it'll be a while yet before users will find APS functionality in ERP. In the meantime, what's a user to do? For manufacturing companies that can afford it, they should bite the bullet and integrate a best-of-breed APS package with the ERP system that's managing their business. (The alternative is to either buy an APS system from a vendor allied to an ERP vendor or buy a broad APS system.)

Several approaches exist to integrating APS and ERP. The simplest and least expensive is by writing, exchanging, then importing "flat files" through some sort of interface, typically an application programming interface (API). This approach stretches the concept of "integration" because it requires several intermediate, discrete data processing steps. Another approach is to create software routines—remote procedure and function calls—so that a host application can access and then extract or manipulate data within the database of a source application. This approach often fails when one or the other application—host or source—is upgraded. It also requires more code maintenance, which leads to higher system administration costs.

Regardless of the approach, integrating ERP and APS systems is a "major undertaking that many people grossly under estimate," warns Brian Kopinsky, Product Marketing Manager of Planning & Scheduling Systems for J.D. Edwards & Co., a Denver-based ERP vendor. However both ERP and APS vendors are working to make this integration easier.


Numetrix Integration and Data Flows tool

This display in Numetrix Integration and Data Flows tool is the "left" half of a data flow for demand allocated to a set of locations based on a sourcing matrix. The data flow applies customer demand from an ERP system to inventory data, also from an ERP system, based on a set of replenishment rules created to allocate predefined distribution center and plant requirements for given time periods. Other objects that factor into this integration include product data from a third-party application and sourcing matrix contained in Numetrix/3. Along the left side of the IDF window is a palette of transformational objects used to create this data flow. Along the top are buttons to run through and stop the execution of the data flow. (Source:Numetrix Ltd.)