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Does Anyone Really Know What ERP is?

Mel O'Sullivan - April 13, 2021

A couple of other Veterans and I were recently trying to get clear on the distinction between SAP and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). We have all found that the terminology seems to be kind of interchangeable depending on who is doing the speaking. We were left wondering how many people really know what the difference is between SAP and ERP.

I declare right now that I am not an expert either on SAP or on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). I'll welcome the input of anyone who wants to improve my education on this.

I am an Ex Army Road Transport and Distribution Officer with Project Management experience who taught herself SAP in a Concrete Manufacturing Administration Role. I am first and foremost an exceptional SAP Data Entry Operator - called a Super User.

But wait - there's more!

One of the things that is built in to military personnel is the pursuit of excellence and attention to detail. For many of us it is simply impossible to say "near enough is good enough". We are always searching for a better way - and crucially - we will act to change a situation. Valuing information as a commodity or resource is part of our DNA. We also have a passionate hatred of rework and wasted time (at least I do). We work hard to develop the habit of stepping back and assessing situations objectively.

Basically - it was impossible for an insatiably curious perfectionist like me to simply sit back and enter the data like a robot. The understanding that things could be done better was an itch that I just had to scratch. I had to understand where my data was ending up, who was looking at it and what was being done with it - I had to do my reconnaissance. I didn't see any reason to lose that Army leadership habit of maintaining situational awareness - knowing a bit about everything and everyone around you - knowing what is going on.

So what do I know about Enterprise Resource Planning?

Concrete Manufacturing is about correct product, to specification, in full, on time - every time. My purchasing role (data entry on purchase requisitions) rapidly expanded into Plant resupply. Some of my supply chains were six months long and quite literally "on a slow boat from China". The regional plant location was tiny - so there was no space for storage. That gave a whole new meaning to "Just in Time" delivery. In nine years I only missed delivery in time for production once - by one day.

If ERP is about having your "bullets and bombs" where they need to be the day before they are needed then I am an expert.

Concrete Manufacture is an equipment heavy environment. Gantry cranes, forklifts, Pipe Manufacture installations (yeah - a whole damned building), Pre - stressing installations, Concrete agitators and Offices among other things. All require maintenance - often by specialist technicians who can not be on site inside three days. Profit margins are knife edge - so maintenance budgets are monitored under a magnifier. The fleet itself was all old - the only thing in the plant newer than twenty years old was the mobile crane. There was no redundancy on critical equipment like the mobile crane - no spare gear. Through various changes of management I found myself collecting cost capture on fleet items, predicting and managing maintenance budgets and contracts and co-ordinating the maintenance itself, right up to handling the money on capital acquisition.

If ERP is about keeping equipment working to keep manufacturing flowing then I am an expert.

What about the people? My job was data entry of payroll and collection of cost capture of labour hours. We had a lot of changes in management. Guess who became the single point of continuity for HR related matters for the team? I didn't do any hiring or firing but at various different times I maintained the personnel files, co-ordinated training, administered pay rises, co-ordinated leave times. Even handled welfare/rehabilitation.

If ERP is about ensuring you have the right people for the job then I am an expert.

And the tool I used to collect and analyse all of that information for forward planning?

Systems Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP).

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