ERP Integration - A United Application Architecture

The Need for ERP Integration

Packaged ERP applications support a variety of business functions. An ERP systems primary purpose is to automate business processes in order to increase business efficiency and provide better visibility. One primary struggle companies have had is to integrate their ERP system with their other enterprise systems to meet growing business demands. ERP implementations commonly span a few years and what starts as a few functional modules, often grow into a primary ERP system with a number of stand-alone applications on the side. Enterprises need to find a new way to implement ERP systems that enable them to integrate isolated applications and provide a united application architecture.

Common ERP Integration Pitfalls

While ERP integration can ultimately make a business's architecture much stronger, companies often encounter several common pitfalls when not approached correctly. 

Balance of Real-Time vs. Batch Integration – ERPs business process integration has traditionally been file-based or batch oriented, and worked well in the past since transactions where primarily inbound integrations. As ERPs expand to become a key data source of business information, there is a need to provide outbound data from the ERP to other systems in the enterprise. These systems include web portals and mobile devices that require real-time information, causing traditional ERP integrations to fall short.

Multiple ERPs to support – Organizations tend to initially install modules from the same ERP vendor at the start of the ERP implementation. But as this process continues, organizational requirements expand and companies find themselves often purchasing modules from different vendors. This requires the enterprise to change the existing integrations to other applications and support data transformation to and from a number of additional data formats. If the existing integrations are tightly coupled, this becomes a difficult process: costly to modify and increasingly brittle.

Integration Shift – Organizations today not only need to integrate their ERPs to internal systems in their data centers, but also integrate to external systems including cloud-based applications and mobile platforms that use newer, still evolving protocols. It is critical for organizations to choose an integration approach that is up to date with newer protocols and future proof as these technologies evolve.

Approaches to ERP Integration

There are several common approaches to ERP integration, and each provide their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Point-to-Point - Businesses often choose point-to-point integration because it can have low initial hurdles, but often fail to realize the long-term complications. Point-to-point creates a tightly coupled architecture that can become brittle as the enterprise grows – each new application added to the enterprise will require a new integration into the ERP system and each existing application. Over time, this integration method becomes more complex and creates tightly coupled dependencies that can burden the organization. 

Custom Applications or Adapters –  Alternatively, businesses can choose to build their own custom integration adaptors or applications. These often start as simple data transfer tools, but as organizational requirements expand and they begin to use multiple ERP vendors, companies find that they need to build more and more adaptors. These adapters become a large maintenance cost, compounded by the consistent evolution of protocols and complexity in ERP upgrades. 

Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) – Standalone ESBs are the newest and most modern approach to ERP integration. An ESB operates as a middle abstraction layer, and as such reduces dependences by decoupling the ERP system from other applications. This approach supports a wider array of data formats, including web-based protocols, and excels in companies that require real-time transitions.

An ESB for ERP Integration

In most cases, an ESB is the best solution for connecting an existing ERP system with other business applications. An ESB provides several key benefits that are targeted to ERP integrators:

Easy to Expand – A business can choose to implement an ESB to integrate their ERP solution with a couple core applications, and when a new application is ready all they need to do to incorporate it into the infrastructure is hook it up to the bus.

Incremental Adoption – An ESBs modular design offers unique flexibility and allows for incremental adoption as resources become available. This guarantees that unexpected needs in the future will not prevent an ROI.

Scalable and Distributable – ESBs use individual components to offer each feature, making it much simpler and cost-effective to ensure high availability and scalability for critical parts of the architecture.

Mule ESB for ERP Integration

An ESB is often best suited for ERP integration, but not all ESBs are alike. Unlike other platforms, Mule ESB is a lightweight, open source and standards based integration solution that enables businesses to easily integrate ERP systems with information sources in their enterprise. Mule ESB also has hundreds of cloud connectors that enable enterprises interested in cloud integration to easily connect to cloud-based applications. 

Mule provides out of box connectivity to proprietary interfaces such as SAP, PayPal, IBM’s CICS Transaction Gateway, and Siebel CRM. Mule ESB is also easy to manage, and has a small footprint – making it an ideal partner for many prominent ERP solutions on the market.

With Mule ESB you are in good company. Mule is used in over 3,200 production deployments by leading organizations such as Walmart.com, Nokia, Nestlé, Honeywell and DHL, as well as 85 in the Global 500 and 5 of the world’s top 10 banks. It powers mission-critical applications responsible for massive revenue streams for organizations ranging from major airlines to global banks. 

The Future of ERP Integration

In order to regain their lost efficiencies, businesses, more than ever, need to integrate their ERP solutions with their applications to create a unified application architecture. Mule ESB minimizes the risk of these projects by providing a flexible, scalable, and secure integration platform that meets the business needs of today. Mule ESB can be run on-premises and supports a hybrid environment enabling it to connect on-premises ERP systems with a company’s cloud-based applications.

Organizations that are preparing for a future in the cloud can rest assured that Mule is future-proof. Mule offers an integrated cloud strategy with CloudHub, the first enterprise iPaaS, for businesses that are ready to fully transition to the cloud. These companies can choose to start with Mule ESB and then easily migrate to CloudHub when they decide the time is right.

You may download our SAP Whitepaper to learn more about SAP Integration

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