Scheduling and the New Generation ERP

ERP vendors and their investors, especially those focused on manufacturing, are scrambling to upgrade and retool their offerings. A recent Wall Street Journal article (June 10-11, page B9, “Less Flashy Business Software Draws Investors” by Angus Loften) included this quote from a prominent manager:

“Most people are at the 20 to 25-year mark with their system, and all the new technology and data that has come out does not bolt on well.”

Most ERP vendors recognize the need to accommodate machine learning, AI, shop floor data collection, robotics, and the latest developments in user interfaces and graphics. But the tougher issue when contemplating a new generation of ERP is Where should we start?

Consider the following applications found in most ERPs:

  • Accounting
  • Human Resources
  • Sales Support
  • Customer Relations
  • Ordering
  • Billing
  • Forecasting
  • Marketing and Promotions

These functions can largely be implemented by logic built on top of a good database structure. A comprehensive and well-structured database is the foundation for developing these capabilities. And the effort to build the database should not be trivialized when contemplating a retooling of ERP.

But note that planning and scheduling are not on the list! The reason is that adding time-synchronization to production and supply chain activities is not a database-centric issue. In fact, planning and scheduling is arguably the most complex functionality in an ERP application. Only about one-third of the ERP vendors claim to have Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS). Management science and operations research have grappled with this subject for over 50 years.

So the answer to the question of where to start in building the next-generation ERP should be to find the next-generation planning and scheduling technology. What’s the latest in the decision support functionality associated with time-based planning?

Unique Scheduling Solutions has recently introduced the “Advanced Descriptive Framework” (ADF) version of APS. This is not an add-on to APS, but rather a new formulation which models time as a continuous variable. Developers who start with a database- or spreadsheet-mentality, the resulting application will likely model time as a sequence of fixed-length time intervals. These are frequently called Time-Buckets. Buckets limit the descriptive capabilities that are needed for today’s and future production environments. Modeling time with buckets will explode the dimensionality of your database and populate it with redundant entries.

The Five-Agent-Scheduling-Technique (FAST) developed by Unique Scheduling Solutions uses time-varying profiles as the foundation for the finite capacity models needed for the next-generation ERP. NO BUCKETS!

The FAST application also separates the decision logic from the data processing code in a way that readily incorporates AI and Machine Learning technology. This enables additional flexibility, allows the decision logic to mimic each user’s unique management conventions, and can be taught from best practices.

The FAST application is the right starting point for any new or revised ERP implementation. It is already the next generation of planning and scheduling technology, -the most challenging component of tomorrow’s ERP. By using it, implementors can make substantial cuts to both their development budget and time-to-market.