Working as an ERP Professional
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is the computing industry’s name for a large set of activities—usually supported by special-purpose software, specific database applications or extensions or specific targeted applications—that help organizations plan and manage the manufacturing side of a business. As such, ERP encompasses product and procurement planning, purchasing of parts, components or assemblies, managing inventories, tracking orders, working with vendors and suppliers and performing various kinds of customer services. Top-of-the-line ERP implementations will either integrate with or include any or all of these typical “line of business” applications: finance, accounting and even human resources (HR) systems.
Given the amount and complexity of the data that makes any ERP system work, it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that most ERP systems include or use some kind of database management system (DBMS, usually of the relational variety) to handle that data. Thus, in addition to finding training (and sometimes certifications) from vendors who explicitly call themselves ERP product or service providers, you can also find similar coverage from many database vendors (including Oracle, Sybase, IBM DB2, Informix and so forth) whose platforms integrate with ERP systems and applications.
The big three ERP players include:
- SAP (www.sap.com): The biggest of them all (and the No. 3 worldwide software supplier overall), SAP offers a certification program for SAP/R3 consultants, among many other product and service offerings.
- J. D. Edwards (www.jdedwards.com): J. D. Edwards offers a collection of collaborative enterprise solutions aimed at improving a company’s overall financial and market performance.
- PeopleSoft (www.peoplesoft.com): PeopleSoft got its start on the HR side of the software business, but now covers business integration, plus requirements and strategic planning, with its own comprehensive collection of software modules.
There are hundreds of other companies that offer ERP solutions that range from special-purpose applications or modules to extensions or enhancements designed to augment ERP systems from the Big 3 already mentioned. To access a directory of ERP vendors, visit www.technologyselection.com/mySearch.asp?keyword=erpdirectory.
Outside the various vendor-sponsored ERP certification programs, one other vendor-neutral offering looms large in this pretty sparse certification landscape. This is the Certified Implementer of Enterprise Resource Planning (CIERP) credential from CIBRES Inc. (CIBRES stands for Communicating Integrated Business Resource Enterprise Solutions and resonates nicely with the whole set of concepts and philosophies that drive ERP design, implementation and maintenance activities). Irrespective of the software platforms or products in use, the CIERP is designed to identify individuals who possess the right sets of skills needed to implement and maintain ERP systems. In lieu of numerous more specific certs, the CIERP provides a good entry-level credential for individuals seeking to demonstrate basic skills and knowledge in this field. See www.cibres.com/AdvantagePlus/rcierp-reg.asp for more information.
From an operational standpoint, the CIERP information also helps to shed useful light on the field in its identification of various job roles that may benefit from certification, including project managers, consultants, ERP team members, implementers or programmers and help-desk professionals.
In addition, the CIBRES site mentions students (presumably those who ultimately want to find work in the ERP area) and end-users (presumably those who work with ERP systems or services). I’m not sure I agree completely with the idea that these latter groups can benefit from CIERP certification (at least, not immediately), but when you stop to consider all these various specialists and constituencies, you’ve got a pretty good picture of the people who work with such systems and the kind of work they do.
To me, the most interesting lesson in describing this field is that any sufficiently complex and comprehensive software or systems offering becomes a world unto itself. Because ERP can encompass many aspects of a business’s operations—from manufacturing to customer relations to finance and accounting to HR and ultimately, to business strategy and planning—it is clearly an area where many talented professionals can invest significant time and learning to attain proficiency. It’s also an important enough subject matter that motivated IT professionals can build serious careers around the systems, services and practices that make ERP useful in the workplace.
Ed Tittel is vice president of IT certification at iLearning.com and contributing editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed with your questions and comments at email@example.com.