One of the biggest weaknesses of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is the lack of visibility into the operational information held within the ERP databases, particularly the general ledger, says Nick Gomersall, business development manager at DecisionWorks.
The conventional cure is to extract a subset of that ‘live’ data and transfer it to a data warehouse for analysis, commonly by online analytical
processing (OLAP) software. This ensures that any analysis does not impact the performance of the ERP system.
However, this approach has some fundamental flaws. First, the act of taking a snapshot of the ERP data breaks any direct link between the figures in the accounting system and the underlying transactions. That means the data quickly becomes out of date and the analysis becomes increasingly unreliable.
But there is a more worrying aspect to the practice. The tight security settings that apply to aspects of the ERP system, such as the general ledger, are rarely carried over to the OLAP database. Data can therefore be changed (with or without authority) or indeed corrupted, making the financial analysis unsound or even fraudulent.
There is an alternative, says Gomersall. Why not analyse the data directly in the ERP database as and when it is needed?
DecisionWorks claims its Super GL package can do this without taxing the performance of operational systems. Data drawn from the general ledger is linked directly to the underlying transaction databases, providing a true and up-to-date picture. Furthermore, DecisionWorks’ applications inherit the same security settings as the ERP system. There are some weaknesses: Super GL is currently tuned only to work with JD Edwards’ ERP system, although Gomersall says versions for other platforms will follow.
Some analysts also question the wisdom of regularly pulling data out of operational systems. But with a bluechip early-adopter customer base, and widespread calls for tighter accounting practices, Super GL may have found a market sweet spot.