Mixmasters find an alternative to all-in-one ERP software: Page 5

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Sonoco does the ERP packaging itself
At Sonoco Products Co., real-life experiences with integration have solidified executives' preference for the single-vendor approach to ERP.

When it kicked off a corporatewide, mixed ERP implementation on a client/server platform several years ago, Sonoco Products Co., a Hartsville, S.C.-based manufacturer of packaging materials, began the implementation at its industrial products division. There it coupled manufacturing software from the The Baan Co. of Menlo Park, Calif., with a manufacturing software module with an advanced planning and scheduling application called Rhythm from i2 Technologies Inc., based in Irving, Texas.

Packaging manufacturer Sonoco Products opted to put together its own hybrid ERP system.
"Single-vendor was our preference three years ago, but [planning and scheduling] wasn't available from any of the vendors we were evaluating," says Bernie Campbell, vice president for information systems. "We didn't want to wait to begin the implementation."

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See, "Mixmasters find an alternative to all-in-one ERP software," for more information.

Sonoco connected the Baan and i2 packages by writing an interface. While the initial, proof-of-concept version of the software link was easy to implement, it took the packaging manufacturer about a year to bring the integration into full production. "We underestimated how difficult it would be," Campbell says.

Campbell recognizes that the middleware tools available today are an improvement over the tools that Sonoco used three years ago (see "Emergence of the middle(ware) class"). Still, as the company is beginning a similar update of business systems at its flexible packaging division this year, it is using the newly available, preintegrated, supply-chain planning module from Baan, instead of i2's Rhythm. Campbell concedes that he may be giving up some functionality with the Baan module, but not enough to justify a middleware link.

"There's the up-front development time and the fact that we'd have to maintain that integration over time," Campbell says. "As new releases of software come out, the burden of keeping the integration working would be on us. It gets down to a total cost of ownership issue."

Sonoco has another experience mixing and matching disparate ERP modules. While Baan runs its manufacturing systems, PeopleSoft Inc. is its choice for financial management, human resources, and payroll functions. Sonoco opted for the functionality available in those PeopleSoft packages because "even though Baan provided a very strong ERP package, it did not meet all our requirements in the financial area," says Campbell.

The integration connecting the Baan and PeopleSoft modules is relatively simple because it doesn't involve real-time data transfer. Information such as inventory transactions are moved from Baan to PeopleSoft's financial system in batch transfers. "That's suitable for our needs," notes Campbell. "We just don't need a real-time update of PeopleSoft." Naturally, the batch transfer skirts the more difficult problems of connecting the two systems. //

Jeffrey Zygmont writes about business and technology from Salem, N.H. He can be reached at jzygmont@concentric.net.

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