Due to the importance of the work and functions they support, fast, reliable enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications are the lifeblood of a well-oiled manufacturing business. However, heightened end-user expectations combined with the increased complexity of modern application delivery environments make it very difficult to ensure strong performance. As a result, many applications supporting businesses today are running at less than optimal levels, putting expensive and highly-visible ERP investments on the line. In addition, poor application performance exposes businesses to a wide range of risks including lost competitive edge, wasted resources, tarnished brand image, reduced customer satisfaction, increased financial or legal scrutiny and non-compliance.
Are Slow, Unreliable ERP Applications Costing You?
Not only do ERP applications support critical functions, but they also support huge numbers of users, divisions and business units. Given this, even slight performance degradations for ERP applications can have a huge impact. Sluggish, unreliable ERP applications often result in low application adoption rates, hampered productivity, underutilized employees and substantial bottom-line impact. For example, Aberdeen Group found that poorly performing enterprise applications can reduce corporate revenues by up to nine percent per year.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg, because there are other downsides to consider including customer-related costs (e.g. lost short-term and future sales, as well as late penalties), operational costs (e.g. inventory carrying costs and lost promotional and marketing expenditures) and strategic costs, such as reduced brand value and impaired credit. Lean enterprises, in particular, are very dependent on up-to-the-second applications and information. Application performance issues and disruptions quickly cascade not only through their operations, but the wider partner ecosystem as well. For example, a delivery delay in a manufacturing plant may lead to a shipping delay for a finished product. This impacts not just the manufacturer of the finished product, but transportation providers as well. The damage across the extended supply chain is cumulative, which can hurt one’s reputation in the market.
The Challenges of Modern Application Delivery Environments
In the “old world,” managing application performance was a lot simpler than it is today. Applications were served from within the corporate network which most users simply plugged into, and the Internet was used mostly as a remote access transport. Applications and infrastructure were much more straightforward to monitor and optimize. Today, that’s all changing and numerous factors are making it very difficult to ensure strong ERP application performance, including:
1. Rising end-user expectations: We call this the “Google Effect” because end users now enjoy the same high-speed Internet connections at home as they do at work. End users are conditioned to expect all the applications and websites they work with to be as reliable and fast as Google, including their ERP applications, which are very complex implementations running millions of complicated calculations.
2. Mobile: It is often said that the world of computing has evolved from a client-server model, to the Internet, and now to mobile. This is very true where ERP applications are concerned, and the explosion of mobile devices and the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) movement means greater load on your ERP applications. Also, businesses have to ensure strong performance across a widening range of mobile devices and browsers.
3. Increased Complexity of the Delivery Environment: Business-critical ERP applications depend on a wide range of data center components working together, including databases, operating systems, servers, networks, storage, management tools and back-up software. Within this complex environment there are many potential points of failure. More traditional approaches to managing application performance often measure components like database efficiency, and other potential problem spots like the network. But what they don’t demonstrate is the end-to-end performance of business transactions.
In addition, beyond the four walls of the data center, there’s the Internet, specifically the cloud, which many businesses are relying on today to support their ERP applications. It can be very difficult to manage the performance of cloud-based services and applications since they are beyond an organization’s direct control.
Modern Applications Require Modern Performance Management Approaches
This new world requires a fundamental shift in the way businesses think about managing ERP application performance. First, businesses must flip the problem diagnosis paradigm. It’s no longer sufficient to just look for opportunities to optimize different components without an understanding of how these improvements directly translate to an improved end-user experience. Instead, businesses must proactively gain an understanding of the end-user experience; then, they can trace back to all the different elements to identify where bottlenecks are and what should be changed in order to resolve them. This approach helps businesses be proactive in preventing end-user complaints from arriving at the help desk, when it’s likely too late and damage may already be done. This approach also helps organizations to pinpoint the source of existing and potential performance problems quickly. To this end, businesses must also monitor all transactions all the time. Sampling is not sufficient because there’s no guarantee that a performance problem will occur during a sampling interval, especially in this age of mobile devices when end users are accessing applications all the time.
Second, businesses must have a consolidated view of all the variables impacting ERP application performance, from the end users’s browser, across the network, through the data center and into the integrated subsystems. This is known as having a complete view across the ERP application delivery chain, and it’s the key to having more control over it. Once a business understands the end-user experience and the complete picture supporting it, they can then more effectively identify areas for acceleration that will result in faster transactions.
When ERP application performance degradations occur, they can have a direct impact on business profitability as well as relationships with customers, supply chain partners and financial stakeholders. In essence, health of ERP application performance is a proxy for business health, and fast, reliable applications have never been more important.
At the same time, today’s complex application delivery environments make it more challenging to ensure strong performance. The good news is that new approaches to application performance management (APM), including focusing on end-user transaction performance, consolidating all application delivery chain variables in a “single pane of glass” approach and monitoring all applications 24x7, can make it easier to ensure high performance, quickly and cost-effectively.
Kieran Taylor is Director of Application Performance Management (APM) Marketing for the Compuware APM Business Unit, a leading provider of APM solutions that deliver actionable insight across all tiers of the application delivery chain. From apps behind the enterprise firewall to the recent generation of web-enabled applications that are composite in nature, Taylor is an expert in helping companies eliminate application management 'blind spots' that impede online business success. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.