ERP: Stuck in a web of unstructured data


Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms have traditionally been home to structured data feeds; informing users about manufacturing and operational performance across the business.  However, unstructured data is becoming a blessing (and a pain point) for many ERP managers who are looking to incorporate these new, disparate feeds into their reporting systems for increased visibility.

A report highlighted that complex supply chains can have up to 52 different sources of big data, generated from the supply chain alone.  The unstructured data that is providing new insights (and making up these additional streams) within a complex network of relationships involved in each supply chain, includes:

  • Web traffic statistics
  • Customer loyalty programs
  • Blogs and news feeds
  • Twitter feeds
  • User generated reviews and forums
  • Facebook statuses
  • Geoanalytics
  • Mobile application data

By mining these sources of data which are a relatively new addition to any supply chain, and not inherently catered for in any legacy ERP systems developed over ten years ago, companies highlighted the top areas of improvements from big data activities, namely:

  • Improvement in customer service levels
  • Effective reaction to supply chain issues
  • Increased efficiency
  • Better customer and supplier relationships

For instance, by reviewing geoanalytics data of delivery paths, organisations can start to layer historic detail with real-time analysis to optimise delivery networks for greater efficiency and reduced travel time.

Overall, unstructured data feeds now help supply chain managers to achieve better ‘contextual intelligence’ about how their supply chain strategies perform – an outcome which would not be possible with structure, traditional ERP feeds alone.

Additional to these unstructured feeds already in existence, the Internet of Things phenomenon means that there will be more data-generating components within each supply chain, as sensors are put in manufacturing production lines, and geo-data collectors are installed onto delivery vans – all of which will transmit information and data back into the central supply chain reporting tools.


ERP Data in Real-Time

As traditional supply chain is historically slow at responding to changes in demand or supply due to data being historic, unstructured data collection can help organisations to see their operations in real-time.  Social media feeds and geo-data can provide visibility into operational activities as developments occur rather than waiting to see a trend develop over a period of time, prior to taking action.

This move to unstructured data is helping to reduce some of the top pains experienced within supply chain management, such as:

  • Cross-functional alignment between departments
  • Demand and supply volatility
  • Supply chain visibility
  • Ability to use data

Effective control of unstructured data enables organisations to now take into account the wider context around their operational data, and use it to make better business decisions.  Real-time information can help manufacturers to better plan for supply and demand fluctuations during busy periods, or business analytics tools can be employed to drill down into supply chain processes for better visibility.


Top 4 Supply Chain Tech Trends

Based on these key pain points, there are 4 top technology trends that organisations are looking to utilise to help with their supply chain challenges:

  • Data visualisation
  • Demand sensing
  • Increased visibility into supply chain
  • Big data

Organisations are then looking to employ these technologies in order to create actionable insights, which can tangibly impact their business.  Targeted marketing also becomes possible, as sentiment analysis can be assessed in realtime and access to consumers’ information is easier than ever. Inventory management becomes more accurate as an array of unstructured data feeds can help to provide context to existing supply chain information. And finally, as insights do become more actionable, businesses can start to automate activities based on data feeds (i.e. increasing IT hosting allowance on website when traffic peaks, creating alerts for workers when staffing resources are constrained or warning managers when inventory is running dangerously low).

Overall, ERP systems are being flooded with new information as technology developments mean that data is being created at every touch point that a product has within an organisation – from concept, through to production, through to being used by a consumer.  A report from Information Week highlighted that organisations only analyse 12% of their data, and that the challenge was dealing with the remaining 88% of data left.  We think that, in fact, the challenge is incorporating disparate and unstructured feeds into existing data streams to create more valuable, actionable insights within ERP platforms.


Find out more about C24’s activities within ERP hosting and analytics at




Image courtesy of Ilamont.



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