It was 1994. The internet was barely emerging. PCs were heavy, expensive and unreliable. A tablet had 100 pages of yellow, lined paper, and you used a ballpoint pen – not a stylus or your finger – to write. It was also the dawn of effective packaged software.
During the 1980s, companies began adopting Material Requirements Planning (MRP) systems. Most available systems at the time were bare bones, so companies often customized them heavily or wrote their own. They used 80-column punch cards for data entry, and users often got reports several days later. As we approached 1990, cathode ray tube monitors became common – immense objects with tiny screens that glowed with green or yellow characters. Users had to memorize now-arcane commands and navigate primitive menus to use business software.
By the mid-1990s, packaged software was common in manufacturing companies, which had been quick to adopt MRP because of the speed and accuracy of calculating inventory requirements. Companies were able to reduce inventory and safety stocks because they could rely on MRP's logic to calculate requirements rather than use min/max, economic order quantities (EOQs) or other methods that assumed having more inventory on hand was better than ever having a shortage.
The quality and breadth of functionality in packaged Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or MRP applications still varied greatly from vendor to vendor, so the practice of selecting software using hundred-page requests for proposals (RFPs) and several days of intensive demonstrations evolved to ensure that the chosen package covered the most important requirements.
Today, most packaged software covers the same ground and provides much of the same functionality required for the industries it targets. The difference is primarily the user interface, the technology platform, the speed of the implementation and the vendor’s ability to respond to its customers.
Manufacturing SMBs are luckier today than their counterparts of 20 years ago. They don’t have to write their own applications from scratch. They don’t have to run packaged applications with major functional gaps and they don’t have to suffer from the expense and complexity of the multiple-vertical behemoth software vendors. ERP applications exist today that are specifically designed to cover the full range of required functionality for a manufacturing company, and is easy to use, cost-effective to own and quick to implement.