How to Apply the Concept of Two Tier ERP to Your Company

Executive Summary

  • Two-tiered ERP is a specific way of managing multiple ERP systems.
  • This serves to explain how to apply two tier ERP in real terms.


The basic proposal that two-tiered ERP reduces costs can be true. According to our research, the cost savings based on total costs of ownership (TCO) can range from the a slightly negative cost savings (that is a cost increase) to roughly one-fourth of costs when compared to the TCO of providing ERP functionality for users with a 100 percent tier 1 ERP strategy. However, it is not possible to ascribe a specific value to the cost savings estimate without knowing the following:

  1. The specific ERP systems to be used.
  2. How many ERP systems are in the mix.
  3. How many instances are to be modeled.

This is because the savings entirely depend upon factors such as the following:

  • ERP TCO Variability: ERP applications have high variability in their total cost of ownership. There is also a weak relationship between the cost of the ERP system and its capabilities—meaning some of the best ERP systems are the least expensive—but also most often not included in a software selection as they lack the brand name, marketing, and coverage of IT analysts and recommendations of consulting companies.
  • The degree of Transition to the Tier 2 ERP Application(s): The more users are transitioned to the Tier 2 ERP application, the more money will be saved. If a company has a thousand total users and transitions seven hundred of them to a tier 2 ERP application, the predicted savings will be higher than if the same company were to transition only five hundred users to a tier 2 ERP application.

See our references for this article and related articles at this link.

Reduced Costs

Of course, reduced costs are not the only benefits of two tier ERP strategy—one of the significant benefits is having more diversity of functionality, and a better fit between the application and the business requirements. Too often, this is lost in the story of cost reduction brought by two tier ERP. However, it bears emphasizing that following a two tier ERP strategy can lead to lower costs, but it is not automatic. It very much depends on how the strategy is implemented. The benefits come down to the quality of the software selection and the depth of the analysis regarding the overall solution architecture of ERP systems.

Something that is also open to debate is how the ERP systems would be integrated. I have already stated that the commonly presented practice of integrating ERP systems to one another is less cost-effective than integrating all the ERP systems into a standard or master BI system. Therefore, choosing to follow a two tier ERP strategy is just the starting point of a series of questions, each of which must be carefully analyzed and effectively decided. If errors are made along the way, it is actually exceedingly easy to end up with a two tier implementation that nets the company little benefit.

Proponents of Two-Tier ERP

Proponents present two-tier ERP oversimplify the actual outcomes of following the strategy as if those that follow it necessarily can’t lose.

Proponents of two-tiered ERP are correct when they state that the strategy can save companies money. However, in addition to exaggerating the cost savings, they are trying to have their cake and eat it too by proposing cost savings without explaining the actual reasons for the cost savings. Some of the proponents of two-tiered ERP are silent on the underlying reason for the cost savings for political reasons. They want to sell their ERP software but don’t want to offend their prospects who have sizable investments, often poorly performing investments into tier 1 ERP applications. Another reason that proponents don’t want to explain the underlying cause is that they do not want to offend their supporters, which is the case with NetSuite—which will bring up how much a two-tiered ERP strategy can save SAP customers, but is mum on how much it can save Oracle customers— because of their business relationship with Oracle.

Additionally, two-tier ERP proponents have a strong tendency to leave out the history of ERP to keep their audience focused on their conclusion, a judgment that is an oversimplification of what we know about ERP systems. This serves to provide a misimpression as to the essential features of a two-tiered ERP strategy. These misimpressions are listed below:

  1. The Novelty of Two-Tiered ERP: Two-tiered ERP is not new. Most companies that use ERP already use different ERP applications for their various tiers.
  2. The Reason for the Cost Savings of Two-Tiered ERP: Many of the proponents of two-tiered ERP are quick to point out the cost savings that come from following the strategy, but are relatively silent on why this should be the case. The reason is straightforward: Tier 1 ERP systems are expensive and do not provide companies with much of a return on investment (actually our research at concludes that most tier 1 ERP systems have a negative return on investment). That is, most companies would have been better off both financially and operationally if they had never purchased or implemented their tier 1 ERP system. Two tiered ERP is often presented as if it is some excellent innovative idea, when, in fact, an inefficient system is being replaced with slightly more efficient systems. Here’s an analogy. Let’s say a wealthy family purchased five Lamborghinis. A family friend points out that if they sold four of the Lamborghinis (keep one Lamborghini for social appearances) and instead bought four Hondas, the family’s automotive costs would decline by following a “two-tiered automobile strategy.” Quite naturally, a Lamborghini is a hugely expensive prestige item. It should not be considered some tremendous intellectual breakthrough that one can reduce one’s automotive budget by replacing Lamborghinis with more practical automobiles. If the tier 1 systems are so cost-inefficient, a good question that many companies should consider asking themselves is who recommended purchasing the tier 1 ERP systems in the first place?

Two-tiered ERP will save companies money. Most proponents of two-tiered ERP would like the recipients of their message to stop the analysis at that point and to buy a Tier 2 ERP system (from them) and have that be the end of the discussion. However, it should not be the end of the debate. We have a comparison of multiple solution architecture strategies performed, which are available at this link.

The findings are that, while two-tiered ERP is a cost savings strategy, it is not the strategy that saves companies the most money or provides the most functionality or the lowest long-term maintenance. ERP companies and consulting companies that are signed up to the two-tiered approaches can’t tell you what is the best overall strategy—because they have a particular offering to sell.

The strategy that does is a best-of-breed strategy that uses a best-of-breed application in every area, including a best-of-breed financial and accounting system. This strategy may also use an ERP system, but the highest-rated ERP systems are not the most well-known ERP systems. Instead, they are lesser-known systems that provide much better value and unlike the Tier 1 ERP applications and many of the Tier 2 ERP applications. The best-of-breed vendors “play nice” with other applications rather than using the ERP sale as a wedge to force in more applications (a strategy that is referred to as “penetrate and radiate”). Instead, the best ERP software values in the market come from specialized vendors who only provide ERP software—not from software conglomerates whose ERP applications are simply one of their many offerings and who are planning their next acquisition.

The best-of-breed strategy has the extra benefit of providing the best total functionality. Research available clearly shows that companies that follow this strategy will save between roughly one-third and one-half of their overall solution architecture TCO, and this is including all integration costs. This compares to a predicted cost savings of between an actual cost increase and one-quarter for a two-tiered ERP strategy. Furthermore, the best-of-breed strategy combines the most significant possible cost savings with the best functionality of any other strategy, meaning it also provides the highest predicted return on investment. Two-tiered ERP does offer some additional variability in functionality, but the benefits are primarily on the cost side of the equation. Therefore, moving to a two-tiered strategy is an improvement over deploying single instance ERP, but it is not the best strategy that a company can follow.

Whose Interests Do Two Tiered ERP Serve?

It is essential to understand who initially proposed two-tiered ERP because this tells us a great deal about whose interests it serves. Two-tiered ERP arose as a marketing strategy specifically by Tier 2 and Tier 3 ERP software vendors. Its most notable and vocal proponent is the software vendor NetSuite. Still, now pretty much all ERP vendors, regardless of their tier, have position documents to let prospects and current customers know their preferred strategy. This is the case even though two-tiered ERP is a direct contradiction to the single instance logic that Tier 1 vendors have been promoting since the initial development of the ERP software market.

It takes living through the initial ERP sales period in the mid-80s, reviewing the old documentation, or performing interviews to find out that not only was a single instance the official proposal of ERP vendors. But that a single instance ERP system would be the only system that any ERP customer would ever need to implement. You can now pick yourself up off the floor after falling down laughing, but I kid you not: this was the pitch.

The Background on the Development of the Term “Two-tiered ERP”

Two-tiered ERP was initially conceived of as a philosophical wedge designed to crack open the lucrative Tier 1 ERP market to Tier 2 ERP vendors. The intent of proposing two-tiered ERP was not to present something that was necessarily true, but to sell specific ERP software—and for consulting companies to sell ERP services.

At some point, Tier 1 will be vulnerable to some challenges. As is described in part by this book (and in far more detail in The Real Story Behind ERP: Separating Fiction from Reality), ERP has not achieved the objectives that it was predicted to achieve, and many of the ERP systems have aged quite badly. ERP is on its way to being “just another system” instead of the centerpiece of the solution architecture. Overpaying for ERP is now one of the least effective uses of IT budgets. Many large consulting companies misrepresent this fact to their clients. They provide the impression that ERP is so transformational, so important, and has such a high ROI that the company should not be concerned with how much they pay for ERP (in particular, how much they pay for their consulting). Nothing could be further from the truth. ERP’s often generic functionality, will not improve a business very much. For ERP to have a positive ROI, it must be procured and implemented and maintained at a reasonable cost. Two-tiered ERP is an important concept, but not for the reason many people think. It is an essential concept because two-tiered ERP represents one of the first cracks in the façade of single-instance ERP.

Now, three decades after companies began purchasing ERP systems and preparing themselves for a brave new world of system efficiency. Many companies have aging ERP systems as ERP vendors (mainly Tier 1 vendors) are using their ERP systems as cash cows. Rather than improving their systems to at least keep them up to date, vendors have used this money to develop new non-ERP applications, which they then attempt to sell into their existing ERP accounts. The applications are not sold based on functionality, usability, or other application-specific factors but on the idea that the applications will integrate better into their ERP system.

I consult with clients that rely primarily upon ERP systems for supply chain planning, and using these systems is like stepping into a time machine. I was recently working in SAP R/3-ECC-ERP (its name changes depending upon who you are talking to at the time) and was struck by how dated and of poor quality this “flagship” application was in 2013. It has changed very little from the application that I began working in 1997. And yet, all of that time, SAP has been banking support charges that average 20 percent of the initial purchase price while putting close to nothing back into the product.

Tier 1 vendors have little incentive to continue to develop their ERP systems. Most Tier 1 vendors have saddled their customers with aging and low functionality ERP systems, but with high costs. This is the “ERP trap.” Companies that bought big ERP never saw much of a financial benefit, and are now paying an even bigger price as they are stuck with dated systems of low capability that eat up large portions of their IT budget. Every year that I spend time in SAP or Oracle ERP, the more out of date their applications seem.

Is Two-tiered ERP the Savior of ERP?

Generally speaking, the dissatisfaction with ERP systems—and Tier 1 ERP systems in particular—is high. Those that have proposed the concept of two-tiered ERP know this and have, in part, based their strategy around this dissatisfaction. However, two-tiered ERP is just the latest in several popular philosophies that have been proposed to improve and rectify the problems with ERP. The narrative of all these philosophies has never been to question the foundations of ERP (although there is ample evidence to justify doing so), but to suggest a way of adjusting or improving ERP. What has not been recognized is that many of the criticisms leveled against ERP, and particularly significant ERP, are inherent to features of large ERP systems—and therefore not amenable to improvement.

Possibly the most ridiculous of these philosophies was service-oriented architecture (SOA), which was the philosophy before two-tiered ERP. Supposedly SOA was going to stoke up the value of ERP systems. At one point, all of Tier 1 and Tier 2 ERP software vendors produced some trumped-up white paper that described their “vision” for SOA. All of the major consulting companies proposed not only that SOA was logical, but predicted that SOA was going to be a huge trend that was going to help clients reclaim value from their stogy old ERP systems. Many books were written about this new concept, and many presentations were given at conferences. However, SOA, while proposed with high confidence, has now faded with virtually zero effect on ERP.

Interestingly, none of the companies that promised so much from SOA have suffered in the marketplace. And none have had their credibility reduced. Intriguingly, those who pumped up the SOA message are now hoping that recipients of the message have short memories and have by now forgotten about all those SOA promises. It should be stated that the concept of SOA was ludicrous from the beginning, as I explained in the following article that I wrote back in 2010 when SOA was somewhat in vogue.

Why Did SOA Not Take Hold?

The reason SOA was never going to take hold in ERP systems (aside from its technical features; a programmer is better qualified to offer an opinion on that than am I) was because Tier 1 and Tier 2 ERP vendors base their competitive strategy on closing off options for their customers. And not on publishing their functionality to be used by all. SOA was about breaking down barriers and allowing any application to call upon the functionality of any other application. All Tier 1 and most Tier 2 ERP software is based upon the opposite philosophy: a philosophy of closed-off systems. The ERP system is used as a “wedge” to get into a customer. Once in, the ERP system is used to justify the purchase of uncompetitive applications from the same ERP vendor based on these systems being easier to integrate back to the ERP system. Why would prominent ERP vendors support an approach based on open standards, which would allow their applications’ functionality to work flexibly with other applications? That is precisely the opposite of their business model. No real technical knowledge was required to predict that SOA would not happen in the ERP space—only understanding of how prominent ERP software vendors operate.

Two-tiered ERP is yet another trend to get behind, to write articles about, and to base conference presentations upon. Unlike SOA, it is based upon several truths. I want to be clear that the proponents of two-tiered ERP are not objective sources of information; they are marketers whose primary motivation is to help sell more software. Two-tiered ERP is a marketing construct based upon a truth (although generally the specific truth is not articulated) that Tier 1 ERP systems are not good values for medium-sized companies. The evidence, which is compiled in, The Real Story Behind ERP: Separating Fiction from Reality, is that Tier 1 ERP applications are poor values, even for the largest companies.

A Dangerous Idea Two-tiered ERP is a threat to Tier 1

ERP vendors because once more diversity is allowed in enterprise software purchases, it will soon be apparent that Tier 1 ERP vendors offer some of the worst value of all applications purchased by the enterprise software market. We estimated the total cost of ownership (TCO) of purchasing both ERP and non-ERP software from an ERP vendor (a one-hundred-percent ERP vendor software strategy) and the TCO of buying mostly from a Tier 1 ERP vendor. Both strategies are the most expensive purchasing strategies that one can follow and result in the lowest available functionality, implement-ability, and usability. Even so, it is still the dominant approach, followed by most large and mid-sized companies in developed countries.

Two-Tiered ERP and SaaS It is widely assumed that “software as a service” (SaaS) is a necessary part of a two-tiered ERP strategy. Two-tiered ERP is about speeding implementation timelines and reducing costs, and both of these objectives are accomplished when using SaaS-delivered solutions.

Matching the ERP System to the Environment Tier 1

ERP vendors essentially own the Fortune 1000 in the US. Large companies have complex requirements and the IT budgets to match. However, Tier 1 ERP also has a high total cost of ownership, long implementation durations, and a degree of complexity that is a poor match for smaller companies. A significant mistake has been for mid-sized companies to “stretch” to implement Tier 1 ERP. Many of these companies ended up with ERP systems that fell to a low level of capability because the companies lack the funding to support the systems. This is partial because of the software, and partly because ERP software has been parasitized by major consulting companies whose business model is to increase significantly the costs of ERP implementations as well as any other enterprise software they implement. I would know because I have clients that are in this exact predicament. This is truly the worst-case scenario: an expensive system delivering weak functionality and no real way out. The ERP system cannot be removed because the company spends so much of its IT budget, maintaining the Tier 1 ERP system that they cannot afford to pull out. This is the ERP trap and a vicious cycle. It is a phenomenon that was never considered and never predicted but is now entirely commonplace.

In these companies, Excel becomes the predominant system for almost all analysis. Everything becomes about extracting data from the ERP system, making changes in Excel, and uploading the output of the processing back to ERP.


Here is an example. One of my clients used a Tier 1 ERP system for forecasting. The forecasting functionality within the ERP system was complicated to use and was essentially a black box system. The forecast accuracy was abysmal; first, they could not run the forecasting models appropriately. And second, they could not figure out how to interpret the output because the application had no real user interface—data was uploaded, and data was downloaded. In truth, it was barely an application at all—at least not in terms of how we think of a modern application. Just as big of a problem as the reduced output was the time wasted by the employees who had to perform gymnastics to adjust for the weak forecast continually. For this particular client, I used an inexpensive. Still, modern forecasting application to create my forecasts for the company and to do things they could never have done using the functionality in their ERP system. This is the hefty price that is paid if one relies upon ERP systems for planning functions.

Many companies operate as I have just described, and they are operating in a way that is decades behind what is possible. When clients use Tier 1 ERP systems predominantly to get their work done, it saddens me to think of how much human potential is wasted within these companies by working with (and often around) bad software. Poor software selection saddles companies with reduced quality applications for many years and employees are put under pressure to meet objectives that regularly they cannot meet because the tools they are given are of such low quality. It seems like a bad deal for everyone but a lucky few who benefit from either selling or implementing the software from the major ERP vendors.

The Truth To Two-Tiered ERP

As was discussed previously, two-tiered ERP is based upon an interesting kernel of truth about ERP systems. The actual usage of ERP is explained below:

“Our research finds that one-third of companies with more than 1,000 employees use an ERP application supplied by a single vendor while two-thirds use software from two or more vendors; one-third have software from four or more vendors. There are largely two reasons why companies have heterogeneous ERP environments. One is purely historical: Automating back office functions began decades ago, and companies initially did not roll out or upgrade the systems across the entire enterprise. Moreover, some parts of the organization may have been built through acquisitions. If the acquired entity was relatively large, it often made sense to leave the existing systems in place.

A second reason is that, when it comes to ERP, one size simply does not always fit all; lines of business can be different enough that a single vendor’s offering is not well suited to the needs of all. A two- tier approach recognizes that a big ERP system generally, and the headquarters ERP system specifically, often is a bad fit for the needs of a small offsite division or a remote manufacturing unit in, say, Recife, Brazil that is part of a mostly services-oriented corporation. Using the headquarters ERP vendor’s manufacturing application capabilities may well be overkill for this single-site operation. 

Global firms have a long legacy of ERP heterogeneity, with Forrester noting as long ago as 2004 that a third of firms were already running 10 or more instances.”A Strategic Approach to Establishing Two- Tier ERP

Tier 1 ERP vendors would like you to forget that the vast majority of companies that use ERP systems have multiple ERP systems. Sometimes multiple ERP instances in one company—due to things such as each country having its own ERP instance or a subsidiary in the same country having a separate ERP instance. That is important to consider.

Therefore, part of the two-tiered philosophy is “business as usual.” However, with the rise of the two-tiered philosophy, this is the first time, at least that I could find, that ERP companies diverged from their primary philosophy of a single instance. Tier 1 vendors developed marketing literature on two-tiered ERP after Tier 2 and Tier 3 ERP vendors released their marketing literature, promoting the use of their applications for all the tiers. This might make for beautiful marketing literature, and may help muddy the waters. Still, it makes little sense to use a tier 1 ERP system for all business units/subsidiaries, at least if different instances are required (which would be if the various business units/ subsidiaries have different configuration and customization needs). Using tier 1 ERP software for all of the tiers undermines the advantages of two-tiered ERP, in that a) the buyer would not receive a diversity of functionality as provided by multiple ERP systems and b) the buyer would not receive any benefits of lowered costs and TCO from lower-cost ERP tier 2 and tier 3 ERP systems.

Marketing Literature for Multi-Tier ERP

Tier 1 vendors released this marketing literature as a defensive measure— to prevent the Tier 2 and Tier 3 vendors from making much headway with the concept of two-tiered ERP. Customers were reading the two-tiered documentation from smaller ERP software vendors and wanted to know the position of Tier 1 ERP software vendors (one could have guessed their position before reading their documentation). SAP and Oracle have countered with a second proposal: Continue to use their applications for the second tiers, but use their Tier 2 solutions (SAP Business One and Oracle JD Edwards World). Because these are much less expensive applications. This approach is at least cost-effective, but it reduces the

competitiveness and diversity of functionality available to the buyer. If a buyer, through a competitive software selection decides to include SAP Business One or Oracle JD Edwards World as their tier 2 ERP system, then that is perfectly fine, but to reward these applications with the selection based on the fact that the buyer already owns the vendor’s Tier 1 offering makes no sense at all, as there are few technological advantages to doing this.

Competitiveness and diversity of functionality available to the buyer. If a buyer, through a competitive software selection decides to include SAP Business One or Oracle JD Edwards World as their tier 2 ERP system, then that is perfectly fine, but to reward these applications with the selection based on the fact that the buyer already owns the vendor’s Tier 1 offering makes no sense at all, as there are few technological advantages to doing this.

The Supporting Logic Versus Marketing Hyperbole

Most often, two-tiered ERP is presented as something new, but it is a widespread practice. The real difference is in the acknowledgment that a foundational characteristic—single instance ERP—is giving way to a standard approach of multiple ERP systems, not merely as part of a short-term approach, but as part of a long-term strategy. In the past, it was considered more appealing to state that, while one had multiple ERP instances, eventually, the company would move to a single instance.

The multi-ERP strategy has been around for as long as there have been ERP systems. Yet IT analysts, consulting firms, and IT trade periodicals that discuss the “new trend” of two-tiered ERP strategies, most often fail to bring up the rather important fact that a big part of the ERP value proposition was supposed to be a single instance of ERP, as explained in the following quote from an article in the Sloan Management Review:

“The concept of a single monolithic system failed for many companies. Different divisions or facilities often made independent purchases, and other systems were inherited through mergers and acquisitions. Thus many companies ended up having several instances of the same ERP system or a variety of different ERP systems altogether, further complicating their IT landscape. In the end, ERP systems became just another subset of the legacy systems they were supposed to replace.”

How can so many entities actively promote the concept of two-tiered ERP without even mentioning that it is in complete opposition to one of the original value propositions of buying ERP systems in the first place? This is an excellent time to analyze just a few of the logics that were used to sell ERP.

The Reality of Two Tiered ERP

At this point, two-tier ERP comes across to many as a thoughtful enterprise software strategy. However, an analysis of the origins of two-tier ERP point to it being nothing more than a marketing construct that was first proposed, or at least popularized by NetSuite. Marketing constructs can be true or false, but it’s essential to identify the source of any concept to understand why it was proposed in the first place. In this case, this construct was designed to open up the clients that were primarily tier 1 ERP customers to tier two and three ERP products. There is nothing more than anecdotal evidence quoted that is used to demonstrate that two-tier ERP systems reduce costs/provide benefits over a 100 percent tier 1 strategy. However, given the high expense and low value of tier 1 ERP systems, it would be surprising if a two-tier strategy, if properly configured, did not improve outcomes for buyers. I will explain various two-tier ERP strategies and their impact on costs and value in Chapter 6: “Applying the Concept of Two-tiered ERP to Your Company.” Two-tier ERP has been co-opted as much as possible by Oracle and SAP, however, at its heart, it is essentially a thinly disguised indictment of tier 1 ERP systems generally, and single instance tier 1 ERP systems in particular. Two-tier ERP is one of the first cracks in the façade of tier 1 ERP systems, something that, if enterprise software decisions were primarily based upon research and historical analysis, rather than based upon trends and “what other people are doing,” would have occurred some time ago. Another interesting and strange thing about two-tier ERP is that while it sounds or seems novel it has been the predominant way that companies implement ERP systems—it is only that two-tier ERP is explicit in its statement of ERP diversity as a laudable goal—something that was often considered or accepted as merely a transitory state to the “Holy Grail” of a single instance ERP system.

Implementing the Two-Tiered ERP Strategy

Therefore, for companies looking for the best overall solution architecture strategy, it’s neither employing a 100 percent tier 1 ERP strategy, nor a two-tiered ERP strategy (both of which would be augmented with what is often mediocre applications offered by the ERP vendor for “integration” along with other assorted best of breed applications.

However, executive decision-makers most often don’t have the authority to review the overall corporate solution architecture, but instead must make decisions on incremental additions to their corporate solution architecture. For these decision-makers, the first question concerning two-tiered ERP is whether it is better than 100 percent tier 1 ERP strategy, and for this, the answer is yes. The second question is “which tier 2 ERP system,” and the final question is, “what is the best way to integrate all of the ERP systems.” The answer to the first question is that it very much depends upon how the two-tier strategy is implemented, as has already been discussed in this chapter. Now we will look at the second of these two questions.

Choosing a Two-Tier ERP System

Many ERP software vendors present themselves to their prospects as if they have the best answer for how to select a two-tier ERP system, and the answer is unsurprisingly their software. ERP vendors have made the case that some ERP vendors have a leg up on others in terms of being the tier 2 or tier 3 ERP application. After analyzing this area, as well as their documentation and their statements, it’s difficult to see how any of this argument holds any water. The best reason not to believe something is if it has no evidence, but in this case, there are two other reasons why it’s not a good idea to listen to ERP vendors on the topic of two-tier ERP.

  1. Solution Architecture Role: ERP vendors are attempting to serve as solution architects for their clients when they propose why their software is part of a grand two-tier ERP strategy. There is a long history of software vendors and consulting companies serving as solution architects for buyers, and it rarely works out well. Software vendors cannot look after the overall architecture because of their bias to insert their applications at every turn.
  2. Distraction: The advantages of a two-tier ERP strategy are based upon a buyer gaining access to a lower cost and lower maintenance ERP system; it is not based upon integration. It is worth repeating this because many ERP vendors are combining several issues which will always lead to confusion on the part of buyers. The primary benefit of two tiered ERP is based upon getting access to a lower cost and lower maintenance ERP system as well as gaining access to more functionality, which can meet more business requirements without expensive customization. Let us remember that if the main objective were an integrated system, and if one integrated system leads to lower costs, then we would stick with a 100 percent tier 1 ERP strategy. However, companies that have followed this strategy have experienced the highest possible costs of any possible ERP solution architecture. And in this vein, the most beneficial ERP system is the one that best meets the business requirements of the company.

Many ERP vendors are proposing the old integration argument, and the Tier 2 and Tier 3 ERP vendors will discuss how their systems integrate better into the tier 2 ERP system that is already in place. However, a tier 2 ERP strategy can be implemented with the ERP system—but this is not the way to achieve this strategy—which leads to the final question.

How to Integrate the Tier 2 or Tier 3 ERP System

ERP systems must be integrated into other ERP systems for really two reasons—one is the two entities that run each ERP system do business with each other, and therefore it may be convenient if the two ERP systems are integrated—however it’s undoubtedly a minor consideration. Independent companies have no problem doing business with each other when their ERP systems are not integrated through the standard business documents/transactions of purchase orders, sales orders, etc. Secondly, ERP systems were never designed to be integrated into other ERP systems. The second, and far more critical reason for ERP systems that are within the same overall enterprise to be integrated, is reporting. However, ERP systems are not generally all that proficient at reporting—which is the primary capability of business intelligence systems. ERP systems can have data extracted from them and sent to business intelligence systems. Two or more ERP systems can be integrated into a single business intelligence system in the same way. This is the most logical way of implementing multiple ERP systems that result in integrated reporting.

Getting the Best ERP System……and Other Systems.

The fact that a company already uses one particular BI application should not promote that company to try to purchase an ERP system from the same vendor. This is because getting the best ERP system and best business intelligence system for the company’s requirements is far more critical than getting the systems with some faux integration that comes from the same vendor. Just the analysis of long-term maintenance costs between the different ERP applications demonstrates this. Still, of course, the other side of the story is the functionality differences between the ERP applications that are often quite significant. For example, in the case of ProcessPro, an ERP system that is customized for process industry manufacturing (things like cheese, petroleum refining, mining, etc.) the applications come standard with several key areas of functionality that no other ERP system have in total. Still, many other ERP vendors partially have or pretend to have. Process industry manufacturing buyers that choose systems that have less of this specialized functionality, accepting the integration argument, or that the customization will be “not that big of a deal,” end up with problematic ERP implementations that cost a lot to maintain. Hopefully, this emphasizes the importance of mating the application to the requirements—although many other examples could be given. Furthermore, no software vendor offers both a leading ERP system and a leading business intelligence system. The software vendors that provide ERP systems provide some of the lowest productivity and highest cost business intelligence systems, and purchasing both from one vendor is a guarantee of ending up with at least one bad application.


To implement two-tier two strategies most effectively, it’s necessary to resist the arguments presented by two tier ERP proponents and also to dig a little deeper into under what circumstances and why following a two tier ERP strategy can save companies money. Many proponents of two tier ERP will make the argument that their systems are better suited to be the second or third tier, when in fact, any ERP system can be equally placed in these tiers. The hyperbole on two tiered ERP should not distract buyers from attempting to find the best match between the ERP system and the business requirements. Secondly, it is, in most cases, unnecessary to integrate the multiple ERP systems that are part of a multi-tiered ERP solution architecture. Even when companies buy and sell from one another, all of this can, and is, easily managed with standard purchase order and sales order functionality that requires no integration. For consolidated reporting, it is necessary to have all of the ERP systems in the company’s ecosystem to have data extracted from them. Still, again, here the most crucial feature is the capabilities and the productivity of the business intelligence solution. The best software vendors in business intelligence do not offer ERP systems, but some of the lower quality and higher cost ERP vendors do. The best approach is to find the highest-value applications in both ERP and business intelligence and combines them as on any other project. There are simply no “special rules” when it comes to two-tiered ERP.