Enterprise resource planning (ERP) is the setting up of electronic information systems throughout an organisation in such a way that disparate parts of the organisation are brought together, parts that may rarely in the past have had access to information about each other—manufacturing, for instance, and customer relationship management (CRM).
ERP software, designed to implement this, acts as a sort of central nervous system for the corporation. It gathers information about the state and activity of different parts of the body corporate and conveys this information to parts elsewhere that can make fruitful use of it. The information is updated in real time by the users and is accessible to all those on the network at all times.
Just as the central nervous system’s capacity can at times seem to transcend the collective capacity of its individual parts (a phenomenon that we call consciousness), so too can that of ERP systems. They (as it were) make the corporation self-aware. In particular, ERP systems link together information about finance, human resources, production and distribution. They embrace stock-control systems, customer databases, order-tracking systems, accounts payable, and so on. They also interface when and where necessary with suppliers and customers.