A management hot button that you're probably familiar with is enterprise resource planning (ERP). Previously associated only with manufacturing firms, ERP has become an all-encompassing term that describes the integrated flow and control of goods, services, and processes down the supply chain. SQL Server and other relational databases typically serve as the data stores under the packaged applications that people use in automating ERP.

Just as OLAP and the balanced-scorecard concepts (see Karen Watterson, "Keeping Score," page 21) are beginning to overlap and converge, so are ERP and data warehouses. And you don't need a lot of imagination to predict other types of convergence: data warehouses and customer relationship management (CRM), or data warehouses and enterprise relationship management (ERM).

These converging trends were evident at last summer's ERP World '98 in San Diego, Calif. According to Roger Eberlin, senior consultant with Hewlett-Packard's data warehouse practice, "Today, customers are building new business applications, such as customer relationship management and campaign management, as extensions of the data warehouse. These new applications are part of a controlled, closed-loop system. Data warehouses have moved from being read-only storage facilities to being business monitors." Feedback from data warehouses is being used not only as the basis for better CRM programs, but also as input for process control and workflow applications.

Have you started thinking about balanced scorecards based on OLAP data, ERP implementations based on SQL Server, and customer relationship management based on data warehouses for career-enhancing projects you might initiate to help your firm's bottom line? If you have, you'll be interested in reading two articles by Thomas Davenport (Harvard Business Review, July-August 1998). He provides a thought-provoking analysis of enterprise systems based on packaged applications from vendors such as SAP. Streamlining data flows throughout an organization can offer significant cost reductions, but systems such as some of the early PC accounting systems are inflexible enough that many organizations find they need to change the way they do business to use the systems. In another article in the same issue, "Welcome to the Experience Economy," B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore cover the importance of the customer experience.

Elsewhere, management doyen Peter Drucker writes in "The Next Information Revolution" (Forbes, August 24, 1998) that we're in the process of moving beyond the mere "collection, storage, transmission, analysis, and presentation of data" to understanding the meaning and purpose of data and of integrating it with outside data. "All of the new information concepts," says Drucker, "from economic chain accounting, activity-based accounting, through economic value added (EVA) and the executive scorecard, still provide inside information only. So, of course, does the existing MIS system." Food for thought.