It's no secret that enterprise resource planning software, commonly known as ERP, got a bad rap in recent years as a result of some much-publicized troubled installations. But many manufacturers are finding ways to extend the usefulness of ERP as a backbone for distributing corporate data up, down and across the enterprise. In some cases, ERP systems were installed without sufficient connections to the plant floor, and in others, without providing adequate information to sales managers, planners and others at the corporate level. That's changing, as more companies install manufacturing execution systems (MES) on the plant floor, as well as business information systems in the office, to extend ERP's usefulness. One manufacturer that has benefited from the MES-ERP connection is Dan River Inc.'s Apparel Fabrics Division in Sevierville, Tenn. The company makes fabric that is sold on bolts to consumers through retail outlets. "Our MES works in conjunction with ERP," says Bob Beecy, senior director of planning and customer requirements. "If done well, the MES-ERP connection creates unbelievable power." The Dan River unit uses Camstar's Insite MES to track process flow, enabling planners and operators to take advantage of efficiencies where possible while being able to identify, and where possible, circumvent bottlenecks. "It defines a level of detail on the shop floor that allows us to process the work accurately," Beecy adds. The MES updates the company's ERP system "so our customer service people can immediately see the last activity on a particular order," he says. "It really improves our competitiveness because this information enhances our ability to meet service level needs." Manufacturers also are maximizing their ERP data via sophisticated business analysis systems at the corporate level. For example, Kohler Co., the $3 billion maker of kitchen and bath products, uses Cognos' Powerplay business intelligence system to analyze outbound shipments, on-time deliveries, first-time fill, monthly sales trends, and backlog data from its SAP ERP system. Sales managers receive an extraordinary orders report giving them an early warning of a possible problem affecting a large order. "You can drill down and see where in the process things are going wrong," says Richard Boenisch, program director at Kohler in Kohler, Wis. "Rather than write a bunch of customer reports in SAP, this is a lower cost solution, because the data is extracted right out of SAP," says Boenisch, formerly CIO of Kohler's plumbing division who now serves as an internal liaison between the company's IT function and its businesses.