In the 1990s a new IT architecture started to develop: the browser architecture. Continuous technological developments made computers and network connections affordable not only for companies, but also for individual consumers and households. Today, Internet, e-mail and social media have become an integral part of our daily lives.
For a browser architecture the network is the crucial element. he network no longer connects the various locations of s single company, but can technically connect all computers, clients and servers, that are connected to the Internet. Network capacity has increased enormously, and prices have decreased at the same time, which means that the network is no longer the bottleneck in an IT architecture. Through network management and network security an organisation can determine which of the millions of potential connections are necessary or useful for the organisation and offer these connections to the users.
Servers that can provide disk space, internal memory and processing power can be connected to the network, which is comparable to what mainframes provided in traditional architectures. The new element in a browser architecture is the browser, a software programme that is installed on the data entry and output device of the user. The browser programme executes the communication over the network via a standardised and efficient protocol that requires minimal internal memory and processing power on the client side. This means that a powerful PC is no longer required in a browser architecture, but that alternative options such as mobile phones, smart phones, tablets or blackberries can be used as data entry and output devices. The only requirement on the client side is the presence of a browser. Because of these minimal requirements in a browser architecture, the client is often named a thin client.
In this picture a schematic overview is presented of the mapping of the ERP elements on a browser architecture. The ERP database and ERP business logic are installed on a server, and this server is made accessible through a network. This network can be public Internet, a private company-owned network, or a combination of both. When public Internet is used, this is also called cloud computing.
Users can activate the interaction by starting their browser, connecting to the web-page from which the ERP server can be reached and logging in to the ERP system. he browser can be installed on a PC on the premises of the organisation, but also at the home of the user, on a smart phone or on a PC in an Internet cafe somewhere abroad.
The main advantage of a browser architecture is the ease with which users can gain access to the ERP database and the ERP business logic. The maintenance and version management of the database and the business logic only have to be carried out on one server. Via the browser, users always have access to the most recent version. Maintenance on the client side is rarely required; as long as it has a browser installed and it can set up a connection with the server from anywhere n the world, the user can work with the ERP system.
The browser architecture also has a few disadvantages. Firstly, working from various locations requires a high security awareness from the users. Leaving an open connection to an ERP webpage on an airport for instance is clearly undesirable. Transportation of data over public Internet without additional security measures is also not advisable; the route that the data will follow is not known in advance, and during transportation data can be intercepted. The second disadvantage is the complete dependence on the network: without a network connection the ERP system cannot be reached. On public Internet no availability guarantees are given, which means that if ERP is mission-critical, an alternative network connection has to be available.
The popularity of the browser architecture will probably increase in the coming years. The increasing capacity and decreasing prices of network connections, and the availability of browsers on more and more data entry and output devices ensure the further development and sophistication of the browser architecture in the coming decade.