If ERP is plumbing for the Enterprise; How do we unplug it and keep it from making a huge mess?
I have been working with ERP in various roles for over 30 years, directly involved in over a hundred implementations, while my company has been involved with over 300 more. Of course, in many ways the systems we use today are completely different from what we used in the ‘80s – back then it was green screens, simple transaction entry forms, and cumbersome updates (at best) to link what one department did with all the other areas that needed access to that information. Then there were those planning programs that took all the information along with various parameters the users needed to set and told us what to do.
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
What has surely changed is how we use these systems. Back when I started we used them because we could process more transactions more accurately and faster with a computer, than with the otherwise necessary roomful of clerks. Those clerks, schedulers, and various other clerical employees were the first generation of jobs computers rendered obsolete. Strangely, I do not remember anyone bemoaning those lost jobs. I will let others speculate on the reasons for that.
Individual companies could and did debate the decision about how much they automated. Yes, in retrospect, it is pretty clear that choosing not to automate was to accept a long, slow death for the business, but it is not that long ago when there were still lots of manufacturing managers and business owners who did not use, or like, computers.
Competition Changes Everything
Today a business system is just another piece of necessary infrastructure like an office, a phone, a lawyer, a bank account and an accountant. The system remains the transaction processing backbone for the organization, but the way in which we use the information that flows from those transactions has changed drastically in this interconnected world. Back in the heady days when ERP was new, the focus was all internal, inside the four walls. Today that seems quaint – the Internet connects all systems and much of the unique incremental benefits (or competitive advantage, if you prefer) come from two deceptively simple concepts – how you connect with the rest of the world from your business systems, and how you monitor your business’s performance in real time and adapt to what you learn.
I still remember a kickoff meeting twenty years ago for what was then a pretty large ERP implementation at an automotive supplier. Two comments struck me – the first was public. “I like to think of our business as a boat, and we have been steering it by looking out the back. This project will at least let us see out the sides.” The other was in a private meeting when we were discussing change management, and how they would deal with the resistance that would surely come. This same manager said simply, “I guess we will have to fire someone for it, and then the rest will get religion.”
Not terribly ambitious goals, but I give him credit for honesty.
Things have certainly changed a lot in terms of our expectations for the systems, and our approach to implementation, but despite these systems having become an integral and necessary part of the infrastructure of every business, they remain infuriatingly complex and the benefits we expect are often difficult to achieve.
Illusive Benefits = Bad Form
That should not be the case. So my goal in this series of posts will be nothing less than to be your guide as I share my insights and other good ideas, found across the web, as to how to make business system selection easier and how to get the most benefit from those systems. Because in spite of all the marketing folderol to the contrary, it seems pretty clear that your friendly software vendor and expert implementation consultants are not going to do that for you. Not because they are stupid or evil people, of course, quite the contrary. They just cannot and will not make the decisions for us that need to be made.
Since I have a letter C in front of my title, you can expect this to be a high level discourse, and not a detailed list of project management tips. High level concepts are important at every level of the organization and should be kept in mind whether your role involves a ‘C’ in the title, the lead purchasing agent, or otherwise doing a hard day’s work.
Systems should work for us. Choosing and implementing a system should not be a high risk proposition for a business, or the individuals doing the work.
The common elements made simple, efficient, and effortless with returns.
My entire career has been dedicated to those goals.
I trust that gives you a flavor of what is to come. What do you consider yourself to be?
- internal expert?
- someone beginning the search and implementation process?
- an executive looking for competitive advantage?
- an industry insider?
- or someone who finds this amusing for some reason?
All of the above? I would like to engage in a dialogue along with my discourse. There is a better way to choose and use software and as someone who could fit into any and all of the categories listed (yes, I really do find business software entertaining in some weird way), I have some ideas I’d love to share with you.
About the author:
David Dickson is an itinerant generalist; his path to partner and CFO of Crossroads RMC has had its twists and turns. His first twist occurred when an employer needed a business system and picked him because he had three semesters of computer programming in engineering school -- an “expert” born. Somewhere along the line he helped to build and sell a company, which he bought back a couple of years later. Add in another acquisition, a merger, and about 30 years in manufacturing systems in various roles, and you might get a sense from where his real expertise might arise.