Achieving Successful High Value Business Information System Solutions (including ERP)

This section of the website contains a number of sections that explore ways of achieving high value, high reliability outcomes from Business Information System investments by applying engineering concepts and approach to the use of the technology

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This page discusses in some detail the critical factors that give rise to Business Information System (ERP plus) investments failures and the factors required to achieve successful outcomes

This is presented in the context of James Robertson's more than 26 years experience with ERP and Integrated Business Information Systems directed at bringing the reliability of Engineering methods to the implementation of large, complex, integrated Business Information Systems

The discussion below is a refinement of methods that build on dozens of projects analyzing the failure and sub-optimal outcome of systems coupled with a structured analysis first undertaken in 2003 and progressively refined in the context of practical application of the method since then

The article also looks at the relevance of these factors to the recent partial implementation failure of the SAP Enterprise Warehouse Management System (EWM) at BMW



The Real Issues in ERP and Business Systems

Achieving High Value, High Reliability, Long Life

Business Information System Solutions

that Meet or Exceed Client Executive Expectations


Many executives are frustrated with their ERP and other Business Information System Investments, failure is rife, “most ERP implementations do not deliver what was promised” (Financial Mail, SA), “most businesses are not making better decisions than they did five years ago” (Gartner), sub-optimal project outcomes are rife.  Consider the recent BMW situation:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-27/bmw-owners-vent-anger-at-months-long-wait-for-spare-parts.html

Yet there seems to be an almost fatalistic acceptance that ERP and other business information systems are so difficult that failure or hit and miss outcomes are unavoidable.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

High value, high reliability solutions that meet or exceed all reasonable management expectations are entirely achievable provided the appropriate techniques are applied within the framework of an integrated, holistic business solution orientated approach which I refer to as “the engineering approach”.

The engineering approach relates to a reality that if you contract an engineer to design a bridge you get the bridge you asked for and it stands up.

Since 1989 I have spent much of my time in practical, hands-on applied research in my day to day consulting and advisory work seeking to understand what this engineering approach entails and how to apply it in practice.  This work has built on my qualifications as a graduate Civil Engineer with a BSc Honours and a PhD in Civil Engineering and registration as a Professional Engineer.  All of this has been associated with practical experience in the practice of Engineering before I embarked on my current business direction.

This experience is coupled with military qualifications to the level of Lieutenant Colonel at the Regimental Commander level and four years grounding in economics and general business as well as diverse other interests and experience in zoological taxonomies and other classification schemes.  This experience has been further informed by detailed knowledge and experience in the design, construction and implementation of computer software associated with a number of successful system design and implementation projects in the 1980’s which led me into the field of endeavor that I have followed since 1989.

This diversity of knowledge and experience has enabled me to apply a fundamental first principles engineering approach to establishing what really works.  Coupled to this I have undertaken many short (1 to 10) day, high impact investigations to investigate the causes of business information system and ERP implementation failures and sub-optimal outcomes directed at advising clients how to remediate the situation and turn it around.  As a consequence I have developed a robust understanding of why conventional practice so frequently leads to failure and sub-optimal outcomes and what is required for success.

This led, in turn to the structured analysis that led to the creation of the course “The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success” and publication of the book of the same name in 2004.  The book is available on my website at:

http://www.James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com/portals/0/Documents/The-Critical-Factors-for-IT-Investment-Success.pdf

This article is the first of a series of articles that will each address a different facet of the approach.

In reading this article and those that follow it is important to understand that most of the points, with variations, are applicable to any form of strategic business improvement initiative, be it a systems procurement and implementation, a business process optimization project, development and implementation of a strategic plan or any other form of strategic business initiative.

These points are most critically visible with business information systems because they involve the use of computers which are intensely stupid and only do what they are told such that for many years I have asserted that “business information systems are the harshest judge of governance” see:

http://www.James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com/Articles/DNNArticle/DNNArticleEditor/DNNArticleView/tabid/116/ArticleId/36/SNw-006-Information-Technology-The-Harshest-Judge-of-Governance.aspx


Please contact me on James@James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com to find out how I can assist you to apply the principles discussed in this article


Succeed by Engineering against Failure

One of the key lessons I learned in my journey to learn how to bring the disciplines of Engineering to the IT, ERP and Business Information Systems arena generally was that Engineers do not design bridges to stand up, they design them not to fall down.  I realized in around 1998 that during my entire engineering training and practical career I was trained to prevent failure and that this radically different emphasis was key to understanding the methods that I was developing and why the traditional business system and, particularly, ERP implementation methods were fatally flawed.

This understanding underpinned the analysis that led to the course and book mentioned above and the work that I have done since then.

My analysis in 2003 led to me defining “the critical factors that give rise to failure” and “the critical factors for success”.  As I have taught and applied these factors my understanding of them has increased dramatically and, in the process, I have refined and adjusted them and adjusted my understanding of the relative importance but the factors have remained essentially the same.

The factors are discussed below at a headline level and I aim to discuss them in more detail in the newsletters that follow.

Since success is achieved by engineering against failure it is vital to first understand the critical factors that cause failure.

The sections below list the seven critical factors that cause failure in my experience.  The relative importance in percent gives an indication of the extent to which each of these factors give rise to failure or sub-optimal outcomes.  These are not related to the software they are related to what is done with the software and they, not the software, are the things that cause the problems.

There are other lists in circulation but the items discussed here are the fundamentals as I have experienced them over nearly two and a half decades of investigation into failed and sub-optimal project and operational outcomes and I hold them to be well on the way to being definitive.  The sequence and reducing percentages do not  indicate that the items lower down the list are not important, rather they indicate that if you have a problem higher up the list it does not matter how well you do the things lower down the list the outcome will be sub-optimal.

The percentages are also roughly indicative of the relative frequency of these factors in causing sub-optimal and failed outcomes:


1.   Mythology, hype and tradition – 30%

This is a broad category and includes:

Ø failure to realize that different methods deliver dramatically different outcomes with a scale of difference of the order of 100 x between the what is commonly delivered and what is advocated here.  Accordingly the criteria used to select an implementer are frequently not appropriate;

 

Ø industry sales hype that creates masterful illusions that are not real and causes business people to believe that the technology is magic;

 

Ø  outright dishonesty, lies are prevalent, “get the order at any cost”;

 

Ø  failure to honestly own the reality that a weak implementation can do huge damage to the client organization and even put it out of business, Google “ERP failure” to get an indication of the severity of the situation;

 

Ø  failure to engage and empower business executives to engage with and direct the business outcome;

 

Ø “change of scope” as a camouflage for sloppy and inexact discovery, failure to assist the client to fully understand how the system works, failure to plan for systematic multi-stage elaboration and refinement of understanding of the real long term business requirement and the most effective way of using the software;

 

Ø manipulating the client to accept the software as it is when modifications are fundamentally necessary in order to fit the business effectively;

 

Ø  “vanilla” is a pod that is used to flavor cakes, it has no relevance to business systems and is a fundamentally flawed metaphor;

 

Ø  limiting scope to the minimum necessary in order to get the job done in order to maximize profits instead of delivering the solution that the business clearly needs and the client thought they purchased;

 

Ø blame shifting from the implementer to the client, failure to take responsibility;

 

Ø  what I term “process obsession”, insistence on undertaking business process mapping at the beginning of a project when workflow should be prescribed at the executive level towards the end of an implementation and strategic discovery should be undertaken at the start.  Process mapping at the start of a project is a low risk way of printing money, it is totally useless in terms of the strategic discovery that is necessary to understand the essence of the business and craft a high value long life solution;

 

Ø what I term the “audit model”, inexperienced and under qualified consultants on site full day, every day with limited implementer supervision and high billings when the nature of what is required is senior, strategically savvy thought leaders engaged in depth in leading and directing the project with more junior assistants only where applicable;

 

Ø manipulating the client to take decisions and give direction to implementer personnel in such a way that the implementer shifts responsibility to the client that successful litigation for non-performance is almost impossible;

 

Ø  inappropriate client direction where the client appoints a frequently under experienced and technology focused “project manager” who then gives assertive direction that he or she is not qualified to give and / or fails to manage the things that really matter – this frequently voids any hope of holding the Implementer legally accountable for failure.  Contrast this with a very senior strategic facilitator advising the Chief Executive and a business executive as Contract Manager managing the contractors but not the technical direction;

 

Ø  tradition, the ways the ERP / IT industry have always done things and the way they are taught.  Because the way the industry has always done things has produced sub-optimal outcomes for decades we see an industry that is getting better and better at doing the wrong things, consider BMW as a case in point;

 

Ø a widely held view that the implementation of ERP and business systems is the domain of accountants and MBA graduates when it is fundamentally an engineering endeavor and a very highly specialized field of engineering endeavor at that;

 

Ø mistaken belief that business personnel must understand systems consultants when the correct position is that the consultants must be able to facilitate the business to accurately understand the real issues and make informed decision;

 

Ø  inexperienced consultants with no formal training who should not be near the project in any shape or form, this is a highly sophisticated and complicated field and only highly trained and experienced personnel should give direction;

 

Ø technology focused consultants who assertively give radically inappropriate advise because they fundamentally do not understand the real issues;

 

Ø a mistaken belief that the different products on the market are radically different when, in fact, at a fundamental level they all work in broadly the same manner and are differentiated more by gimmicks that often get in the way of sound business solutions than by any leading edge thinking;

 

Ø a mistaken belief that business systems technology is moving “so fast” when, in fact, the fundamental principles have changed little in the last decade or longer.  For example, the basic attributes of a customer have nothing to do with technology;

 

Ø all sorts of unrealistic expectations and beliefs that have no correlation with the real world.  Many of these boil down to a mistaken belief that computers are in some fashion magical and human like resulting in abdication of intellect and responsibility by business executives in diverse components of a typical project;

 

Ø all of this results in business executives and managers being intimidated such that many keep their mouths shut for fear of appearing ignorant when, in fact, they should take a tough stand and refuse to budge until they have the information they need to take an appropriate, high quality, business decision.

 

2.   Inappropriate or ineffective executive custody, governance and cor-porate policy – 19%

The next most important factor relates to corporate leadership, executive custody, overall project and system governance and corporate and project policies:

Ø on an integrated business information systems or ERP project the only person who is qualified to act as executive sponsor is the Chief Executive.  They do not need to give a  huge amount of time but they do need to give quality time;

 

Ø giving custody to other executives or the IT manager is a major factor resulting in completely inappropriate outcomes.  Custody to the Chief Financial officer is one of the biggest reasons why operational systems do not interface effectively with the ERP and why the overall configuration is disjointed and requires substantial work by senior staff in Excel;

 

Ø lack of an executive level advisor to the CEO who thoroughly understands the high level strategic elements of business and who also thoroughly understands business systems and ERP and who has no allegiance or alliances with the software vendors or implementers;

 

Ø inappropriate overall project governance frequently gives rise to problems;

 

Ø on occasion corporate policies get in the way of successful outcomes;

 

Ø and other related factors.

 

3.   Lack of effective strategic alignment and strategic solution archi-tecture – 16%

In 1990 I found that I could not define the term “strategy” concisely and accurately in one sentence and could not locate an effective strategic analysis and design (planning) tool and method.  I subsequently developed a tool and method and, having researched the views of McDonald, Porter, Robert and others I concluded that strategy is “the essence of why the organization exists and how it thrives”.  This is derived first and foremost from the work of Professor Malcolm McDonald of Cranfield School of Management who asserts that organizations thrive through doing the right things well, my logo is derived from his “strategy-tactics” matrix.

I have repeatedly found that a significant contributor to failure is:

Ø  lack of clear definition of the essence of the business;

 

Ø  lack of focus on how the business thrives;

 

Ø lack of understanding of the fundamentals of the business which can only be determined from effective high level engagement with the Chief Executive and other members of the executive team;

 

Ø failure to have a senior advisor to the business who understands the above and is able to translate this into the high level solution design;

 

Ø failure to insist that implementers appoint their best strategic thinkers to work on the project;

 

Ø failure to engineer strategy and the essence of the business into every facet of the project and configuration;

 

Ø lack of strategic definition and method results in system implementations getting in the way of the business and hindering or blocking it from thriving.  In extreme cases shoddy implementation can destroy an organization and put it out of business.

 

4.   Lack of Precision Configuration – 14%

In other words, what I call “sloppy configuration”.

Over the years I have come to understand that computer based systems rely heavily on intelligence in the data and I have developed an overall approach to configuration that I now refer to as “Precision Configuration”.  The absence of this component is the biggest single consequence of sub-optimal actions on the preceding three factors.  It is also the hardest legacy of a badly run project.

Lack of Precision Configuration includes:

Ø badly structure or unstructured Chart of Accounts, product classification, employee classi-fication, service classification, etc;

 

Ø lack of strategic logic in the Chart of Accounts and other tables mentioned above;

 

Ø badly thought out codes, consecutively coded when they should be gap coded, etc;

 

Ø failure to define all possible attributes on master files;

 

Ø  failure to ensure that lists are hierarchical in order to reflect the logic of the organization;

 

Ø  failure to make lists easy to read and interpret including failure to take account of cognitive span;

 

Ø failure to define lists from a comprehensive, holistic, long term, executive information and decision support perspective first and foremost;

 

Ø failure to design on the basis that the most fundamental executive requirement is “answers to the questions I have not yet thought to ask”;

 

Ø  failure to design the configuration with a five to ten year future focused view of where the business is going;

 

Ø failure to identify the need for strategic customization building on the precision configuration in order to maximize business effectiveness and efficiency;

 

Ø failure to create a platform that will support a sustainable high value solution;

 

Ø failure to design the configuration for ease of reporting, analysis, dash-boarding and operations;

 

Ø diverse other factors that together result in a configuration that compromises the effec-tiveness of the business.

 

5.   Failure to address soft issues, business engagement and change impacts – 12%

When I started out in what I do today, in 1989 I was, as an engineer, very unaware of the soft, that is psychological, issues of change.  I had achieved business engagement unconsciously and had managed change impacts through a high level of Chief Executive engagement.  I very soon learned that these ideal conditions were not prevalent and that there were major problems associated with managing organizational change.

 

Over the years I have come to understand that these issues include:

 

Ø motivating projects on the basis of headcount reduction and therefore alienating staff is totally inappropriate and highly destructive.  This mobilizes staff to actively or passively resist and even sabotage the project;

 

Ø illogical and badly design configuration that staff resent because it is so sloppy;

 

Ø executive abdication ripples down through the entire organization.  If the CEO does not think this is important, how do I motivate myself?;

 

Ø consultants taking on roles that business management should be playing;

 

Ø failure to engage with the right people in the business at every step of the project;

 

Ø failure to get the right people around the table in every workshop and on every component of the project;

 

Ø failure to recognize change impacts resulting in the project blundering into toxic psychological behavior;

 

Ø  active and passive sabotage including key personnel ensuring their job security;

 

Ø  poor or no project communication;

 

Ø  incompetent consultants;

 

Ø  diverse other human behavior and psychology related factors;

 

Ø  “change management” that is actually a blunt instrument for beating client personnel into submission when they resist the above factors.

 

6.   Lack of an Engineering Approach – 6%

As an engineer, when I use the term “engineering approach” I am not using “engineering” in the loose and imprecise manner in which the Business Information System Implementation industry so frequently misappropriates terms they do not understand from other specialties.  I am using “engineering” in the sense of what was instilled in me by leading engineers of the highest caliber in the formative years of my professional development.  A profession that solves problems designs and constructs solutions to the highest standards of rigour, precision, accountability and professional dignity.

A profession that designs and builds things that work, bridges that stand for centuries, aircraft that fly year in and year out with minute accident figures, factories that work and work and work, buildings that function effectively, etc.  A profession that regulates itself and has chosen to be regulated by statute and which has an exceptionally low tolerance for professional incompetence and negligence.

When I use the term “engineering” in the context of the business systems industry I am referring specifically to the implementation of the systems and not to the construction of the software.  Remember, only 3% of what causes failure relates to technology and part of this relates to hardware, networks and related issues.

If you research the situation at BMW in the period up to September 2013, as referenced above, you will find references to “only 5%” and “will be rectified by the end of September”.  The fact is that thousands of vehicle owners and many service businesses were badly detrimented by the situation.

Once you understand the concept of an “engineering approach” you will understand why the situation at BMW points to negligence and / or incompetence by some persons involved in the project.

Society would not tolerate a situation in which “only 5%” of aircraft crash, or in which they were assured that aircraft would cease crashing within a month or two.

BMW have undoubtedly suffered reputational damage to their brand that will take time to rectify.  If the situation is not rectified soon this will escalate dramatically.  The fact that, as at the time of writing, 3 October 2013 there is no formal announcement by BMW that the problems have been solved, suggests that they are still occurring and the promised 30 September 2013 deadline may not have been met.

It is also noteworthy that, following a flurry of reports, there appears to be total silence on the BMW situation.  This suggests that one of the other attributes of the ERP and business systems industry is hard at work – silence.  I was once instructed by a client, after I had established that their SAP R/3 implementation was so seriously sub-optimal that it would need to be scrapped and re-implemented from scratch not to use the phrase “re-implement” so that the shareholders would not learn of the situation.  We were to refer to the situation as a “re-alignment”!

In engineering any failure is immediately comprehensively analyzed by objective third parties and the causes fully documented and openly published in order to prevent recurrence.  Consider the “Air Crash Investigation” series on TV as an example.  Another example of the difference between the business systems and ERP industry and the engineering world.

By Engineering Approach I mean a highly structured, meticulous, systematic, rigorous approach derived from the formal disciplines of Engineering that are instilled in Engineers from the earliest days at University.

 

In terms of the lack of an Engineering Approach, projects fail because of a lack of:

 

Ø  accountability, implementers make promises in ways that they cannot be held accountable.  They also execute projects in a fashion that shifts almost total blame to the client;

 

Ø failure to rigorously define the requirement in business outcome terms and enforce compliance with this specification;


Ø failure to undertake a rigorous, thorough and tough tender based procurement process directed at achieving a tough contract;


Ø failure to discuss and understand failure and manage failure out of the project throughout the entire duration of the project.  That is, failure to engineer against failure;


Ø failure to employ personnel with formal engineering training and certification and appropriate business and systems experience;


Ø the audit model of project operation versus the construction model;

 

Ø failure to plan and / or design and / or execute in meticulous and rigorous detail;

 

Ø failure to use simulation to comprehensively test the configuration to destruction until it does not fail any longer.  That is “break it till you cannot break it any more”;

 

Ø failure to use sampling techniques to ensure that test data is representative of every possible scenario in the business and is also selected in order to deal with extreme events with a view to breaking the configuration and ensuring that the entire set-up functions reliably before commissioning;

 

Ø failure to operate a formal “Business Simulation Laboratory” and run all aspects of system operation through the laboratory prior to authorizing commissioning;

 

Ø failure to fully test the entire configuration, reports, etc in the laboratory before authorizing commissioning;

 

Ø failure to fully train all personnel in the laboratory before authorizing commissioning;

 

Ø failure to employ a rigorous, certificate based approach to authorizing commissioning that includes penalties;

 

Ø failure to manage the deployment of the solution as an engineering endeavor;

 

Ø failure to do the things that an appropriately trained engineer would do instinctively to “make it work”.

 

7.   Technology Issues – sub-optimal or defective software, hardware, network, etc – 3%

As you will see, technology is only 3% of what causes failure today.

That said, if you do have a technology problem it can wreck the entire project.  Some years ago I advised a client with an extremely badly configured network that was massively consuming bandwidth.  This resulted from inappropriate network traffic and poor network configuration to the point that it was taking two minutes in a remote office from the time the “Accept” button was clicked with the mouse to the time when the next screen form was painted.  The system was effectively totally useless and the business was being run in Excel outside the big brand ERP.

So, technology can be an issue, although in this case the problem stemmed, in fact, from inappropriate governance, the project and the IT department reporting to the Legal Affairs director.

Technology factors include:

Ø under capacity hardware;

 

Ø under capacity network;

 

Ø unreliable hardware or network;

 

Ø badly written software, the factor that most people blame for poor system performance but which is very seldom the cause;

 

Ø gimmicky and badly conceptualized software that gets in the way;

 

Ø etc


This is not the place to cut corners.  As rule of thumb most people should consider the hardware budget to be overly generous.  The moment hardware is purchased on a tight budget without a clear understanding of the dynamics of the technology it gives rise to problems.

Underperforming hardware can cause total project failure and massive business damage, if in doubt, spend more.  Generally the Financial Director is the wrong person to set the hardware and network budget.

Most of the time, as in the BMW case above, the problems stem from other factors higher up on this list.


These are the factors that cause failure; they must be managed out of the project and the operation of the system.


Please contact me on James@James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com to find out how I can assist you to apply the principles discussed in this article


The Benefits of Management Information Systems to the Professional Practice -- V3 Consulting Engineers Case Study

SAICE 15th Annual Conference on Computers in Civil Engineering

By Dr James A Robertson PrEng & Reg M Barry, Financial Director, V3 Consulting Engineers

Case study with regard to a fully integrated business information system (ERP) with Cubic Business Model in the financial suite which delivered exceptional benefits in terms of management information and management effectiveness as well as substantial efficiencies including head count reduction and drastically reduced audit time and cost


SYNOPSIS

The advent of commercially available practice management software for the South African Consulting Engineering Industry some years ago, introduced the possibility of introducing far reaching, tailored, management information systems into the professional practice. This paper sets out to highlight some of the experiences and particularly the benefits derived from one such installation two years after implementation. The system comprises an integrated job costing, billing, debtors and creditors system linked to a comprehensive financial management system and an executive information system offering a wide range of management reports and graphical analysis.

Benefits experienced include the reliability and timeousness of the information, financial results are typically available within ten days of month end and year end financials within the same time frame at reduced audit cost and greater precision. A wide variety of reports are available and the organization can be viewed as a "Rubics Cube" of information in which the information can be grouped and examined in a wide variety of ways allowing project, client, profit center and other views of performance according to management's needs. Full activity based financial analysis and overhead distribution is supported eliminating the approximations typically made in assessing profit distribution and recognizing marketing and management contributions.

Senior management have had their workloads on mundane analysis greatly reduced while obtaining more accurate information faster. Information is also available at different levels of the organization at different levels of detail. Enquiries from a very summarized executive view to a very detailed transaction level analysis allow effective management by exception with drill down to specific problems. The variety of analyses possible offers great scope for effective management and directed marketing in a manner which should allow the company to create and sustain competitive advantage.

 

INTRODUCTION

The evolution of computer technology in the late eighties gave rise to a situation at V3 Consulting Engineers in 1989 where the existing projects system was becoming obsolete and no longer able to cope with the demands of the firm. Over the period 1989/90, the management of the firm undertook a number of preliminary reviews of commercially available software and subsequently commissioned a detailed study of the firm's requirements in which the relative strengths and weaknesses of the commercially available software packages was evaluated (Robertson 1990).

It was established that neither of the major packages available were ideally suited to the needs of the firm and further analysis was undertaken to establish in greater detail the scope of modifications required. Following negotiations with the vendors, a scope and budget for the required changes was agreed and a final decision taken as to which system to purchase. The selected system was a South African developed package already in use at a number of consulting engineering firms.

A period of software enhancement by the developers was followed by testing and pilot operation, the system was commissioned and ran live in the Cape Region of V3 in October 1991. Thereafter the system was installed in the Free State and Transvaal regions, running live from March 1992.

This paper outlines some of the experiences with the implementation with particular emphasis on the benefits derived from the use of the system.


SYSTEM OVERVIEW

The system selected comprised a number of major components:

Projects System

The projects system comprises a suite of programs including projects and personnel databases, salary and rates information. A company parameters module allows configuration of the system to model the organizational structure of the practice to take account of offices, departments and associated companies as well as to define the nature of the general ledger interface. A variety of set-up options allow further customization of the operation of the software.

The projects system provides full features for the entry and processing of time and expense information with comprehensive analysis of Work in Progress (WIP). WIP is maintained on an open item basis such that once captured, all items remain in the system until they are either recovered through billing to the client or written off. Full audit trails and analysis reports are available on the WIP. The project system includes a largely automated billing system.

The projects system also provides a wide range of facilities for structuring up to 5 levels of project detail and associated analysis together with activity codes and a variety of project budgeting and reporting options.

The projects system is integrated with debtors and creditors modules to allow full management of these accounting functions with project related reporting in debtors and both project and non-project expenses posted in the creditors program.

All financial components of the projects system are integrated on a batch basis with a commercial general ledger package.

Financial System

The financial system comprises a commercial general ledger package together with integrated cash book software. This is linked on a batch basis to a commercial salary package. The financial system has recently been extended by the acquisition of an integrated assets register package and barcode reader. The financial system replaced 24 column manual cash books.

The general ledger chart of accounts accommodates a comprehensive, fundamental analysis of all income statement and balance sheet items in a manner that is linked to the business model of the organization in terms of cost and profit centres including physical branch offices and administrative, technical and support departments. A hierarchical, structured coding scheme is employed in order to facilitate allocation of expenses on an activity basis, and to allow progressively more detail in enquiries. Associated with the chart of accounts, a variety of financial reports allow summary or detail reporting for the region, office or department as required, including summary and detail income statements, balance sheet, cash flow projections and ratio analysis.

The financial system is linked directly to the projects system in a manner that is designed to support activity based costing and allocation of income and expenses in a manner that permits clear definition of ownership of information with a view to achieving a high level of internal auditing and a resultant improvement in accuracy and reduction in audit delays.

National Consolidation

In the past year, procedures have been implemented to permit all financial results to be consolidated nationally at the detail level, thus permitting the extraction of a wide variety of detailed and summary analyses. Various controls on inter-region charges have also been implemented together with procedures for accumulation and distribution of corporate overheads.

Executive Information System

Recently a graphical Executive Information System (EIS) has been developed to operate on the underlying operational projects and financial systems. This EIS has been developed using a commercial, windows based tool and provides a high level of graphical summarization of certain key values in the projects and financial systems. Development is continuing.

The EIS system has been developed with the objective of enabling senior management to see key values summarized graphically in a meaningful way that allows them to rapidly identify potential problems and drill down to the detail in any way that they may consider necessary. Particular emphasis was placed on achieving a user interface that was intuitive for senior management and did not restrict enquiries on the basis of simplifying assumptions made during construction. The EIS also provides an interactive mechanism for overhead distribution on an activity basis, whereby all income and expenditure relating to non-production business units is distributed over the production units on an agreed basis. The model has been designed with a view to providing management with the means to examine the effect of alternative allocation formulae on the profitability of individual business units without altering the underlying data which has been allocated on a fundamental basis.

The ultimate objective set for the EIS is to support a "paperless board meeting" in which all relevant information is projected onto a screen in the board room so that managers can analyze and query information interactively and pro-actively thus facilitating management by exception rather than tabling large volumes of information.


OBJECTIVES FOR THE SYSTEM

A number of short term and long term strategic objectives were set for the system at the time that the initial investigation (Robertson 1990) was undertaken. Particular emphasis was placed on specifying the objectives and requirements for the system with the objective of meeting the long term strategic requirements of the firm with a view to avoiding the need to replace the system after a few years. Objectives set included:

- Provide tools to monitor and improve productivity and profitability.

- Enable profitability to be measured on a project, department and office basis using the cubic model proposed by Robertson.

- Assist the firm to offer the highest possible levels of service to it's clients.

- Ensure that charges for work were realistic and that work was performed effectively for the client.

- Provide comprehensive budgeting facilities for projects and financials.

- Assist in the evaluation of current and future directors with respect to appointment and promotion.

- Provide concise management summaries.

- Permit a global view of the practice.

- Permit detailed enquiry on all aspects of operations and job costing.

- Require minimum management time and manpower to operate system.

- System must be affordable.

All of these objectives have been met at the current time although costs have been greater than expected and would be handled differently if the project was undertaken today. Certain specific benefits are discussed in more detail in subsequent sections.


IMPLEMENTATION EXPERIENCE

The implementation was undertaken in a phased manner, as outlined previously. Problems were experienced in terms of availability of senior personnel in-house at certain times and in terms of commissioning the system in other regions using in-house personnel. This was undertaken with a view to cost containment but ultimately gave rise to increased costs associated with correction of problems experienced.

With hindsight, more use should have made of outside assistance in the implementation in the second and third regions. In-house staff were not experienced enough and the time they spent in other regions placed pressure on their own region's operation.

Time taken to achieve understanding and commitment to the new system by managers and staff at all levels proved to be greater than anticipated and required focused and firm action by top executives before all required information was provided by project leaders and other staff and proper use was made of management reports. Experience tends to support the widely reported view that a paradigm change of this magnitude requires between three and five years to become permanent in an organization.


BENEFITS OF THE SYSTEM

The projects system has now been in operation in the Cape Region of V3 for close to two years and in the rest of the country for eighteen months while the financial system has been in use country wide for eighteen months. As stated above, the objectives set three years ago have all been met. Specific benefits are discussed in the sections that follow:

Reliability and Timeousness of Information

Information is readily available, in many cases almost instantly. For example, analysis of time sheet data and other data captured to projects is available within two working days of the end of the month.

Full analysis of project performance for the month is available immediately data capture is completed including a wide variety of budget, costing and profitability reports. Up to date sales journals are available at any stage as are debtors and creditors age analyses. The EIS projects analysis can be made available within twenty four hours of month end or updated more frequently as appropriate.

Full financial statements including summary and detailed income statements, balance sheets and cash flow projections are generally available ten days after month end and include all closing and balancing adjustments for the period in question so that there is considerable confidence in the reliability of the information. The EIS financial analysis can be made available at the same time.

Because of the wide variety of combinations and groupings in which the information can be presented and the wide variety of controls built into the system, it is possible for all information to be reported in a manner which allows recipients to accept full ownership of specific sets of data. This facilitates verification and control and allows senior management to operate on the basis that, "if all subordinate managers have accepted the accuracy of their figures, the consolidated figures must be correct". This ensures a high degree of reliability and confidence in the information.

As a result of the detailed analysis contained in the general ledger, it is possible to operate the financial system in such a way that very little additional processing is required at year end over that required at month end. While some difficulties were encountered at the end of the first year of operations since not all procedures were fully in place, it was still possible to table the year end figures 17 days after the end of the year and they were signed off without qualifications by the auditors approximately five weeks later.

The Cubic Business Model

The business model referred to earlier allows the databases to be viewed as a multi-dimensional "Rubic's" cube which can be rotated and viewed in a wide variety of different ways. This permits the financial and production information to be grouped and summarized by office, department and region. Production (project) information can also be viewed by project leader, technical director, marketing director, client market segment, project discipline and client thus providing a fully market focused information capability. This information can then be used to focus marketing efforts and identify different marketing and management styles required for different market sectors as well as enabling management to evaluate the performance of individuals in terms of marketing and management contribution as well as production contribution.

In conjunction with these facilities, the activity based allocation of administrative overhead contribution by technical staff permits an accurate measurement of true profitability of individual business units or sub-units at a level which permits "level playing field" comparisons of business units. This eliminates the traditional problem of professional service organizations where the business units of those involved in management and marketing are penalized since only the production contribution is measured. Through this approach, inappropriate management decisions resulting from incorrect cost allocation can be avoided.

The system also supports attribution (allocation) of income from professional fees to the business unit employing the person doing the work. This permits the profitability of business units to be measured in terms of true, salary linked, revenue contribution as well as by the traditional method of project profitability and reduces the dependence on relatively arbitrary, rates based, costing approaches.

Senior Management Work Load and Effectiveness

Senior management have had their work load on mundane analysis greatly reduced as many of the analyses previously performed using spreadsheets have been incorporated into the system and are therefore available automatically with greatly reduced effort. Time spent resolving problems of mis-allocation and addressing queries with regard to year end has also been considerably reduced.

The multiple levels of summarization in conjunction with the high level of detail of the underlying data enable management to receive very summarized reports for routine management while affording them the capability to rapidly "drill down" to progressively more detail in order to answer queries.

Strategic Advantage

The wide variety of analyses available and the ready availability of information have freed management to be more effective while devoting less time to management and administration. At the same time, management have greatly improved scope to identify opportunities to improve operational effectiveness, increase delegation and improve profitability. They are also able to identify market related factors that can have a bearing on marketing strategy, product mix and other matters. These factors all enable the firm to offer innovative and competitive services in a competitive market. This is expected to assist the firm in creating and sustaining competitive advantage over the medium- to long- term as part of it's commitment to providing relevant, appropriate and cost effective services.


CONCLUSION

The components of a management information system (MIS) and associated financial and executive information systems have been summarized based on the experience of V3 Consulting Engineers. Certain experiences during implementation have been summarized and the objectives set for the system at the outset are reviewed. It is noted that these objectives have been met.

The benefits experienced by the firm are discussed with particular reference to issues such as timeousness and reliability of information, flexibility of analysis and control. It is noted that the work loads of senior management have been reduced while more accurate and detailed information is made available more rapidly. The ability to summarize the information in a great variety of ways while providing the ability to undertake enquiries at a very high level of detail when required, is noted as a further benefit.

It is concluded that the system has met most of the objectives set for it at the outset and that it is assisting the firm in it's objective of creating and maintaining competitive advantage through the provision of focused, appropriate and cost effective consulting engineering services.


REFERENCES

Robertson J A (1990) Report on Investigation Into Professional Practice Management Information Systems for Vorster, van der Westhuizen and Partners Unpublished report, October 1990.

Download the V3 Consulting Engineers: The Benefits of Management Information Systems to the Professional Practice -- Article in Adobe pdf format



011 The Benefits of Management Information Systems to the Professional Practice -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download The Benefits of Management Information Systems to the Professional Practice v 003 -- Slides in Adobe pdf format

Download The Benefits of Management Information Systems to the Professional Practice v 003 -- Original Paper in Adobe pdf format


The Critical Factors for Success

Having managed the negative factors out we need to manage the positive factors in.

Inherently the project and solution design will focus on preventing failure since, provided we have a well conceptualized solution, if we eliminate the factors causing failure we will achieve success.

Thus, much of what is required for success is to do the opposite of what is set out above.  These items will not be repeated in the discussion that follows.

The factors are set out below with the percentages having the same meaning as set out above:

 

1.    Effective Executive Custody – 25%

If one is implementing or operating an Integrated Business Information System, that is, ERP plus industry and business specific systems and custom software, including all the custom software represented by Excel spreadsheets that are in regular use, there is only one person who has custody of the integrated view of the business and that is the Chief Executive.

The CEO is also the only person with the authority to ensure that all areas of the business work together collaboratively and effectively to achieve an integrated solution.

It is vital that the CEO take on this role and that the CEO is assisted by a knowledgeable and independent advisor who thoroughly understands the technology principles and how to apply the technology effectively in the business.  This person must be a strategic advisor first and a technologically savvy person second.

They should not be in love with the technology or in awe of the technology.

Executive custody includes active and balanced involvement of all members of the executive team and, through them, the entire business.

Executive custody requires that the implementer assigns a director as the project leader from their side and that this implementer director is able to build rapport and trust with the client CEO and work closely and effectively with the CEO.

Executive custody requires that all communication takes place in language that the CEO understands and that all parties who communicate with the CEO understand that it is their responsibility to make sure the CEO understands them and not the CEO’s responsibility to make sure they are understood.

I constantly see that a few minutes consultation with the CEO with the correct selection of team members in the room and with an accurately communicated problem statement can lead to a radically different and strategically far better decision than a week of interaction with people lower down in the organization.

A series of high quality executive decisions by the CEO early on in a project will shape the entire direction and form of the solution in frequently dramatic ways and therefore this involvement is vital and non-negotiable.

As a general principle I suggest for your consideration that there is frequently a major gap in understanding and priorities between the occupants of the executive suite and those who conduct the business at an operational level.  This occurs within the client organization and within the implementer organization.  Leaving critical decisions to people at the operational level is a recipe for a highly sub-optimal solution, executive guidance at all stages of the project and the operation of the system are vital.

Of necessity this requires appropriate executive level facilitation and guidance.

 

2.    Effective Strategic definition and Alignment – the essence of the business – 22%

This point follows directly from the previous one.

Without CEO custody it is very difficult to achieve an accurate understanding of the strategy and essence of the business and even more difficult to interpret this in such a way that the final outcome accurately supports and enhances the business.

Of necessity this point requires that the advisor to the CEO is a strategically capable person and is able to interpret the business strategy in close consultation with the CEO.

In order to ensure that accurate strategic definition is achieved and agreed to by the CEO first and then the entire management team, it is essential to commence the project with the right conversation.  This conversation must commence with the CEO, then the rest of the executive team and should address a number of key questions commencing with “what is the essence of the business and how does it thrive”.  Using an effective interviewing technique this should lead to a robust definition of the strategic elements of the business that differentiate it and cause it to thrive.

This must lead to a concise actionable strategic document that should inform every aspect of the project and the operation of the system.  This definition, which lifts out the essence of the business in concise, easy to understand, terms, must form the foundation of the requirements definition leading through to the tender documents, the implementer adjudication criteria and the final implementer selection.

Where the system is already in place it is nevertheless vital to undertake this analysis in order to form the foundation for the remediation of the system once the CEO has taken custody.  It is simply not possible to achieve a high value outcome, whether of a new system or the remediation of an existing system without an effective and accurate strategic definition that addresses all aspects of the essence of the business at a headline level.  One must understand the essence of the business in order to establish why a system is not performing to expectations.

This approach is fundamental to my “Pulse Measurement” diagnostic service in which I guarantee that within 1 to 10 days, depending on the size of the business, I will accurately diagnose what is not working effectively and prescribe appropriate treatment.  My confidence in offering this guarantee is based on my consistent experience that once one understands the essence of the business the root cause of many issues rapidly becomes apparent.

Frequently the probable causes are evident by the end of the initial one hour interview with the CEO.  This is possible because the factors discussed in this document are so fundamental and so universal such that a few key phrases are all that is required to identify the direction that the investigation should take further in order to accurately determine the causes of sub-optimal performance.

This strategic understanding of the essence of the business must inform every one of the factors that follow and leads to what I term “strategic discovery” a systematic investigation into every facet of the business in just enough detail to understand the fundamental building blocks of the requirement.  It is vital that this is driven by an executive level strategically capable consultant or team of consultants who are able to interpret the true requirement and identify opportunities to enhance and improve methods and practices.

As indicated above, design based on the input of operational staff, unless facilitated at the executive level, will generally result in inappropriate solutions inappropriately implemented.

The single biggest reason that most executives cannot get the strategic executive level information they want out of their ERP and other systems is that they put little or no strategic executive input in, either at the client level, the facilitator level or the implementer level or all three.

 

3.    Effective Engineering Solution Design and Implementation Approach – 17%

The requirements for a successful “engineered” solution include:

Ø  explicit, formal, “design against failure”;

 

Ø  robust, high level, strategic requirements definition expressed in business outcome terms;

 

Ø  comprehensive tender documentation directed at achieving a robust and legally enforceable contract;

 

Ø  on larger projects contract guarantees and penalties;

 

Ø a rigorous formal procurement process directed at selecting the most suitably qualified implementer and most appropriate software together with a designated team for an enforceable fixed price;

 

Ø  a legally drafted and enforceable contract that strongly safeguards the interests of the client and is initiated by the client not the implementer;

 

Ø  a twenty year solution life is contractually provided for;

 

Ø  formal project governance under the oversight of the CEO;

 

Ø  highly experienced and strategically aligned Strategic Project Facilitator advising the CEO;

 

Ø  certificate based approval at every step of the way;

 

Ø  precision configuration – see below;

 

Ø  Business Simulation Laboratory – see below;

 

Ø formal business integration and testing directed at ensuring that personnel are fully conversant with and experienced with the system before it is commissioned;

 

Ø  extremely strict certification process with regard to Authorization to Commission with in-depth comprehensive walk-throughs in the Laboratory and penalties for failure or sub-optimal performance during or after commissioning;

 

Ø  detailed project plan at a level of detail that allows individual work packages to be ticked off in short time frames so that progress can be accurately monitored;

 

Ø  planned iterations for every component of the project based on the principle of “progressive elaboration”.  Iterations for the consultants to learn the business and iterations for the business to learn the software and approach;

 

Ø strict terms for managing so-called “out of scope” and preventing scope creep as a consequence of implementer lack of precision in discovery;

 

Ø  intense attention to detail in every area;

 

Ø  highly experienced consultants leading every aspect of the project;

 

Ø multi-disciplinary team with expertise in every component of the business and every component of the technology in order to ensure optimum design and configuration in every aspect including strategic integration;

 

Ø  everything else that characterizes any area of engineering endeavor be it Civil, Mechanical, Structural, Aeronautical, etc that leads to a guaranteed successful outcome.

 

4.     Effective Precision Configuration – 16%

Precise configuration of every element of the system including extremely carefully designed strategic code schemes which open the door to exceptional system strategic and operational decision support and operational efficiencies thereby creating opportunities for capabilities that materially exceed those that existed before the system was implemented.

This is the crux of the implementation, after commissioning two things of substance remain:

1.       the configuration of the software;

 

2.       the capability of the people to use the software.

 

The previous factors all lead up to this.  This includes an intense focus on data accuracy, precision and neatness.

The subject of Precision Configuration is very substantial, there is much on my website on the topic.  Visit http://www.James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com/Configure.aspx and the pages associated with it for a detailed overview of this topic.  A copy of my Taxonomy Handbook is available for downloading on this page.

 

5.    Effective Business Simulation Laboratory operation – 12%

The business simulation laboratory is a formal environment:

Ø  designed to systematically test the configuration to destruction until it can no longer be broken;

 

Ø  a very specific testing mindset associated with comprehensively representative data;

 

Ø  use the resulting robust configuration to develop representative data for testing reports, business intelligence, etc;

 

Ø  specify workflows (processes) from the executive level;

 

Ø  develop training material and document the system;

 

Ø  train all personnel in the simulated environment until all staff know how to use the system effectively and can commence using the system effectively from the first day that it is put into production;

 

Ø  the business simulation laboratory is also the environment in which final acceptance walkthrough’s are conducted prior to the issue of the “Commissioning Certificate” for adoption and signature by the senior and executive members of the project team leading to final approval of the recommendation to commission;

 

Ø  the Business Simulation Laboratory is discussed in more detail at http://www.James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com/Laboratory.aspx

 

6.    Effective business integration, training, change facilitation, process specification – 6%

Management of the human side of the change process:

Ø  the project team includes expertise with regard to the “soft issues”;

 

Ø  the Human Resources Executive is intimately involved in the project and monitors the change impacts;

 

Ø  there is strong leadership by the CEO and the entire executive team, they lead from the front and are on-board with and actively involved in the solution design, it is our system;

 

Ø  the solution is practical and aligned with the essence of the business, all staff can readily see that it is a dramatic improvement on the previous system;

 

Ø  the project is not motivated on the basis of head-count reduction;

 

Ø  well-designed solutions well implemented can lead to significant head-count reductions and immediately it becomes apparent that such reductions may become necessary the impact is sensitively and honestly handled and outgoing staff are incentivized to give of their best  until the system is fully bedded down;

 

Ø  personnel are appropriately motivated and incentivized to change and give their best;

 

Ø  other change impacts are professionally managed as is appropriate.  Note that if the other recommendations in this article are effectively applied the level of change facilitation required is substantially reduced;

 

Ø there is ongoing informative communication from the top facilitated by the Corporate Communications function where present;

 

Ø  training material is designed by a person with a degree in education considerable experience in education and training and addresses issues like repetition, reinforcement, etc;

 

Ø  in larger organizations Computer Based Training (CBT) is an integral part of the solution and is designed by a person with qualifications and considerable experience in education and training;

 

Ø  thorough training takes place in the Business Simulation Laboratory so that staff are fully equipped to operate the system before it is commissioned;

 

Ø  policies enforce the use of CBT with regular testing until comprehensive competence is accomplished, re-testing takes place at regular intervals;

 

Ø  new personnel are not allowed near the system until they have qualified on the appropriate modules of the CBT and hands-on in the Business Simulation Laboratory;

 

Ø  workflows are specified from the top down with appropriate consultation with the personnel who have to apply them.  It is understood that workflow optimization is the domain of specialists in that field;

 

Ø  workflow is thoroughly tested through simulation in the Laboratory.

The goal of this factor is to ensure that an extremely well designed solution is developed in close and constructive engagement with the business and then effectively and sensitively deployed in a manner that results in highly motivated personnel operating at improved levels of productivity while, at the same time, creating material competitive advantage and delivering high quality, future focused, decision support information.

 

7.    Reliable technology – 2%

Reliable technology includes:

Ø  capable, reliable software, hardware, network, etc with more than adequate capacity purchased with a generous budget;

 

Ø  obtain opinions from several vendors and then consult with executive level members of the software company or companies and implementers involved on the basis of “we want to be sure this hardware will last for at least five years and will run the system comfortably”;

 

Ø  response times should be measured at the level of a few seconds at most and personnel should never have to wait for the network, the servers or the workstations.  Response time is the ultimate determinant in system specification;

 

Ø  ensure that you deal with reputable installers with proven track record with installations of the size and complexity you require;

 

Ø  if you are operating in outlying areas, particularly in third world countries, make sure that your solution deployment is optimized for poor communication lines.  There will be business trade-off’s to be made at the executive level with regard to system configuration and deployment to avoid unnecessarily complex and costly communication links;

 

Ø  if you are purchasing specialist software do the necessary checks to ensure that the software really is what is claimed for it and that there really is good track record.  The more specialized the software the more you need to undertake site visits and make phone calls.  These need to be at both the executive and operational level;

 

Ø proven and well-developed local support is generally more important than leading edge technology;

 

Ø  to the extent that some level of custom software development is always required ensure that this takes place to proven standards, that testing is slotted into the Business Simulation Laboratory program and that testing is rigorous and comprehensive;

 

Ø  be wary of claims that existing software is obsolete, if it is character based and the most appropriate solution for your requirement do not exclude it, you can always build additional functionality in a more modern development environment but avoid obsolete databases unless you can ensure support and a migration path;

 

Do not cut corners and do not let technologists lead you away from sound business principles that you would apply to any other form of capital investment.

If all the above factors are effectively and actively applied and managed a successful outcome can realistically be expected.

I plan to write more about some of these aspects in time.


072 - The essence of managing I.T. Projects on time that meet expectation

IT Project Management Conference -- September 2008

The management of IT projects generally focuses on the wrong factors, it is vital to focus on the Critical Factors for Success and the Factors causing Failure and manage these effectively using multi-disciplinary teams that effectively balance the tension between cost, quality and time 




Download The essence of managing I.T. Projects on time that meet expectation -- Slides in Adobe pdf format



The BMW ATLAS SAP EWM project -- spare parts delivery problems -- an illustrative example of the factors causing failure

To illustrate how these factors work in practice I would like to return to the BMW situation referenced at the start of this article, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-27/bmw-owners-vent-anger-at-months-long-wait-for-spare-parts.html for details.

Google “BMW Owners Vent Anger at Months-Long Wait for Spare Parts” for many more reports.

Ø  The product was the SAP Extended Warehouse Management Software (EWM);

 

Ø  The client was BMW’s main spare parts warehouse;

 

Ø  The implementation consultants were IBM who have reportedly walked away;

 

Ø  The system ran live and immediately there were problems with fulfillment such that reports indicate customers around the world have been waiting for months for repairs;

 

Ø  BMW have been seriously embarrassed, their reputation has been tarnished and, if the problem is not definitively resolved soon, material damage to the brand may well result;

 

The fact that a superior engineering organization such as BMW, installing a supposedly world class product from one of the leading software suppliers in the world, SAP, and assisted by an implementer of the stature of IBM cannot get it right first time should cause all potential purchasers of any form of Business Information System to look seriously at what is presented in this article and seek to apply it rigorously.

 

I contacted the CEO of BMW some weeks ago to offer my services to assist him to identify the root cause of the problem in line with the principles set out above.  I received a response from the executive responsible for after sales service and from the project manager and my offer was then declined.  I again approached the CEO and this time received a reply from the person responsible for internal consulting who rather curtly told me to go away.

 

All three replies demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the issues that I was raising and, in my opinion, gave a basis for serious concern.  I again approached the CEO and have received no reply.

 

However, from this interaction I have been able to draw some headline inferences which help to demonstrate the relevance of the approach advocated above:

 

Ø  the CEO passed the inquiry on to one of his executives who then passed it on to the project manager à immediately a problem with executive custody at both levels;

 

Ø  the nature of the problem, only some parts are being delayed, when, based on the outcry, with the old system they were fulfilled timeously à indicates that there are problems with the configuration at the level of inaccuracies in the master data, something has not been set up correctly, fundamentally a lack of precision configuration, a human discipline problem;

 

Ø  furthermore a level of irony, the car is in the ditch and it can only be there because of negligence or incompetence on the part of the driver or the support crew but the offer to investigate is passed to the two people who must surely be most accountable for the mess à indicative of a lack of understanding, “we think the machine is not working correctly”, but computers do what they are told and it is unlikely that the problem results from the machine, in other words mythology or someone somewhere might be lying;

 

Ø  the project manager wanted me to have expertise with regard to the software and the industry.  The car is in the ditch because of bad driving but the accident investigator is turned away by the driver and the team manager on the grounds that the accident investigator does not know the engineering details of the engine in the car and of the straight, four lane highway on which the car crashed à mythology or a lack of Engineering Approach in the form of accountability;

 

Ø  the email response from the responsible executive spoke repeatedly of “business process” as though somehow the new system had exposed massively defective business processes that had been lying latent waiting to be exposed.  Problem is that the parts were being fulfilled before the new system was commissioned, judging by the irate complaints of service centers and customers à mythology and tradition or someone is lying to the executive concerned;

 

Ø  clearly there was no Business Simulation Laboratory, if there had been there is no way the system would have been allowed into production;

 

Ø  clearly the “Engineering Approach” was weak or absent, if there had been there is no way the system would have been allowed into production.

 

These are the most obvious inferences that can be drawn from press reports and my interaction with the company.


Conclusion

The factors discussed in this article provide a sound basis to understand any and all Business Information System, ERP and IT software investment failures and sub-optimal outcomes.

More information is contained elsewhere on this website and I plan to write further articles.

I would be delighted to discuss how I might be of assistance.



Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Std 008 Procurement: 00e File Table of Contents

The tender documents are issued in one or more large files, this is the table of contents for the file
SNw 043 Strategically Enriching your BIS: Part 1 -- Introduction

Introduction to the principles of precision configuration and strategically enriching your business information systems
Cnf 082 A strategic approach to corporate planning, management and governance

Considerations with regard to governance of information technology and business systems taking account of the abstractness of information technology solutions
Cnf 067 Improving your strategic involvement in the business by actively engaging in the day to day running of your I.T. Systems and ensuring an effective I.T. Infrastructure is in place

Enabling executives to better understand their Information Technologies and thereby bring more effective governance to bear, addresses the direction that IT is taking, the basis for replacing systems and many other subjects

Sem 02 ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results

Much of what goes wrong with business information systems is that the procurement process is NOT robust enough to filter out lightweight and doubtful bidders and does NOT result in a tough contract that has the teeth to ensure that the successful bidder delivers on their sales promises
TxM 102 Taxonomy Manual Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References

Discussion of how to do it, real world complexity, challenges and opportunities, preparatory steps, design and development, coding conventions and standards, a series of case studies in which dramatic benefits accrued through use of Precision Configuration and other references

Dr James A Robertson PrEng The Business Information Systems Doctor

Business Systems NOT delivering?

Call the Business Systems Specialist

Dr. James Robinson

Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.

Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.

He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.

If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist
James@James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com

Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.

Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.

All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.

There HAS to be a better way!

This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control

We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website

We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues

Click here to read more about the Engineering Approach

By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT

This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.

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Book -- The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success

In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.

Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:


Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Cnf 084 ERP and IT in Strategic Management

The application of ERP and IT generally in strategic applications, how to configure systems from a strategic perspective and how to manage them from a strategic perspective
SNw 023 What is computer software? REALLY? and ERP? And what determines the sustainability and maintainability of business software?

Many people have mistaken ideas regarding what constitutes computer software.  This article seeks to provide understanding
Std 024 The ART of Strategic Business Information System Project Leadership

The general tendency is to think in terms of Project Management for business information systems projects and the reality of many business information systems Project Managers is that they are administrators rather than strategic leaders.  This article discusses the role of the Strategic Business Information Systems Project Leader as effectively an interim executive who reports directly to the Chief Executive and acts as an advisor, agent and proxy for the CEO in managing the entire integrated business information systems project to achieve a high value business outcome

Std 002 Standards for Custom Software Specification

A set of outline standards for the specification of custom software

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management      obsolete is a fashion statement      obsolete software      old software IS viable      once software works it always works      on-line seminars      opportunities      opportunity to turn the economy around      organizing Microsoft Outlook      orientation of IT staff      own business experience      passion to enable clients to thrive      people are part of the system      personality matrix      planning      platform for a tough contract      precisio      precision      precision configuration      precision configuration advisory      precision configuration leadership      precision data      precision taxonomies      Predictive Index      preparatory steps      prescribed table of contents      presentation technique      presentations      preventing failure      preventing falure      preventing project failure      pricing      principles      problem statement      procedure code      process      processor ignorant of language      procurement      procurement timeline      professional speaker      Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa      profitability      programming languages are for the programmer      project facilitation      project leader      project leader -- CEO communication      project leadership      project management      project management IT project management      projects      prove it works      PSASA      psychology      psychometrics      public conferences      public presentations      public speaking      Pulse Measurement      quality      REAL issues in Business Information Systems      REAL value      recognizing failure      redaction      reduced audit costs      reduced head count      reference documents      Reg Barry      regulatory body      relationship Almighty      relationship orientated      remediation of existing systems      Rennies Group      reports      reports not reliable      request for proposal      requirements specification      results orientated      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Led      standards      strategic      strategic advisory      strategic alignment      strategic analysis      strategic analysis and design      strategic business improvement      strategic custom development      strategic definition      strategic discovery      strategic driver      strategic engineered precision configuration      strategic engineered precision taxonomies      strategic essence      strategic financial information      strategic gap analysis      strategic governance      strategic information      strategic management      strategic management information      strategic plan      strategic planning      strategic project leader      strategic snapshots      strategic software      strategic solution architect advisory      strategic solution architect leadership      strategic solution architecture      strategically designed chart of accounts      strategy      strategy defined      strategy focused planning      Strategy Snapshot Toolset      StratGap      StratSnap      strengthen differentiators      structured analysis      structured chart of accounts      substantial management information      succeed by engineering against failure      success      successful deployment      survive      system knowledge and experience      table of contents      tailored presentations      take notes      taxonomies      taxonomy      taxonomy software      technology      technology failure      technology issues      technology management      tender document pack      tender pack      tender pack table of contents      test data      testing      The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success      the Critical Factors for Success      the essence of the business      the essence of the business and how it thrives      the essence of the organization and how it thrives      the factors causing failure      the first hour      The REAL Issues in Business Information System success      third party suppliers      third world countries      thrive      time      tipping point      tough certificates      tough contract management      tough contracts      tough procurement      tough terms      training      training material      treatment code      understanding of data      understanding the engineering approach      Uniface      unlocking value      use different languages for new components      V3 Consulting Engineers      validation data      value      versus process      video      webinars      weighted factors      what is executive custody      what is strategy      what is the essence of this organization and how does it thrive      what to do      where is IT going      why executive custody is required      why the organization exists and how it thrives      why your business information system is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it      why your ERP is NOT delivering and how to fix it      workflow      writer     

Table of Contents

Home

About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics

Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures

About the Engineering Approach

James Robertson's Value Add

Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution

Recognizing Business System Failure

The Critical Human Foundation

Old Software IS Viable

From South Africa

Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng

About Professor Malcolm McDonald

Table of Contents

About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing

Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics

Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson

Reference Articles

List of Articles

Article Catalogue

Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes

Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?

The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody

Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration

Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

IT Project Management

Pulse Measurement

CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement

No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service

Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes

Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™

The Pulse Measurement Workflow

The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement

Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations

What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?

Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business

Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years

Sample Pulse Measurement Reports

Strategy

Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems

Strategic Essence: Overview

Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined

Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation

Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different

Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure

Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence

Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?

Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment

Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual

A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting

Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works

Robust Business Systems Procurement

Part 1 -- Introduction

Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc

Part 3 -- Executive Engagement, Bid Compliance, Adjudication and other matters

Procurement Documents

Guidance and Advisory Services

The Art of Project Leadership

Why Regular Communication with the CEO is Vital

The Business Simulation Laboratory

Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture

Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies

The JAR&A Cubic Business Model

Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal

The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration

Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask

Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration

092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013

088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa

026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf

018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf

011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems

Part 1 -- Introduction

Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering

Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations

Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment

The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual

Part 1: Introduction, Problem Statement, Definitions and Examples

Part 2: Why Use JAR&A, Required Knowledge and Experience, Cubic Business Model and Chart of Accounts and Taxonomy Software

Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References

Example General Ledger Manual

Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous

The RIGHT Approach

Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction

Standards for Custom Software Specification

What IS Software?

IT Effectiveness

Organizing Outlook

Critical Factors for I.T. Success

A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail

Case Studies examining Business Information System failures

The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle

The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict

Speaking and Training

Showcase of Conference Presentations

Most Viewed Presentations

Briefings and Seminars

Why your ERP/BIS is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results

The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success

Other Seminars

Conferences and Public Presentations

Conferences 80 to 99 -- 2009 to Present

Conferences 60 to 79 -- 2005 to 2009

Conferences 40 to 59 -- 1996 to 2005

Conferences 20 to 39 -- 1994 to 1996

Conferences 01 to 19 -- 1989 to 1994

On-Line Seminars (Webinars)

Webinar on Preparing and Presenting Webinars

Contacting James A Robertson and Associates Limited