In this article I will discuss why the implementation and operation of Integrated Business Information Systems (ERP plus) is fundamentally an engineering endeavour.
What IS ERP?
“Enterprise Resource Planning System” (ERP) – sounds impressive, doesn’t it?
What is an ERP REALLY?
Fact is that many organizations only use their ERP as a glorified accounting package and then use diverse third party or home grown products for the specialized operational side of their business.
So, if you have an accounting package you need to be careful when somebody tells you to replace it with an ERP, you could spend a lot of money to recreate what you already have.
ERP is NOT magic, bottom line, it is just a collection of software that you use to run your business which you MAY buy from one of the mainstream vendors or from a niche specialist, like ProMan in the practice management space, or something your business developed years ago.
Some time ago I coined a new acronym, “IBIS”, which stands for “Integrated Business Information System” – which is the mishmash of computer software that the average business uses to run its business.
This may comprise a big brand ERP, let’s call yours “FRED” which stands for “Frightfully Rediculous Electronic Device” or one of the other options mentioned above, plus whatever else you have.
I recently undertook a Pulse Measurement (diagnostic investigation) into the operations of a large listed company running a big brand FRED only to discover that they were using it really badly, are using perhaps 10% of its functionality and have a plethora of engineering and other systems around it some of which are there purely because FRED is so badly implemented.
Then there are all sorts of add-on bits and pieces including a plethora of spreadsheets – please DO keep in mind that spreadsheets ALSO count as custom development and accountants are extremely good at moving most of what is done out of the ERP into spreadsheets and then kidding themselves that they are NOT customizing the ERP – which really is nonsence!
Some years ago I undertook a Pulse Measurement into a big brand FRED installation which had cost R27 million to implement so badly it was useless. When I mentioned that the installation would have to be re-done the Financial Director was unfazed -- he was running the whole business on Excel anyway – at least the financials!
What is required to configure an IBIS or ERP?
One of these systems – whether you call it IBIS, or ERP, or FRED, or accounting system or @#$%&*^% is a machine.
Because the fundamental building blocks of business are remarkably similar, the building blocks of FRED are also remarkably similar, no matter which system you buy – which is why it is a pretty pointless exercise to trash FREDX and replace it with FREDY because the reason it is not working is because YOU are not using it right and it has nothing to do with the machine.
After all, Debtors and Creditors and General Ledger and Cashbook, or whatever labels you apply to them, are largely the same – a Debtor has an address, you send them invoices and they pay you – how much different can twenty different Debtors packages be?
How you classify your Debtor accounts, and your Chart of Accounts and how you classify your products, and how you classify your accounting transactions …
THAT IS DIFFERENT
There are as many different ways of doing that as there are people on the planet.
No two people will configure the same module in the same company the same way and the same person (consultant) is unlikely to even configure the same module of the same software in two different companies the same way.
So, you can put in neatly ordered, logically structured data or you can put in scrambled nonsense – what I call spaghetti.
Fact is that nearly all ERP implementers on the planet make spaghetti the same way, they throw some text in a list, with no attempt to put structure or logic to it and they sit back and bill the client in perpetuity to try and make sense of the spaghetti while the client struggles to get answers to their most basic questions.
Problem is that an ERP should NOT be populated with spaghetti, it should be populated with neatly structured hierarchical descriptions and associated codes that accurately model and describe the business and make perfect sense to business executives, managers, in fact anyone who understands the REAL WORLD ENTERPRISE.
The reason most executives say to me “Dr Robertson I do not understand ERP” is because there is such rubbish in the system that NOBODY understands it, the IT “professionals” pretend that they do because they make mountains of money out of re-organizing junk data.
And, what is even more alarming they think that is the ONLY way to do it!
If engineers designed and built bridges the way IT “professionals” configure and implement most FRED’s the bridge would comprise of dumping truck loads of reinforcing steel, concrete and whatever other junk the “engineers” could find until the valley was full and they could then level some sort of deck on the top that would allow vehicles to wind their way over in first gear constantly checking to make sure they did not fall off the edge.
Reason being that ERP implementation is FUNDAMENTALLY an ENGINEERING endeavour and the industry is dominated by accountants and IT trained people who do NOT understand engineering.
The accounting approach to bridge design involves putting a team of young graduates on-site eight hours a day five days a week month in and month out with minimal supervision, other than by the client, and billing like stink and blaming the client when the bridge does not work.
But then there are “soft issues” which are actually harder than concrete, which virtually no-one understands – so putting an engineer on to run an ERP project is also fraught with danger.
What is the Engineering Approach to IBIS and ERP?
I have spent 22 years seeking to bring “the disciplines of engineering to the IT and ERP industry” – so far I have failed dismally – I have pretty much sorted out myself how to do this engineered ERP thing but I still have to figure out how to scale it because it is so different to what the people in the industry are currently doing that almost none of them understand me.
On the other hand, there is so much other stuff that the engineers do not understand that I cannot just hand it over to them either.
I AM getting closer.
What IS the engineering approach:
n Start with a problem statement – no problem, no project
n Analyse, analyse and analyse some more
n Precision and attention to detail
n Multi-disciplinary teams
n Check and double check
n Meticulous documentation
n Design against failure
n Fundamental first principles
n Top down bottom up construction
n Model the REAL world
n Critical analysis and dissection of each and every failure
n Talk about failure in order to understand and prevent failure
YOU do it all the time, you take it for granted, it was imbibed in your years at University or College, your time as an Engineer in training, it is so much part of who you are and what you do that you would have to really scratch your head to figure out what you do and yet, guess what, the IT industry does virtually NONE of those things!
I could go on for hours about this thing I call “the engineering approach”.
IT and ERP and IBIS and FRED projects fail constantly and the failures are getting BIGGER and more frequent and damaging or trashing businesses and we are even starting to see public reporting of these failures, such as 26 BILLION British Pounds wasted in the UK in the last few years on failed and sub-optimal IT projects!
So we need to bring “the engineering approach” which is the same for bridges, buildings, subways, … AND ERP’s to the ERP space.
Why are engineers NOT the leaders with regard to IBIS and ERP?
Engineers are NOT the leaders because most engineers think that ERP is the domain of the accountants – which is roughly the same as engineers deciding not to build a bridge because they never use that road and then leaving it to the road users to build the bridge since, after all, they are the ones who will use the road they are best equipped to design and build the bridge.
Accountants NEED engineers to help them design, configure, commission and operate ERP and IBIS systems, just like they need a plethora of other technicians and technical professionals.
I hold that it is time for engineers as a profession to start investigating how to get involved in this field, you DO know a lot about what is required, you just need to assemble a multi-disciplinary team like you do for other projects!
What should SAICE and ECSA do about it?
At one level, difficult to call.
We need to start talking about the failures AND we need to start talking about “hey guys, this ERP implementation thing you do is an engineering endeavour don’t you think you should involve us” and, if you are willing to be bold – “hey guys we do NOT have failures like you do, maybe you should drop by for coffee and a chat”.
And, ECSA needs to start making noises about “we think that the art and practice of business information systems implementation is an engineering endeavour and we think it should be brought under our umbrella” and “we consider the failure rate of ERP implementations to be a national disgrace that needs intervention”.
It might take a few years, it might take twenty years but I passionately believe that ONE DAY ERP implementation will be a proud engineering discipline with a track record of close to 100% project outcome success.
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Business Systems NOT delivering?
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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
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
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.
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:
James has a very detailed profile on LinkedIn should you require further information about him.
You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/DrJamesARobertsonERPDoctor
James has an open networking profile -- click on "Connect" and use email address James@LinkedIn-at-JARA.com.
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There is a large body of white papers, articles and other content produced by Dr James Robertson available on this website
Please click here to visit the detailed listing of articles
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
List of Articles
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
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
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
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 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?
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
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