Your System – Not Guilty As Charged

Just another weblog

Case #2010-0501 – “Forgetting How to Block and Tackle”

Posted by Joel Schipper on May 5, 2010

In this example of “Your System – Not Guilty as Charged”, we see what happens when there are “quick and dirty” implementations that miss the basics, and do not anticipate the possible future needs of the underlying business.

When an implementation is done quickly, and without proper thoughtfulness and planning, common shortcomings include:

–          Lack of a “knowledge” base among the IT and user community that knows the software well enough to adapt the system’s business processing rules to deal with future changes in the underlying business model.

  • There will also not be a workable support mechanism to design and implement those changes.
  • There will not be a “support line” of power users and analysts

–          Too often, these same businesses are not willing to hire or build up in-house business analysts.  Sometimes, the line of business (LOB) “owners” – that is, the management team – will wind up  taking on power-user roles at the expense of performing their own functional roles.

This kind of short term thinking is a prescription for a later, or downstream, system disaster.

I had the experience of visiting a company that fit this case precisely.  The original system implementation was focused on the financial applications such as general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivable, along with the basics of sales order and purchase order management and inventory.  Little or no attention was paid to manufacturing management and materials planning.  The software was an early release of a new generation of the software vendor’s traditional application offering.

The original implemented was done very quickly.  One key user, familiar with the same software from her work at another company, estimated that even in the heaviest use area – accounting – perhaps only 20% of the software capabilities were being utilized.  No business analysts were ever hired to learn the new system and address the needs of business users; the only contracted I.T. services were for computer operations and report writing.

Line of business users took on more and more of the “power user” and business analyst tasks of managing an on-going implementation, spending their time learning the software details, writing custom reports that seemed unnecessary because existing (but unknown to them) standard reports already existed, and performing other outside-the-system workarounds also because they were unaware of the system’s true capabilities.  As time went on, the business grew and new challenges arose, such as outsourced manufacturing overseas. Various problems and bottlenecks grew with routine matters such as running a trial balance report out of G/L, and more complex challenges such as doing multi-company consolidations.  As they struggled with the software package they didn’t know well, the user community began to wonder if this software package was the right one for their business operations.

By the time I visited (nearly ten years after the original purchase), they had made a “technical” upgrade to a more stable (but by now still quite old) release of the software; however, the upgrade was purely technical and without a single change in the end user implementation (see a later case). My challenge now was to revisit their original and current selection criteria, and help them decide if they were riding the right horse.

I believe the fault is not with the system, but with the implementation of the system.  The next posts will offer further explore “what went wrong” and offer suggestions on “how this could have been avoided.”

What do you say?

Take a look at the presentation on the “Presentations” page to see what you can do, and for some radical views on how to “get it right.”


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