Your System – Not Guilty As Charged

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Case #2010-0601 – “Letting Problems Persist”

Posted by Joel Schipper on June 3, 2010


In this example of “Your System – Not Guilty as Charged”, we see what happens when users are working on a very old version of their software system because IT and/or the user community has passed on the many version updates offered by the software vendor.

The almost certain result is that the older version of the software cannot address important business processes, usually because these processes arose, or became important, after the initial implementation.  If the software selection had been thorough, and if the software vendor has a good track record of staying current with both their customer base and with industry or market trends, then there is a very good chance that later releases of the software offers key features that address the new business process problem.  But either IT, or IT in combination with the user community, has elected not to take those upgrades.

Why has this happened?  IT decides that there is only a marginal improvement offered by the first release after the initial implementation level, and takes a “pass”.  This repeats with each subsequent release until the software is old and aged, and then the business faces a substantial upgrade, often leading to a complete re-implementation, and possibly even a re-evaluation and new selection.

What is the natural result?  The business users address their problem with a combination of procedural workarounds – which are often inefficient and prone to error – and with their own trusty software tools – Microsoft Excel and Access, plus fax, email, whiteboards, and redundant communications.  User satisfaction with the Enterprise System declines as it becomes more marginalized.  Senior management loses their initial view of the system as a valuable asset.

In addition, customer service levels tend to decline while related operating costs tend to rise.  For example, if the system is unable to handle assemble to order configurations, then an alternative such as “pick to order kits” might be employed.  But this requires inventory to be stocked in final configurations of key assemblies rather than being able to complete a final customer assembly from key sub-assemblies.  A predictable result might be more inventory, more chance of obsolete inventory, more chance of an unshipped order because one “kit” item is missing.

Another frequent outcome is that users build narrowly focused business cases to justify purchasing “point” or “niche” systems when the pain and complexity of their unsolved problem exceeds their ability to address it through workarounds and “Office” software.  Now IT is saddled with integrating and maintaining a system from a “foreign” software supplier, that is, someone other than their primary Enterprise software vendor.  It is very likely that the new package does not use the same integration technology as the original Enterprise system – or that the original system is too old to have a modern, standards-based integration technology.  The result is more work for IT, more cost for IT, and a declining ability of IT to respond to new user requests involving customization of either the niche package or the base Enterprise system.

Another alternative is that consultants are hired to build a custom solution to address the pressing business problem because there isn’t a good packaged system available.

Upgrades become harder and harder to justify because of the new, additional systems that have bolted themselves onto the base Enterprise system.

As a footnote to this case, I’ve seen a customer (more than once) simply fail to take advantage of a feature in the old version of the software that they are using that would solve a business problem for which they have developed workarounds, “Office” solutions, packaged solutions, or custom solutions.  The reason I’ve heard is this rather remarkable quote: “Yes, we know that feature is in the software, but we didn’t implement it originally and so we can’t or won’t implement it now.”

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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