01 October 2010

On Seeking Success

In a recent informal poll I conducted, I asked "Which ERP success is most important to your organization in the long run?" I offered the following options:
    1. An ERP project that is on-time and within budget
    2. An ERP project that increased throughput (i.e., revenues less truly variable costs)
    3. An ERP project that reduces inventories or the need for other investments
    4. An ERP project that reduces operating expenses

I was somewhat dismayed when the results were that fully two-thirds of respondents count success in ERP as a project that reduces operating expenses. The only worse answer, in my opinion, would have been "An ERP project that is on-time and within budget."

Here's why I believe that is true.

First, consider that I can dramatically reduce the operating expenses of any business enterprise virtually over night -- saving the organization, perhaps, millions of dollars every year -- and I can guaranty those results. All I have to do close the business. That automatically reduces operating expenses to zero.

If an organization is seeking "success," and they are making progress in that direction. It would seem to me that they would want more and more of whatever it is that they are calling "success." That would just make common sense, would it not?

But executives and managers that pin their "success" hopes on "reducing operating expenses" want only "partial success." Few of them are really endeavoring to reduce operating expenses to the "ultimate prize" of zero dollars.

What is worse is that they constantly face the law of diminishing returns. If they reduced operating expenses last year by five percent, the chances that they can reduce costs this year by another five percent are pretty slim, and even if they do, this year's five percent will still be a smaller actual dollar amount than last year's five percent. And next year will require even more effort for less dollar-savings.

However, for people caught in cost-world thinking, this does not seem foolish. They see no contradiction or futility in these efforts (sadly), ususually because that is all they know or have been taught to think.

On the other end of the spectrum are those one-in-three executives and managers who have discovered that real and enduring success comes from the "throughput" side of the business. If you can increase T (Throughput, which is Revenues less Truly Variable Expenses) this year by five percent -- all else being equal -- then you have made gains. In fact, if operating expenses have not increased, then that five percent increase in T falls directly to the bottom line just like a five percent reduction in operating expenses does.

What is even more exciting is the fact that there is no law of diminishing returns at this end of the enterprise. If you are able to increase T by five percent next year, that five percent will bring more dollars of profit to the bottom line than last year's five percent increase did. And next year's five percent will make an even larger contribution to stakeholders in the business.

Success on this end of the business -- if repeated year after year -- leads to real success, not "closing the business" (as "ultimate success" in reducing operating expenses does).

So, why are not more managers and executives seeking ERP success differently?

03 September 2010

SandHill.com | Opinion : Breaking Barriers

Best practices in software marketing according to Sandhill:

SandHill.com | Opinion : Breaking Barriers

Understanding Marin County's $30 million ERP failure | ZDNet

Another huge ERP failure, this time paid for by taxpayers.

Understanding Marin County's $30 million ERP failure | ZDNet

30 July 2010

Why Small Businesses should invest in an integrated Excel-based Business Intelligence solution: Reason No. 4 | The BI Blog - Powered by Alchemex

Why Small Businesses should invest in an integrated Excel-based Business Intelligence solution: Reason No. 4 | The BI Blog - Powered by Alchemex

 Business intelligence investments should always be made with the goal of using the information supplied for one of three purposes (listed in priority order):
  1. Increase Throughput
  2. Decrease Inventories or other demands for (new or increased) Investment
  3. Slash or hold the line on Operating Expenses while sustaining significant growth in Throughput

29 July 2010

Why Small Businesses should invest in an integrated Excel-based Business Intelligence solution: Reason No. 3 | The BI Blog - Powered by Alchemex

 Business intelligence investments should always be made with the goal of using the information supplied for one of three purposes (listed in priority order):
  1. Increase Throughput
  2. Decrease Inventories or other demands for (new or increased) Investment
  3. Slash or hold the line on Operating Expenses while sustaining significant growth in Throughput

10 May 2010

IT value creation vs. cost control | ZDNet

This brief video clip makes an important point that is not specific to the context in which it is being said. That is: Value creation from IT (especially in 2010 and beyond) should be the primary concern of CIOs, CEOs and strategic CFOs -- not cost control.

IT value creation vs. cost control | ZDNet

This is worth the few minutes it takes to view it, just to catch that point -- a point I have been trying to make in this blog for more than a year now.

What do you think? Leave a comment, or email me at rcushing@GeeWhiz2ROI.com.


03 May 2010

Theory of Constraints (ToC) Project Management - A Primer

Want to manage your projects -- both IT-related and non-IT -- better and more effectively. Then take a look at what the Theory of Constraints can do for you.

Click this link: tocpmwhitepaper.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Read the white paper. I think you'll be glad you did.

Then, if you would like help implementing some of these concepts in your organization, contact me directly.


15 April 2010

Strategic Alignment of Information Technologies – Part 3

The Income Statement

A company’s income statement[1] is a financial report that tells us what transpired over a range of dates that led to either profit or loss for the organization. Just like we have laid out balance sheet numbers side-by-side for easy comparison, we can do the same thing with income statement figures, as well.image
By looking at ABC Widgets Manufacturing’s Income Statements spreadsheet, one might immediately note that year 2004 was a very good year for the company. The firm made PBIT (profit before income taxes) of $126,000 on sales of $8.1 million. Revenues for 2004 were nearly $850,000 more than the average in years 2005 through 2008.
Of course, one cannot help but notice that NPAT (Net Profits after Taxes) declined dramatically between 2004 and 2007, where it reached its nadir of only $2,000. Things were not much better in 2008 where it rebounded to only $9,000 on more than $7 million in revenues.
Once again, these are interesting observations, but it is still hard to tell – at a glance – the management implications of some of these numbers. What might help us would be looking at some of the working relationships (ratios) between various numbers supplied to us from this historical data.

Ratio Analysis

Ratio analysis allows us to look at a set of calculated values – calculated from the underlying data we have just reviewed – in order to assess more quickly our organization’s positions and trends relative to
  1. Solvency
  2. Safety
  3. Working Capital
  4. Profitability
  5. Asset Management

Solvency Ratios

Current Ratio = Current Assets / Current Liabilities  Interpretation: Higher is better
This ratio simply tells you, at a glance, how many dollars your organization has available in “current assets” to meet the demands of “current liabilities.” As we can see, in 2004, ABC Widgets had a little over $2 ($2.05) in current assets to satisfy every dollar in current liabilities. However, by 2008, that number had dwindled to only $1.35 to cover every dollar in current liabilities.
Quick Ratio or “Acid Test” Ratio = (Cash + AR + Marketable Securities[2]) / Current Liabilities  Interpretation: Higher is better
The Quick Ratio is referred to as the “acid test” of solvency because it looks only to the firm’s most liquid assets to meet the requirements of current liabilities. In 2004 our sample company had nearly 80 cents to satisfy every dollar in current liabilities. By 2005 that number had fallen to only about 50 cents for every dollar in current liabilities and has remained almost unchanged since.

Safety Ratio

Debt-Equity Ratio = Total Liabilities / Equity  Interpretation: Lower is better
The intent of this metric is to indicate the ability of the firm to withstand adversity (from a financial perspective only, of course). It may be understood as the “risk” metric, so the higher the value, the higher the risk. Over the five years we are considering here, this firm allowed its Debt-Equity (D-E) ratio to drift well above 1.30 at times, but has recovered to the present 1.37. The “1.37” means that the firm owes $1.37 for every dollar it has in equity. Therefore, in the midst of adversity, even if the company could not meet its obligations from current assets, the firm’s equity could likely step up to help meet the challenges.

Working Capital

Working Capital = Current Assets – Current Liabilities  Interpretation: Lower is better
Working Capital is the spread (in dollars) between current assets and current liabilities. It measures how many dollars the firm has tied up in its supply chain. In general, it is better to reduce this number. Organizations with higher cash velocities tend to have less cash tied up in their supply chain.[3]
Cash Conversion Cycle = Inventory Days + AR Avg. Days – AP Avg. Days  Interpretation: Lower is better
An organization’s Cash Conversion Cycle measures how long – how many days – cash is tied up in the supply chain on average. Again, fewer days in a firm’s Cash Conversion Cycle is better because it is indicative of one or more of the following:
  • More rapid inventory turnover
  • Improved AR average days-to-pay
  • Faster payment of AP vendors[4]
[To be continued]
©2010 Richard D. Cushing

[1] Sometimes referred to as a “Profit and Loss Statement”
[2] In our examples, the firms have no marketable securities.
[3] Some speed-demon companies even manage to have “negative” Working Capital through special supply chain arrangements.
[4] Only vendors that supply inventory or other product-related services should be included in calculating AP Average Days to Pay.

14 April 2010

Strategic Alignment of Information Technologies – Part 2

Setting Strategic Goals

Leveraging Technologies for Sustained Competitive Advantage
What makes new technologies valuable to a business?
  • Answer: In general, the ability of the technology to contribute to a sustained competitive advantage[1] is what makes it valuable to an enterprise.
What about a new technology allows it “to contribute to a sustained competitive advantage”?
  • Answer: Scarcity – the less available it is to your competitors, the larger will be your advantage in leveraging it
  • Answer: Innovation – the more innovatively your organization applies specific technologies, the less likely your competitors will be able to achieve the same results or benefits
Consider the example of steam engines. When steam engine technology became available, for those that had direct access (e.g., they could afford to buy steam powered equipment), steam engine technology gave them a significant advantage over competitors that could not pay the entry costs to gain access to that technology. Similarly, those that did not have or did not require direct access, but could benefit from indirect access (e.g., they could afford to ship goods faster on steam ships or by steclip_image002am locomotive), also had a significant and sustained competitive advantage over their competitors that had no such access to the new technology.
Basic Information Technologies
Today, information technologies provide only the following basic services:
  • Data capture
  • Data storage
  • Data processing
  • Data retrieval
  • Data transportation (communications)
Since none of these basic IT services is any longer scarce, simply applying the technology in a routine sort of way – as a “copy cat” – cannot provide any long term competitive advantage to your organization. In all likelihood, applying IT in typical fashion will provide no competitive advantage at all.
At best, applying non-scarce technologies in a way that simply matches your competition might help you take your firm from “failing” to “competing” (see accompanying diagram), but such an application of technologies could not, in itself, take your business from “failing” to “leading.”
Strategic Planning Begins with Understanding Where You are Today
Since most organizations begin planning their strategies based on where they have been and what they already know, they generally turn to their in-house history-keeping systems – that is, their accounting applications.[2] We, too, will begin our journey by looking at a sample company’s historical information and considering some of the implications of the data presented.
The Balance Sheet
As many of you already know, the Balance Sheet is a “snapshot” of a firm’s financial position with regard to three categories: 1) Assets – what the company owns, 2) Liabilities – what the company owes, and 3) Equity – the difference between the value of its assets and its liabilities or what it owes to its investors.
In preparing our strategies for fiscal year 2009, our company “ABC Widgets Manufacturing” is looking back over five years of history. The organization has a balance sheet with a little less than $3.7 million in assets, about $2.1 million in liabilities, and $1.55 million in equity. With a quick glance over the spreadsheet we’ve laid out, one might notice the following:
  • While total assets have remained fairly steady over the last five years, cash has shrunk by about 15% (down from $102,000 to $85,000) and accounts receivable are also diminished slightly.
  • The company has invested significantly in the following assets over the five years we’re reviewing:
    • $590,000 in land and buildings
    • $354,000 in equipment
    • $97,000 in furniture and fixtures
  • Short-term bank notes payable have zoomed from $211,000 to $589,000, an increase of $378,000 or about $95,000 per year (average).
  • Accounts payable have also increased about 34% between 2004 and 2008, moving from $558,000 in 2004 to $750,000 in 2008.
While these are interesting facts in themselves, they really tell us very little about what might be good or bad about operations in general. So, let us turn to the same company’s Income Statements between 2004 and 2008.

[1] “Sustained competitive advantage” is a relative term. In some rapidly evolving industries an advantage of six months or a year may be enough. In other industries, perhaps “sustained” would be an advantage lasting a year, two years, or even longer.
[2] We call accounting systems “history-keeping systems” simply because that is what accounting really is – it is the fiscal record of your organization’s historical transactions. While the historical data may be used to produce forecasts and budgets of various kinds based on purely historical data or upon a combination of history and “forecasting parameters,” the accounting system is useless in actually connecting “forecasts” with the actions required to achieve those forecast results.

[To be continued]

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

13 April 2010

Strategic Alignment of Information Technologies – Part 1

The Changing Role of Information Technologies
Fewer than 50 years ago (in 1965), U.S. firms were investing less than five percent (5%) of their capital budgets in information technologies (IT). By the early 1980s, about 15% of capital expenditures in U.S. companies were going toward IT. A decade later (the 1990s), U.S. firms had doubled that number and were making capital investments in information technologies at a rate of about 30%. By 1999, in fear of significant failures due to the feared “Y2K problem,” U.S. firms were investing in IT at a rate approaching 50% of all capital expenditures. Even today, due to the challenges of competing in an unmistakably global economy, U.S. companies continue to invest huge dollars (about $2 trillion every year) in new information technologies.

By the mid-1980s, the increasing power of the (then) new Personal Computer (PC) was putting computing power within the reach of the pocketbook of even the smallest “mom-and-pop” operations. There seemed to be a growing consensus amongst managers of every ilk and in every trade and industry that, “If I could just get my computer systems to collect enough data about what my business is doing and how it’s doing it, I could manage flawlessly.” Some companies have been investing in information technologies, sometimes without much more thought about the investment than the underlying fear that if they did not invest in technology, they would somehow be left behind entirely.
Underlying Assumption
As the power and pervasive presence of information technologies have increased, many executives and managers have simply made the assumption that the strategic value of IT has increased right along with it. Some have made this assumption based more on what they see everyone else doing than upon any actual analysis within their own organization or upon any actual effort to align IT spending with strategic or tactical gains.

This willy-nilly approach to IT investment has been somewhat underwritten by the fact that many small businesses have no actual strategic planning mechanism in place anyway. The organization’s planning about the future or thoughts about how to attain certain future goals may still be contained wholly or in substantial part solely in the head of the owner (and maybe a handful of key managers).
Making the Leap from Entrepreneurial to Enterprise
One of the things that occurred in the late 1980s and through the 1990s was a relatively sustained period of economic growth in the United States. Fed directly or indirectly by the rapid opening of both domestic and global markets accessible via the Internet, there were thousands of new start-ups. Many of these new entrepreneurial organizations found rapid acceptance and grew at startling rates from miniscule one or two person operations to firms that employed hundreds or even thousands.

One of the challenges faced by owners and managers in organizations that find themselves forced to transition from entrepreneurial to enterprise is the discovery that what worked effectively when managing an organization with 15 or 20 employees in a single office may not be effective in an enterprise with 1,500 employees scattered geographically. Entrepreneurial managers were finding themselves forced to somehow capture the “tribal knowledge” resident in key personnel who still carried the vision that had led the organization to its initial success. Many times, the “tribal knowledge” was most easily captured and codified into “business rule” within new IT systems.

This series is intended to help executives and managers – whether or not your organization presently has a standard method for setting strategic goals – to establish some effective operational goals; to quantify the expected results as forecasts based on the goals; and in the final step, to offer some ideas about how budgets might be established and new technologies engaged to help achieve the firm’s goals.

[To be continued]

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

09 April 2010

Are IT Vendors Driven by the Business Results of Their Customers?

Writing for CIO UK, David Henderson suggests several reasons “Why IT vendors must raise their game”. The second major point he mentions is that “IT vendors tend to be driven by their portfolios rather than business outcomes” for their customers. Henderson points out that IT vendors “continue to make significant investments in their portfolios but aren’t prepared to make the same investment in understanding how these apply to their customers’ businesses,” which can “lead to huge inefficiencies” once implemented at the customers’ sites.

As a result, Henderson continues, “vendors… tend to give poorly defined generic presentations that bear only passing relevance” to the challenges faced by the customer or prospect at hand. Henderson goes on to berate the ERP vendors for “me, too” solutions and their inability to “connect the dots” between their product offering real value for the firm that buys the technology.
I agree that IT vendors need to change. The economic picture is vastly different in 2010 than it was even three years ago.

Where I disagree with Henderson’s writing, however, is who should know what.

Starting off on the wrong foot

Computer-based technologies really were not available to any significant number of SMBs (small-to-mid-sized businesses) until after the introduction of the personal computer (PC) in 1981. Prior to that, computing power available from mainframe and mini-computers was available only to larger firms with significant capital for investment in such technologies.

So, in the early days of the computerization of the SMB market, almost every new prospect was anticipating moving off a system dominated entirely by paper and the necessary manpower to keep the paper flowing. As the price of PC-based technologies fell, more and more companies made the switch. This movement dramatically increased productivity and return on investment (ROI) for such a move was almost a certainty. As a result, many ERP salespeople came in the door talking about increasing productivity and providing rapid ROI for almost every SMB they approached. And, almost without exception, the implementation of that first round of technologies provided consistently rapid payback for the firms.

Unfortunately, as the market changed (i.e., SMBs’ next round of technology purchases were not taking them off paper-based systems but, more frequently, moving them into a comprehensive suite of application modules or moving some SMBs off the high cost of maintenance associated with mainframe and mini-computer systems), the sales approach of most technology vendors did not change. The technology vendors’ salespeople continued to make the same claims about productivity improvements associated with the first round of ERP implementations and the executives and managers at the customers’ sites continued to drink up the claims like Kool-Aid. In many cases, the SMB management was spurred on by the impending arrival of the year 2000 and the Y2K epidemic of fear. Many executives felt they needed to spend the money to upgrade their systems and took little thought as to the ROI of such an expenditure.

Nobody grew up and nothing changed

By the early 2000’s the ERP market had changed yet again. By 2005 or so, almost every CEO or CFO of every SMB had been through at least one – and usually two or three – implementations of new software (or other technologies) in their business environment. Add to that experience the fact that they now had easy access to the Internet by which to explore and make inquiry regarding almost any ERP software on the market, and the ERP-buyer had changed dramatically over a bit more than two decades.

When ERP was starting to be sold (20-plus years earlier), when the technology salesperson first met a prospect, the prospect was hungry for information about products and capabilities. Furthermore, these green-horn technology buyers were more than willing to make the salespeople their de facto “instructors” in the purchase and application of new technologies in their businesses.

In addition, as previously stated, ROI was pretty easy to achieve. Almost any SMB moving off labor-intensive paper-based processes or coming from costly mainframe or mini-computer technologies was bound to reap savings in operating expenses, and was almost equally likely to achieve increases in Throughput. However, by the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, all the easy ROI from traditional ERP – Everything Replacement Projects – was gone and not likely to return. Sadly, much of the technology salespersons’ product positioning remained unchanged and the sales rhetoric and promises from a good many ERP vendors still harkened back to days gone by – without, of course, actually mentioning that fact.

This unwillingness to face the change in the marketplace was not entirely one-sided. As the traditional ERP sales hype continued to make sweeping “rule-of-thumb” claims about delivering ROI for the ERP-buying executives and managers, these executives and managers proved themselves equally willing to accept the claims without taking the time and effort to discover for themselves what they really needed to know about their particular organization and its potential for reaping ROI from any particular foray into new or upgraded technologies.

What every executive and manager needs to know

As Eliyahu Goldratt has put it so well, there are three – and only three – things that every executive and manager needs to know to make effective decisions in every situation. These are they:
  1. What needs to change
  2. What the change should look like
  3. How to effect the change
If, before making the leap to buy technologies based on “rules of thumb” and sales-speak, executives would just take the time to figure out the answers to these three questions, there would be far fewer stories about traditional ERP implementations failing to deliver expected business results.

IT vendors are not necessarily driven by business results for every client. And, as executives and managers, you should be aware that rules-of-thumb may not apply to you and your enterprise – and the ERP vendor or VAR is not responsible for your business’s not fitting the rule-of-thumb by which other enterprises may have achieved return on investment.

As executives and managers in your organization with your particular circumstances and requirements, you – not the technology vendor or reseller – need to know what needs to change in order for your firm to start making more money tomorrow than you are making today. You – not your vendor or reseller – need to know what the change should look like in your particular organization. (The vendor or VAR may help you understand how new technologies may be part of what that change should look like, but you need to understand the precise need in order to effect your desired ROI. (Read more in many articles found right here at GeeWhiz To R.O.I.)

And lastly, as executives and managers it is your responsibility to understand how to effect the change within your enterprise. (Here again, the technology vendor or reseller may help you understand the technology-related components of the change, but you and your team need to take full responsibility for creating a roadmap for change.)

Need help?

Contact me at rcushing(at)GeeWhiz2ROI(dot)com and I can show you a way to unlock your firm’s “tribal knowledge” to discover what needs to change so you can start making more money tomorrow than you are making today, and you won’t spend money needlessly on technologies that don’t bring almost immediate ROI.

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

06 April 2010

ERP Vendors and Customers: The Blind Leading the Blind

Writing in CIO UK magazine online, David Henderson’s article entitled “Why IT vendors must raise their game” makes several salient points. Not least among the points raised is the fact that “too many IT vendor sales personnel don’t really understand my underlying business processes and investment criteria….”

For me, however, the issue is somewhat stood on its head. Far too many business enterprises with which I have been involved have precisely the same problem internally. CEOs, CFOs and CIOs in many businesses buy new technologies without understanding their own underlying business processes and by what criteria they should invest.

What executives and managers should know

Executives and managers seeking ways to improve their business enterprises (read: make more money tomorrow than they are making today) too often buy new technologies out of “hope” or “desperation,” rather than with a clear and concise understanding of

  1. WHAT needs to change in order for the business to begin making more money tomorrow than it is making today;
  2. What the change should LOOK LIKE; or
  3. HOW to effect the change (including what role any new or upgraded technologies might play in delivering the improvement).

Since they do not have the tools to concisely analyze what needs to change in order to make more money tomorrow, then they cannot know what the change should look like or how to bring about the change effectively. So, in the absence of clarity, they grope about in their darkness hoping that some change – any change – will bring them their desired end of higher profits.

Blind leading the blind

Like the blind leading the blind, the technology vendors and resellers who do not fully understand their prospects’ underlying business processes or appropriate criteria for investment (in fact, they understand them less clearly than the executives and managers, in many cases), console the yearning executives with platitudes and “rules of thumb” about how their latest and greatest “gee-whiz” technology will “reduce costs by X percent” and “improve sales by Y percent.”

Of course, this is precisely what the executives want to hear. Like the Sirens of old, the vendors and resellers lead many to spend. Even if they don’t fully believe what they are hearing from the vendors and VARs, the executives and managers frequently do not take time to calculate with any precision just how or why the new technology should, could, or would produce a return on investment (ROI) in their particular organization and circumstances. Instead, they close their eyes and ears to any negative thinking and, In the absence of any better ideas, these executives take out their checkbook to purchase the latest and greatest of new technologies. Of course, the correct general ledger account to which this “investment” should be charged is “Hope and Earnest Expectation.”


Sometimes good things come of this method. According to the industry literature, we can say that about one out of three such “investments” lead to noticeable improvement. Many times, however, the measure of improvement cannot be known with certainty. A growing company that shows improvement after some implementation cannot know which results may have occurred even in the absence of the new technology. A far greater share of SMBs (small-to-mid-sized businesses) simply assume they are “better off” if they are not clearly “worse off” following the deployment of some new technology. Some merely breathe a sigh of relief after some trying implementation period and, like a good Calvinist, say, “I’m glad that’s over,” without ever looking back to measure their return on investment.

My argument, however, is that “hope” and “serendipity” are not strategies and, while a few companies come to excel and even to dominate some markets for a short period of time based on little more than serendipity, it is not a sound strategy for long-term growth in any enterprise. For executives and managers return on investment should be seen as a primary responsibility. This responsibility should not be handed over to the technology vendor or VAR (value-added reseller). Neither should it be left to chance.

As W. Edwards Deming said so clearly: “It is management’s job to know.”

It is management’s job to figure out WHAT needs to change in order to start making more money tomorrow than the firm is making today. It is management’s job to come to a clear understanding as what that change should look like when it occurs. And, it is management’s job to define an unambiguous roadmap to effecting the necessary change. Then, it should be management’s job to measure and report on the return on investment yielded by their own keen insight.

Need help with this? Contact me at rcushing(at)GeeWhiz2ROI(dot)com and let’s talk.

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

02 April 2010

5 Things SMB Decision-Makers Aren't Getting Right Yet About ERP

5 Things SMB Decision-Makers Aren't Getting Right Yet About ERP

Despite more than a quarter-century since the arrival of 'ERP' on the scene, far too many executives and managers are still struggling to get things right.

Click the link above to read the article in full.

01 April 2010

Two Peas in a Prison

Have a good laugh at the expense of “Big ERP.”

Watch “Two Peas in a Prison” and then remember that the New ERP – Extended Readiness for Profit is what you really want.

Learn more about the New ERP – Extended Readiness for Profit by reading right here at GeeWhiz to R.O.I.

31 March 2010

Decision-making about ROI and your technology spending

Dan Gilmore wrote in “The ‘Probability’ of Supply Chain ROI” propounds properly and rationally the fact that any “forecast,” including forecasts of ROI (return on investment) should not be a single number. Rather, as anyone properly trained in statistical methods will tell you, it should be a range of numbers. The range of numbers would generally be calculated based on a single calculated value plus and minus values that represent the confidence intervals or, simply put, how likely the statistician believes his estimates the calculates will approximate reality. A larger range indicates lower levels of confidence and a smaller range higher confidence levels.

Now, while Gilmore is mathematically correct, the fact remains that most small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) simply do not have anyone trained in statistics on their payroll and they are not likely to go out and hire a statistician to produce ROI forecasts for their IT projects – since this would, by definition, automatically reduce the ROI of the enterprise as a whole in the short term.

Back on a growth trajectory

Gilmore makes another comment in his article with which I wholeheartedly agree: “[T]here is some evidence that companies are in fact looking at investments that can help them to get back on a growth trajectory (read: increasing Throughput) without having to add much in the way of head count (read: Operating Expenses) by achieving productivity gains.” Given the world-wide economic malaise that is showing some signs of lessening (for the moment, at least), Gilmore’s description probably suits the vast majority of SMBs across the U.S. and beyond.

Furthermore, many others besides me have written that a firm stand on return on investment will be the hallmark of technology spending in the 2010 and beyond. So, I can hardly fault Gilmore for suggesting that SMB executives and managers need to become increasingly sensitive to and realistic about ROI for every kind of investment in their firms’ futures.

Too much complexity already

Despite my agreement with Gilmore on theoretical grounds regarding forecasts – including ROI forecasts; and despite my agreement with him regarding the goal of companies to get back on a growth trajectory through wise investment of capital resources, I must disagree with him on the matter of adding useless complexity to the return on investment forecasting process.

Allow me to explain why I use the harsh term “useless” to describe such an effort in the development of a ROI forecast for an IT project.

First  of all, let me say that statistical methods ought to be applied where they make sense. Statisticians generally agree that a valid statistical sample must contain at least 30 members. This works great where you have 30 dogs, 30 cows, 30 houses, 30 automobile, 30 miles of roadway, and so forth for comparison. Then, of course, you need to factor for environmental differences. Thirty or more cows all in the same pasture, eating the same foods, and enjoying the same climate would make a pretty good statistical sample for some studies of cows. On the other hand, three Holstein cows in northern Minnesota, two long-horns in west Texas, 15 black whiteface cows in eastern South Dakota, and ten mixed-breed cows in central Florida are not likely to constitute a good “sample” for cow studies.


Simply because there are too many environmental dissimilarities surrounding the cattle. By the time these factors were accounted for, (generally speaking) any results would have such a large confidence interval as to make any prediction almost meaningless.

When considered as a whole, a typical SMB has tens of thousand of variable at work within the enterprise. Any number of those variables are likely to dramatically separate it any “sister” enterprises in a sample group used to forecast ROI outcomes.

Of course, the fact that traditional ERP – Everything Replacement Projects – are going to affect the whole enterprise is a big part of the problem of predicting ROI outcomes. With tens of thousands of variables at play, picking the winning number is far more challenging than winning the lottery.

Reducing the scope reduces the complexity

First of all, a good many SMBs today have a “pretty good” ERP system in place – regardless of its brand. Unless there is some pressing reason to undertake a traditional ERP – Everything Replacement Project, it is probably a far better idea to consider a New ERP – Extended Readiness for Profit project instead.

Narrowing the scope of the project reduces the complexity. And, reducing the complexity increases the likelihood that your ROI forecast will be more on-target. Allow me to give you a couple of examples:

If your executive management team were to elect to pursue either of these projects – or both – the goals are specific and measurable – as would be the expected outcomes. ROI calculations become simple:


Where T = Throughput (Revenues less Truly Variable Costs), OE = Operating Expenses, and I = Investment.

Simple. Elegant. And ROI calculations are far more likely to be right than any calculation around traditional ERP – Everything Replacement Projects.

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

26 March 2010

Making more money in the service business

If you’re a regular reader of my writings, you will know that I do not endorse many products. And, even if a product delivers many outstanding benefits, I will give you the straight scoop about delivering on R.O.I. (return on investment).

Well, I just finished reviewing an outstanding product for the SMB (small-to-mid-sized business) service industry. If your company sells, installs and/or services high-value technical or industrial products – or even if you service products sold and installed by others (such as swimming pools and hot-tub systems) – SM-Plus(tm) from Single Source Systems could help you start making more money.

A study done by Aberdeen Group indicates that service companies that adopted end-to-end solutions that aided managing their business as a “system,” rather than in silos, saw an average of 14.2% increase in revenues over a two-year period. Since, for many service companies, their service revenues carry very little in Truly Variable Costs (TVCs), that means that almost all the dollar increase in revenues drops directly to the company’s bottom-line.
So, how does an service management end-to-end solution create this increase in revenue – and profit?
Here are a few of the key factors:
  • Elimination of inter-departmental silos increases visibility of “bottlenecks” and helps executives and managers take effective action to increase Throughput.
  • Integration with mobile computing devices reduces time lost for data-entry or trips back to the job site or warehouse. This means more available service hours are actually used performing billable services.
  • End-to-end solutions are able to handle complex contract-based billing calculations, thus virtually eliminating “islands of information,” manual calculations and redundant data entry. This, in turn, means the enterprise can grow revenues without adding to operating expenses.
So, how would you determine if Single Source SystemsSM-Plus would be a good investment for your service-centric enterprise?

The formula return on investment remains the same:
image You and your team need to calculate how much your Throughput (T) (i.e., Revenue less TVC) might increase (see average of 14.2% over two years above, but calculate your own numbers) and any net effect on Operating Expenses (OE). Then, figure out what your investment would be to get started with a product like SM-Plus. Put those numbers into the formula for ROI (see illustration), and you can calculate your ROI simply and easily.

Give it some thought.

Drop me and email at rcushing(at)GeeWhiz2ROI(dot)com if you have further questions.

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

Generating Business to IT Alignment for successful packaged software (COTS) implementations

You've decided on the software you need, the business side has bought into it, and you've even picked your integrator. Now the hard work begins: Making sure that your software deployment strategy sets your company up for success, and that means making sure Business, IT and the Implementation Partner are in alignment.

First, we need to understand that Business, IT and the Implementation Partner are coming from different perspectives. Every party has a knowledge gap to address. Business best understands their existing business model and the underlying success drivers. The Implementation Partner understands the packaged software and has multiple years of implementation experience. IT best understands how technology supports the existing business model as well as how best to utilize existing corporate IT technologies. Alignment is generated only when a common understanding of the business model, packaged software and technology capabilities are shared by all three parties. When this alignment occurs there is effective communications and faster decision-making. Decisions move implementations forward.

Following is a recommended set of steps to develop a common understanding for effective collaboration during the COTS implementation:

1. Document existing business processes

It is an area that I see many packaged software implementations lack. The typical challenge I get is "Why document my existing business processes if I know they are changing?" Here are my reasons:

  • Business users may not have a consistent understanding of their existing business model. Going through the exercise of documenting business processes will highlight these differences and driver deeper understanding.
  • Documenting the existing business model will enable you to highlight the EXACT organizational changes that will occur. How can you manage organizational change when you do not have a clear understanding of what's changing?
  • Business process maps can be a key source of information to quickly educate IT and the Implementation Partner on the existing business process model.
2. Educate IT and the Implementation Partner on the existing business model

Business should take a formal, iterative process to educate IT and the Implementation Partner on the existing business model. The entire project team should be involved in this training and should progress from a solution-level overview to a detailed business-role level "day-in-the-life" review. Following is a suggested approach for conducting this training:

3. Complete packaged software training BEFORE the Implementation Partner arrives

Just as it is important for your Implementation Partner to understand your business model and your business language it is important that Business and IT have an understanding of the packaged software and its language. Effective communication is a two party effort. Taking the required packaged software training before the arrival of your Implementation Partner will enable you to more effectively work together.

4. Have the Implementation Partner conduct supplemental packaged software training

Education is an iterative process - you will never learn everything you need to know for supporting packaged software in a classroom. Packaged software providers provide foundational training. I always say that the Implementation Partner completes your packaged software training. Implementation Partners have hands-on experience with configuration and maintenance of packaged software solutions.

5. Implementation documentation should be more business-oriented

Nothing encourages alignment more than being able to think like your end customer. Too often we create project documentation that focuses more on technology than business reasoning and justification. There are times were I am guilty of moving too quickly from what needs to be done to how will it be done without completely understanding why does it need to be done. At the end of the day we build software to drive business results.


Business to IT alignment is a strategic goal that can only be reached by taking tactical steps to bring Business and IT closer together to generate mutual understanding and trust. Implementing packaged software is an opportunity to generate greater alignment by developing a common language for effective collaboration. When alignment is achieved then decision-making is effective.

Adapted from the book Maximize Your Investment: 10 Key Strategies for Successful Packaged Software Implementations by Brett Beaubouef.

17 March 2010

Business Processes and Real Management – Part 3

Simply put: If there is no process, it – whatever “it” is – cannot be managed.

The key point here is to separate mere intuitive decision-making from the act of “management.”

Management implies the existence of “a process,” – that is, an understood cause-and-effect relationship in a sequence of dependent events leading to a predetermined goal. There are three critical elements to this definition of “management” and “a process”:
  1. The “process” must have a goal or outcome. If there is no goal or outcome that can be stated in advance, then there is no point in attempting to “manage” it, for to manage it would be to somehow affect the outcome of the process (e.g., improvement). If the goal or outcome of the process is not understood or has not been articulated, then there is little need for the act of “management.”
  2. The “process” must include more than one step or event, and the steps or events must be related by their sequential dependence. One cannot manage, for example, “the big bang.”
  3. The “manager,” in order to manage effectively must understand both the goal of the process and the process itself.
If we return to the examples given, whenever an executive must deal with sales operations as mystical mojo that is carried out in some seemingly inexplicable way by certain persons who were hired because they have a demonstrated facility for working this “mojo,” then that executive cannot be said to be “managing” the “sales process.” He or she may be managing many things related to sales, like the expenses related to sales, the number of salespeople, the sales territory assignments, and more. But he or she cannot be managing “the sales process” any more than he or she would be said to be managing a group of witch doctors in the work they do.

Let me go further to say, that even though the executive may have a “prescribed sales process” that includes a number of “steps,” even if those “steps” are canonized in some CRM (customer relationships management) or other software application; and even if the salespeople are required to “check-off” against these prescribed “steps”; if such “steps” are subject to frequent manipulation by the salespeople or sales managers or if a near-constant series of concessions are being made to the demands of salespeople or sales managers in accommodation to their claims of “mojo,” (or something equally nebulous) then no real “sales process” exists in such an organization. Also, if management is repeatedly kowtowed by what amounts to little more than “threats” that “bad things will happen” if salespeople’s and sales managers’ demands are not met in this matter or that, then I would allege that no “sales process” exists.

Now, I hear you asking: “What difference does it make if we have a ‘sales process’ as long as we are making sales and surviving?”

To that question, too, there is a simple answer: If, as an executive, you do not have a real and manageable “sales process,” then you are at the mercy of the economic winds and the fickleness of fate. In the absence of a manageable process, you cannot know what actions will lead to improvement. Despite your title as “executive,” your only recourse is to try this or try that, because you have no comprehension of the actual cause-and-effect dependencies that lead to more sales or better sales.

Is that really how you want to run what is arguably the leading edge of your business enterprise?

Suggested Reading:

Reengineering the Sales Process

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

16 March 2010

Business Processes and Real Management – Part 2

  1. (continued) In the second scenario, the owner or chief executive is not in charge of the sales team. In fact, the firm has generally hired an experienced “sales manager” based on this persons history and background of producing sales at some other firm in the same or a similar industry. This person has then hand-selected a team of salespeople, the sales manager often doting over them making certain that each is uniquely satisfied with their particular arrangements. This is a variation on the same prima donna theme, but with a layer of middle management.

    In both of these cases, however, the general attitude of top management at the firm is that, while they may give lip-service to something they call their “sales process,” when one digs deeper, it becomes abundantly clear that the “sales department” is really surrounding by mystique. Each hand-picked salesperson has his or her own mystical mojo that is performed in a somewhat ritual-like fashion. This mojo, when properly carried out and when not too much interfered with management and administration produces a life-stream of sales to support the rest of the company.

    In these situations, the rest of the company’s executives and managers are under the implicit understanding that “I must not mess with the salespersons’ mystical mojo or things will go badly for the whole company.” Frequently, even top executives fear treading too much on the mojo, for fear there will be bad repercussions.

  2. The second matter is that comes to mind is “sales commissions.” On numerous occasions I have asked executives, “How do you calculate and pay commissions?” A simple question?

    To this simple question, I am not infrequently given a simple answer: something along the lines of, “We pay commissions based on gross margins.”

    Simple enough, don’t you think? Until you begin to dig into the details. Then one starts hearing things like this: “Well, yes, we do pay commissions based on gross margins. But, if our buyers get a special deal on a purchase, we pay commissions on the ‘regular’ gross margins, not the actual gross margins of the sale of those special purchases.” Or, “Yes, we do pay commissions based on gross margins but, because the contract we signed with salesperson X is different from the deal we reached with salespersons Y and Z, the way we calculate ‘gross margins’ is different for each of salespersons X, Y and Z.”
So, I hear you ask, “What is the similarity between my daughter’s situation and the two examples I just mentioned?” The similarity is this: In each case the executive in charge called their decision-making a “process” (or, in the academic world, a “rubric”) or suggested that they were managing “a process” (i.e., “the sales process”). However, close inspection revealed that each decision was being made on a case-by-case basis without reliance upon a process or rubric, at all.
Note, my objection is not to the case-by-case decision-making – although I offer that this is likely not a sound approach to managing a growing SMB. Rather, my objection is to the managers’ beliefs that they are actually managing to a “process” or by “a process.”
(To be continued)
©2010 Richard D. Cushing

15 March 2010

Business Processes and Real Management – Part 1

I had a conversation with one of my daughters on the way to the airport today. She was telling me about something that went on with regard to management decision-making at her work. (She works in the field of education, but the principle I wish to discuss applies everywhere, in every type of organization.)

The scenario is something like this: An executive (and here I use the term “executive” in the broadest sense, meaning any manager in a position to not only choose, but also to execute upon the decision made) states that he or she is going to make a management decision based upon a process (or, in this academic environment, a rubric – a process for scoring an otherwise subjective decision). However, upon further discovery and discussion, it becomes apparent to all involved that whatever “process” or “rubric” is ostensibly being applied is purely subjective and intuitive to the manager alone. That is to say, what is pretended to reduce an otherwise purely subject and intuitive decision to a “process” – a “rubric” – is merely that, a pretense. The decisions being made remain purely subjective and intuitive and are not correlated to a “process,” at all.

Now, let me be clear. I am a free-market guy. I believe that business owners and their executive agents should be able to hire, fire and make other management decisions at will. I am fully committed to the fact that they may do as they please so long as their actions do not include coercion or deceit. In this scenario, it is not the executives decision with which I take issue – which is why the decision itself is not discussed herein.

What I wish to discuss is how many times executives and managers are themselves deceived as to the presence of a “business process” or any kind of rubric by which they manage. From my experience, if I spent time cogitating, I’m certain that I could come up with a large number of examples. However, for brevity’s sake, let me just toss out a couple.
  1. Foremost in my mind are the numerous discussions I have had with executives over the years regarding so-called “sales management.” I say, “so-called,” because I have too many times been faced with one of two variations on the same theme in this regard. The first is where the owner of the small-to-mid-sized business (SMB) was the companies first salesperson (which is quite natural, as the organization was likely an outgrowth of some entrepreneurial venture) and remains today as the firm’s sales manager. He or she has, over the years, created a sales team of hand-selected folks, and the executive is convinced that each of these salespeople is unique and each requires special handling – a sort of prima donna approach.
(To be continued)
©2010 Richard D. Cushing

09 March 2010

Changing the game for ERP/COTS implementations

I think we've all learned that implementing ERP/COTS using a traditional approach of (1) focusing on custom software and (2) having a purely requirements-driven approach results in greater Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). ERP/COTS can make for an expensive custom solution. What is required to change this trend is to evolve our implementation approach. Following are my top strategies for changing the game for ERP/COTS implementations:

(1) Focus on Business Results. Too often we focus on software scope and not the entire business solution (People, Business Processes, Technology). A challenge I make to my project team is to focus on all three components that drive business results. Also, spend time/effort on gathering requirements that drive value-add business results. Not all of the customer's existing business results drive real business value.

(2) Ask customers to formalize knowledge transfer on their existing business model. Every customer's implementation is unique and it is important that every member on the project team has a common understanding of the customer's existing business model. This knowledge transfer will enable implementation partners (consultants, IT) to better align with the explicit and implicit expectations of their customer. Implementation partners need to speak the language of their customers. Being in the same meeting or having the latest chat technology does not guarantee alignment nor collaboration.

(3) Implementation partners need to enable customers to lead during the implementation. This requires us to have a formal knowledge transfer plan and a progressive leadership style: Directing, Coaching, Facilitating, and Supporting. A new measure for success: the implementation partner leavers before the go-live because the customer is self-sufficient.

(4) Perform business solution modeling. Use prototyping for defining requirements and modeling to validate requirements/configurations. Use multiple validation techniques (peer reviews, modeling, testing) to identify potential problems.

(5) Implement to the current business process maturity level. Technology alone does not mature a business process. Meeting the customer where they are at will (a) reduce the challenge of emerging requirements, (b) reduce implementation risk, and (c) put you in a better position for a quick win.

(6) Minimize customizations and maximize enhancements. Every customer will have unique requirements that must be addressed via software. Some of these requirements add no material value to desired business results (customizations) while other requirements have a material impact to desired business results (enhancements). This is not meant to be a negative commentary but it deals with the reality that a customer's existing business process is not 100% efficient nor 100% effective (Lean Six Sigma). A key strategy for the project team is to focus on the requirements that drive enhancements and eliminate non value add customizations as quickly as possible (before Fit/Gap).

(7) Negotiate for success. This requires changing the customer's expectation of business software. If the custom expects a custom software solution then the results will be additional gaps, costs, and disappointments. Implementation partners need to understand the potential areas in the ERP/COTS software where software changes can be cost-effective. Negotiation will be required to foster adoption and yet not eliminate the inherent advantages of ERP/COTS.

(8) Accelerate decisions by generating more knowledge and less information. At the end of the day, decisions (not documents) move implementations forward. Sometimes we get caught up in generating too many detailed documents without ensuring they generate value-add results (decisions).

In summary, the key to effective ERP/COTS implementations is to have an implementation approach that maximizes the advantages and minimizes the challenges associated with ERP/COTS software.

Adapted from the book "Maximize Your Investment: 10 Key Strategies for Effective Packaged Software Implementations" by Brett Beaubouef.

Fractured Planning Processes

In a report entitled Retail Merchandising: Buckling Down in a Tough Economy, authors Paula Rosenbaum and Steve Rowen of Retail Systems Research (RSR) tell us that nearly half (47% on average, but 55% of performing laggards in the survey) of respondents to their survey said that their leading business challenge was “fractured [inventory] planning processes.”

Unfortunately, in the published report to which I have access, Rosenbaum and Rowen do not elaborate on just what the respondents consider to be a “fractured planning process,” although the accompanying prose tends to suggest that this description relates to business processes tied to inventory planning that are not unified or even in good end-to-end communications across the enterprise and beyond.

A common problem

While this survey deals with retailers and inventory specifically, it does highlight a problem in small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs) that I have observed for nearly 30 years: that is, the lack of “planning” at all. For sure, most SMBs do develop plans for special projects. If they are going to purchase new or upgraded technologies, build a new or extend existing facilities, open a new location, or add a new product line, then they do prepare and plan in a more or less formal way.

What executives and managers do not do on a regular basis is develop a plan for making more money – both now and in the future. Most executives tend to get their business rolling and then set the “cruise control.” Then, with the vehicle barreling down the road, they spend their time fighting fires and trying to keep up the organization’s momentum with little or no thought about how the terrain (read: business environment) has changed until something big hits (like a recession or big competitor appears on the horizon).

So, what keeps executives from “planning” more frequently and more effectively for business improvement?

My experience suggests the some blend of following key components comprise the answer:

  1. Many executives developed a business plan once, and now they have a business. It never occurred to them that planning for “improving” the business is required or would even help. Being entrepreneurs, they tend to manage by the seat of their pants and trust their “gut” for what will bring improvement.
  2. You can’t drain the swamp when you’re up to your neck in alligators. Many executives spend the bulk of their time being reactive, rather than proactive. There time is spent taking care of things that others don’t get done or fighting fires so people can return to doing what they need to do to keep the business running.
  3. Unless something big is happening, most executives don’t think time spent in “planning” – rather than “doing” – is a good investment.
  4. Far too many executives do not know of – or know how to apply – a good “tool” for effective planning. In the absence of a good tool, most executives feel that time spent in planning is not going to be effective anyway.
  5. Things are changing too fast. We just need to do the best we can to survive, right now. Of course, in good times, or when things were not “changing too fast,” these same executives used other excuses for not planning.

A POOGI: A Process Of On-Going Improvement

In times like these – challenging economic times – it is more important than ever for executives and managers in companies that hope to survive despite the economic upheaval to make a concerted effort at ongoing improvement. That is, to start a POOGI within their firm.


Because it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete for the consumers dollars.  If you are not improving your value proposition in a process of on-going improvement, then day-by-day your products and services are losing out. Dollars that used to come your way are now going to other businesses – and I don’t mean just businesses that you see as your competitors. I’m talking about dollars that consumers used to spend for your goods and services are now going, instead, to buy groceries, fuel, or pay off credit cards – anywhere but into your bank account. That’s why you need a plan to increase the value of your offerings in an on-going way.

How to begin

How should you begin a POOGI?

You should begin by figuring out your present situation. You need to unlock your organization’s “tribal knowledge” and understand your current reality. Naturally, the right tool for doing this is called the Current Reality Tree (CRT).

For more information on Current Reality Trees, including step-by-step information on how to begin constructing one, click here. If you would like to have help unlocking your firm’s “tribal knowledge” effectively and in constructing your CRT, then contact me directly.

Next steps

Once your CRT has given you and your management team a clearer view of what needs to change, the next step is to decide what should the change look like. In other words, if you and your team took steps to reduce or eliminate Un-Desirable Effects (UDEs – pronounced: YOU-dee-eez) revealed by your CRT, what would your organizational cause-and-effect flow look like? The Thinking Processes tool used to expose this future state is called the Future Reality Tree (FRT).

Other of the Thinking Processes may also be applied, including:

  • Evaporating Cloud
  • Prerequisite Tree
  • Negative Branch Reservations

However, for your “planning roadmap,” the tool that will you and your team move from where you are today (your CRT) to your planned future state (FRT), you will want to build a Transition Tree (TrT).

Again, if you’d like to have assistance in effectively applying the Thinking Processes and in creating a POOGI in your organization, then feel free to contact me directly. But, whatever you do, do not sit and do nothing and let the recession drive one more enterprise out of business.

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

08 March 2010

Collective Fixation on Short-Term Profits

Vivek Sehgal brings up an important point in the post Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (3 March 2010) here at Supply Chain Expert Commnity. Even though, at GeeWhiz To R.O.I. I talk a lot about the the goal of business being to make more money, I generally add ...tomorrow than you are making today. Making more money "tomorrow," should not be predicated on actions that will diminish the long-term prospects for making more money. Nevertheless, a lot of companies -- especially publicly traded companies -- have a fixation on short-term profits that is damaging to the long-term health of the enterprise.

W. Edwards Deming diagnosed this issue early and brought it to our attention about 30 years ago. He called it "paper entrepreneurialism." The investing relationship of real entrepreneurs looks like this:
FIG Invest_Entrepreneurs.jpg
Entrepreneurs sitting in this relationship have a vested interest in the ability of the firm to produce profits over the long term. Such investor-entrepreneurs seldom intentionally make decisions to reap short-term profits at the expense of the long-term prospects for the business.

Speculative investors have a slightly different relationship with the firm(s) in which they take stock. That relationships looks like this:
FIG Invest_Investors.jpg
The most connected investors are those that hold a relationship similar to that of the real entrepreneurs. They invest in shares directly with the company (or at least have an more intimate relationships with the firm and knowledge of its management, even if they must make their stock acquisitions through a broker). However, most of the investors agreed to buy stock in the specific firms based on the advice of their broker. They may know little or nothing about the firm or the firm's management directly. They trust the advice of their broker.

The intervention of the broker/brokerage house makes buying and selling of stocks easier, and the brokers are typically incented to produce results (return on investment) for their customers (the shareholders) over both the short-term and long-term. The focus of the broker and the guidance given to the investors will vary based on personal preferences. Nevertheless, it is easy to see that the investors are abstracted from their investments by the borkers and management at the publicly held companies must satisfy the short-term expectations of the brokers or, in the interest of their customers, the brokers are likely to shift investment away from companies performing poorly in the short-term in favor of those with better short-term returns on investment.

Paper entrepreneurs are even further abstracted from their holdings as shown in the following diagram:
FIG Invest_PaperEntrepreneurs.jpg
With the introduction of mutual funds and government-incented retirement plans, more capital has moved into the markets, but at the price of having the investors abstracted from the companies in which their dollars are invested by three or four layers, which layers tend to be focused entirely on short-term performance and profitability. By a huge factor, a majority of the investors in today's capital markets do not even know the names of the companies in which they hold stock. How can they be anything but "paper entrepreneurs"?  They seek the highest return on their investments without any concern for the long-term viability of the companies providing the returns.

Consider that the mutual fund manager. He care not one whit for the companies in which the fund he manages invests beyond the companies' ability to provide solid growth for the mutual fund over the next reporting period. He will gladly shift millions from company A to company B at the hint that company B's short-term return will outstrip company A's performance.

Next in line come the brokers and the brokerage houses. They are willing to recommend mutual fund C over mutual fund D on the basis of their likelihood of producing short-term returns to the investors. The brokers and brokerage houses are incented to provide this kind of advice without consideration for the long-term survivability of the companies which their investments ultimately reside.

Then, of course, for the vast majority of investors, there are the corporate retirement and pension fund managers. They, too, have only one incentive: to see good performance in the funds they manage. They, like the investors themselves, quite often have no knowledge -- ultimately -- about the companies in which their investments ultimately are put to use.

All of this leads to the boards of directors in publicly-held companies providing incentives to their chief executives to provide short-term profitability so as to keep market capitalization up -- which is almost entirely based on stock prices. So, how do CEOs and CFOs react to all of this? They are willing to sacrifice the long-term prospects of their own organization for short-term performance during the particular CEO's or CFO's term in office -- and their successors will do the same.

This constitutes a grave danger to publicly-held companies in the U.S.  What is the answer?

Contact me!

05 March 2010

The Right Cost-Cutting Formula

TOC Profit
The formula above is the only real formula that should be considered by companies considering cost-cutting during this recession.

Here is what the formula means.

The upper-case Greek letter delta (the triangle-shaped character) is used in mathematics as a symbol meaning “the change” or “difference.” Therefore, we read this formula as follows:

The change in P = the change in T minus the change in OE,
where P = Profit, T = Throughput and OE = Operating Expenses.

Throughput (T) is defined as Revenue (R) less Truly Variable Costs (TVCs), and TVCs are further clarified as only those costs that vary directly with incremental changes in Revenues. For example, raw materials probably vary directly with changes in unit sales of a manufactured item. However, production payrolls do not vary directly with changes in Revenues. If your firm produces 1,000 widgets this week and only 850 next week, but 1,200 last week; chances are the production payroll was substantially the same for each of these weeks.  Therefore, production payroll cannot be classified as a TVC.

Substituting for T

Since T = R – OE, we can substitute into our formula and make it read like this:

The change in P = the change in R minus the change in TVC minus the change in OE

Thinking about cost-cutting

Based on this formula, we can safely state the following:
  • An increase in R will result in an increase in P, provided there is no change in TVC or OE
  • A decrease in TVC will result in an increase in P, provided there is no change in R or OE
  • A decrease in OE will result in an increase in P, provided there is no change in R or TVC
Where executives get into trouble during recessions
Pay attention to the “no change” clauses in the three statement above. These are critical, but all too frequently overlooked by executives and managers in making cost-cutting decisions. We just saw a terrific example of this with Toyota.

Some executives at Toyota thought that they could increase P (profits) by reducing TVCs through the purchase of lower-priced components for their automobiles. For a while, it probably worked. However, in February 2010, Toyota’s year-over-year sales for the month were down 43%, and for the first time in several decades, Ford Motor Company sold more units than Toyota in a calendar month. This is not to mention the fact that some billions of dollars will be expensed by Toyota over the coming months and years due to the recall.

So, what were the affects of Toyota management’s decision to reduce TVCs in order to increase Profits?
  1. Revenues down 43% year-over-year
  2. Several billion dollars added to Operating Expenses (OE) due to recall effort
  3. Lost customers, which will require additional expenditures in OE (marketing) to reclaim
  4. Additional expenditures in OE (public relations, legal, etc.) for damage control
Think it through
It is a simple thing for executives in a firm facing recessionary pressures think, “We will cut our operating expenses (OE) by laying off some people,” without considering the long-term affects that the move may have on customer satisfaction, for example. How many customers will be lost due to the cut-back in staffing? How much more will need to be spent in OE (sales and marketing, for example) to maintain the same levels of revenue as a result?

Use the formula

If, as an executive, you are considering cost-cutting, then consider the whole formula. Go over it with your management team. Carefully consider any short-term and long-term impact on Revenues and Operating Expenses. Do not simply assume that you can change one factor and the others will remain unchanged.

Contact me!

©2010 Richard D. Cushing

04 March 2010

The Business Plan (Podcast Series by LeasePlan)

LeasePlan is sponsoring "The Business Plan - Series 2" Business Plan Podcast. The series include:
  • Episode 1: Data Security
  • Episode 2: Opportunities for Business in Social Media
  • Episode 3: Developing an Online Strategy for Your Organisation (the firm is from Australia, so the spelling is correct)
The series will run to ten parts over ten weeks.  It may be of value to your organization.


03 March 2010

Maximize Your Investment with Packaged Software Implementations

Brett Beaubouef recently published a book entitled Maximize Your Investment: 10 Key Strategies for Effective Packaged Software Implementations. This book, published in December 2009, is a welcome addition to ERP literature if, for no other reason, than that there is a dearth of literature in the field regarding COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) or packaged ERP software implementations altogether. Beaubouef's work helps bring an end to that.

Beyond that, however, Beaubouef's writing is closely aligned with my thinking, as well. Plus, the vast majority of SMBs (small-to-mid-sized business) will end up implementing some form of COTS software. Most small businesses are simply not good candidates for "Big ERP," anyway.

Here are some salient quotations worth cogitating upon and that will, I trust, encourage you to go out and buy the book in order to gain more valuable insights:
  • Customers are more concerned with implementing successful business solutions, not just installing software products and technologies.
  • Flexibility in a business solution starts with a flexible implementation approach.
  • The ideal COTS software implementation approach would focus on maximizing the “out of the box” value that packaged software can provide to a customer. The implementation approach would naturally filter out requirements that did not provide quantifiable business value, and keep the focus on the customer’s value-added strategic requirements.
As the preface says: “This book is aimed at enterprise architects, development leads, project managers, business systems analysts, business systems owners, and anyone who wants to implement packaged software effectively.”  That’s a great target audience because so many implementations lack real business-value effectiveness, even when the software is otherwise “successfully” deployed.

If you fit into any of the categories listed in the preceding paragraph, my advice is to buy the book.  I did!
Contact me at rcushing@geewhiz2roi.com.

Works Cited
Beaubouef, Grady Brett. Maximize Your Investment: 10 Key Strategies for Effective Packaged Software Implementations. Birmingham, UK: Packt Publishing Ltd., 2009.