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

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