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


Dan Kraus said...

Richard, you are absolutely correct on all points in your post. The one thing I would add explicitly (and you may have meant it implicitly) is that the plan to affect change must also include changing human behavior in the organization. Many system projects, with clear roadmaps and goals fail because no one in management helped the current and future system users understand the why, the what and the how.

RDCushing said...

Yes, that part of the change was implied. In fact, you will find a three-part series here at GeeWhiz To R.O.I. on "Change Comes Through People." You might find it to be of interest.

Thank you for your comment.