Is it time to do a gut check? Five questions for IT and supply chain executives…

Published January 25th, 2010 by Doug Colbeth 2 Comments

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute an opinion piece to IndustryWeek last week on my favorite topic to rant about….ERP Suites.

In the article, I proposed five questions that can serve as a gut check for IT and supply chain executives to see if their ERP vendors are serving their needs with their suites of modules.

Gut check #1: Do you buy the line that because it is one product, there will be seamless integration? 

Gut check #2:  Can you use your ERP to connect with heterogeneous systems across your organization and amongst your external partners?

Gut check #3:  Is the initial price of the module too good to be true? 

Gut check #4:  Are the modules you have purchased not being used for the original intent, or worse, have ended up “on the shelf?”

Gut check #5:  Are you using spreadsheets because you can’t do everything you need to do in your ERP system?

It is time to stop facilitating a patchwork approach to achieving integrated supply chain management.   The limitations of the ERP suites are very real: 

  • you can’t get all the information (internal and external) you need for a true view of your extended operations,
  • you can’t easily or quickly make adjustments to the data (or data models) and see the impact of changing supply chain conditions in real-time;  and as a result,
  • your “integrated” ERP system doesn’t allow those on the front lines to act quickly with confidence.

Forget the point solutions and look for core technological capabilities that can provide a platform in which can be applied to many applications.  Bridge the divide between the silo’ed operations and partners with tools that truly deliver on the promise of integrating information, capabilities and people.

CIOs and supply chain executives deserve to have more confidence in the success of the solution, more accountability on the part of their vendor, and certainly better ROI – this means looking at alternatives to the “suite.”  Whatever you chose, be aware of the options, aware of the risks, and avoid being seduced by the suite.

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2 Responses to “Is it time to do a gut check? Five questions for IT and supply chain executives…”

  1. Mike Oswalt

    Doug, I’m not convinced that using spreadsheets is necessarily a bad thing or a measure of lack of automation or integration. Spreadsheets have become a defacto method of capsulizing information that can be used for transferring information, batch interfaces, or additional analysis. Here is a good example where Google Spreadsheet was used as a input template for a rapid development of a business process utility http://itredux.com/2009/01/25/a-first-taste-of-dogfood/ There is certainly more mileage to get out of most all ERP implementations but, using spreadsheets isn’t a leading indicator.

    The “suites” exist in absence of better enterprise tools. The focus on suite evaluation is misplaced. The focus, particularly for managing supply chains, should be on business process. http://thingamy.typepad.com/sigs_blog/2009/01/beyond-the-crisis-the-importance-of-wealth-creation-and-enterprise-software.html

  2. John La Bouff

    @Mike: Spreadsheet use by itself is not a bad thing, I agree. What I do think is bad, and it ties with your emphasis on business process, is the *inability* to get off them due to constant churn of both data and practice. What I have seen in over 30 years in supply chain is a very strong correlation between the emergence of spreadsheets and the decline in plain discipline in procedure and shared data definition, and I attribute that to the ability of everyone to “tune” the data to their local perspective. An awful lot gets lost in translation in an end-to-end process, and you bake in people manning all the translation points. I enjoy saying “Excel is evil” for the shock value, so maybe that’s just my twisted view of history.

    Whether “ERP” or best-of-breed, the ability to implement automation beyond spreadsheets depends first and foremost on your company’s ability to herd all the cats back together–which is something you could, and should, demonstrate before any implementation. It’s one thing to be able to exploit spreadsheet flexibility but it’s another matter entirely to be doomed to using nothing but them because you cannot organize your process sufficiently to adhere to the imposed discipline of automation.

    @Doug: I think you have good gut checks for someone who has their process issues resolved, but I also think that places the topic in the minority zone of the companies out there. And I would have to say it’s a losing battle to challenge the integration theme, because by and large it’s seldom worse and often quite a bit better than stitching together best-of-breed architectures in a practical sense.

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