My September 20th post titled “With SAP, failure is not an option . . . often times its the only option!” seems to have struck a harmonious chord with readers who have long recognized the fact that SAP, while being widely used in sectors such as government, is often times not the right tool for the intended environment.
The following video excerpt of a presentation by Ray Wang “5 recent SAP failures” is eye opening:
While communication issues such as those suggested by Wang are likely a contributing factor to SAP implementation woes, I would be more inclined to delve even deeper into the possible origins of the problems which I believe are linked to the prevalence of an old IT attitude of “let’s just win the account and worry about making it work later.”
As someone who remembers the days of CP/M, the Osborne (the portable computer, not Ozzy), and the advent of industry specific applications based on the MAI Basic Four system, this “can do – but only in the future” optimism was pretty much a standard MO in those heady days of technological awakening.
Back then this was not as much of a problem, as the breadth of a failure’s impact was usually confined to the desktop and localized application usage, and not the enterprise as a whole (see Hershey’s or Fox Myers Drugs as prime examples of the latter).
Somewhere along the line however, during the transformation from the vacuum tubed based 700 series when customers were expected to write their own software, to the purported all encompassing turnkey enterprise solutions of more recent times, the once charming and necessary innovators optimism sadly persisted. In other words, as the market matured and expanded, the technology can solve any problem mindset remained trapped in a kind of time warp.
Technology in and itself, especially when misaligned with the targeted environment, renders it largely irrelevant and ineffective.
What is surprising is that many industry pundits continue to overlook this simple yet powerful truth, opting instead to follow the features, functions and benefits template for assessing a solution’s viability. After all, why hasn’t the above Ray Wang video shown up in the majority of supply chain blogger posts?
This selective and collective blindness to a major problem, regardless of the reasons, is reminiscent of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that keeps everyone in the dark.
That being said, and in the spirit of Abe Lincoln’s “you can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” I am pleased to share the following reader response from the Buyers Meeting Point LinkedIn Group.
“Having spent the majority of my career in FMCG Manufacturing with extensive global Distribution Centres – the perfect environment for SAP – I have been bemused by the high take up of the product by both the Financial and Public Sectors (neither of which have a physical product).
Hats off to the sales teams at SAP for successfully making there product the management system of choice, but is SAP the right tool in such environments?
SAP undoubtably works for FMCG, cutting costs and providing the tools to maximise sales, customer service and improved stock turnover, but these aforementioned indicators are not KPI’s in every organisation.
Local Government is sector where SAP has become ubiquitous. Historically the working methods and drivers in local government had a different focus than FMCG, i.e. health care and education. Certainly, SAP will provide a management information tool by which to monitor budgets and control expenditure more effectively – it could even facilitate a reduction in the number of public sector employees – but from what I have observed (all 2nd Hand) the introduction of SAP has added layers of bureaucracy that makes the organisations less, rather than more, efficient.”
(Note: thank you to Bernard vanHaeften who is the Director at Variations Procurement Consultancy in the United Kingdom, for sharing his thoughts)
In the end, what observations such as Bernard’s should tell the industry, is that the market is evolving and with it an increasing level of scrutiny that leads to a clearer understanding of what does and does not work.
All I can say is that it is about time!