CPR for ERP

When you buy instead of build, do you still have to apply traditional IT quality disciplines? The surprising answer is...more than ever!
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See if this scenario sounds familiar: Your company--or one that you know of--has bought into the admittedly alluring idea that you can purchase commercial enterprise resource planning (ERP) software that integrates the entire enterprise. This concept will allow you to use sexy new Web or client/server technology that replaces all of your ugly, homegrown mainframe systems that just can't seem to keep pace with your needs. Even better, because you are buying instead of building, your business experts can be in charge of the implementation instead of the technocrats in IT. Without IT and their tedious development and testing disciplines underfoot, things will move much faster.

It's not as though you won't need some help, of course. A crack team of consultants will parachute in for this event--but they won't be customizing the software, exactly. They'll be reengineering your business processes to take advantage of the powerful new system. So, as soon as they have configured a few options here and there to take into account any idiosyncrasies of your operations, they will be airlifted out and you will be catapulted into the promised land of streamlined efficiency. Oh, and IT can keep things humming along with a couple of people.


Customizing software is almost inevitable, but the minute you change it, you can no longer accept new upgrades from the vendor without reimplementing the changes--and retesting everything!

So what's wrong with this picture? It's what happens next.

The unfortunate fact remains that few companies conduct their operations in a homogenized manner--the trend toward business-process standardization notwithstanding. In fact, it is often those very business-process idiosyncrasies that give the company a competitive edge. Few purchased enterprise systems can actually replace every nook and cranny of your homegrown applications; so some coding around the edges is inevitable.

What this means is that few, if any, ERP implementations are out of the box. Every last line of business-process configuration or software customization has to be developed and tested before the initial implementation and every time a new release of the ERP system is installed, or a configuration change is made, or your infrastructure is upgraded, or… Get the picture? By then, the consultants, their expertise, and the hefty budget, are all long gone.

Business-process contortion

Consider the manufacturing conglomerate that sought to replace a crazy quilt of legacy applications with a fully integrated ERP system. The company understood the enormity of the task and budgeted the time, money, and consulting resources accordingly. Two years were invested in exhaustive analyses of the existing "as is" business processes and reiterative design of the target "to be" processes. Out of this came a set of distilled business rules and transaction scripts used to configure the ERP system. About a dozen legacy applications that had no commercial equivalent were integrated through a series of interfaces, coming and going. End users around the world were trained in the avalanche of new processes, and the implementation team of both consultants and power users conducted lengthy and detailed tests. The deadline arrived. Go live!


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