Ideas and writing

writers-blockI have been struggling with writer’s block for the last few months. As you can see, I didn’t post anything for the five months since February. It’s not that I haven’t had ideas for blog topics, nor have I not been contemplating writing; but getting down to the business of actually writing something, that’s been my hang-up.

Many times I’ve planned to write, and then conveniently let something else intrude and stop the process. I would also get frustrated reading blogs from people who post frequently – weekly, sometimes daily.

I’m not sure what it is that sets up writer’s block, but I do now know that it’s real and not easy to overcome. I believe that it is partly created by the significant amount of my work time having to write content for the business, which may have affected my creative spirit. I was also very busy with work projects during some of that time, which definitely re-directed my thoughts.

So I am grateful for three things that occurred recently.

  1. I was asked to guest blog about an interest of mine. This was a bad case of writer’s block: I was asked in March to contribute but only submitted in July. In trying to understand my procrastination I believe a lot of it was related to perfectionism and a fear of failure. At the moment, the solution I have come up with is just to start writing anyway.
  2. A blog post I read describing how the blogger tries to get through a blocked phase. It helped me understand that I had to develop a process that would assist my creative side in getting down to writing.
  3. A new web app, germ.io, that offers a methodology and process to germinate and develop ideas. Planning the structure and content of something I am going to write can be difficult. For a long time I have used mind-maps, but their limitation for me is including the full details of what I want to write about; they are great for high-level planning and idea creation. Then I came across germ.io – it combines the ability to create maps (called flows) and also include lots of details in the flows. So I am trying to see if using germ.io is the process that will allow me to be creative, and at the same time, giving me a tool to think through and plan my content in a better way.

Lastly, I received an email from LinkedIn offering me the opportunity to publish on their platform. One of the 7 tips they give to publishing content is ‘Write Often’. So if I take up their offer I’m going to have to start being creative on a more frequent and regular basis.

Twenty questions for CFOs embarking on an ERP project

cfo-questionsAs the CFO of an organization, your responsibility is to ensure efficient and effective financial operations and records, and influence overall strategy. An ERP is the foundation of the operations of a business. For a CFO, it enables you to track and report on all business transactions, analyse information, ensure governance and compliance, and increasingly do this via mobile devices. Therefore, you need to be very sure your ERP project will deliver what the business requires, and also what was promised.

Before going ahead with an ERP project, you should have addressed these questions.

Planning and selection

  1. What is the executive board’s experience with business software? Will there be sufficient executive involvement beforehand, and how will it be maintained during the project and afterwards?
  2. Are the business objectives clear, and is there detailed understanding of what you want to achieve? Do you just want a new system, or do you want to change the business – its processes, what roles people perform?
  3. How will you engage with vendors? Will you short-list with the use of an extensive RFP (Request for Proposal) sent to lots of vendors; use recommendations and peer contacts to identify a smaller number of vendors; do your own research on the Internet to identify possible vendors; employ the services of an external consultant?
  4. How will the chosen solution impact the way you do business – what aspects will it dictate to you, and what can you change to suit your needs?
  5. What benefits do you expect, and where will you look to find:
    1. Increased revenue
    2. Decreased costs
    3. Improved quality
    4. Better customer service
    5. Shortened manufacturing cycle time
    6. More accurate inventory information
    7. More streamlined processes
  6. Have you got details of all the costs involved?
    1. For the obvious items – software, infrastructure, services, training, support
    2. For less obvious ones – budget for data conversion/take on, third party software integration, change management, process modelling.
  7. How will you ensure that the consultants engaged for implementation can be treated as:
    1. trusted advisors
    2. knowledgeable and experienced in your industry issues
  8. What are the cost, time and effort implications of upgrading the ERP software?

 Implementation and training

  1. Is the project scope clearly defined? How will you handle the scope changes that so often happen during an ERP project?
  2.  Are the right internal people involved? What might their agendas be?
  3. How will training take place? If the staff needs proper training, how will it be scheduled to minimize the effect on their day-to-day work, bearing in mind they will also need the time and opportunities to practice and learn the new skills.
  4. How will the project impact both the intended users and the current IT team? How will they manage time on work vs. on the project?
  5. How will the ERP software work with other applications that the business relies on?
  6. How easy is it to access information via reports, or other sources?
  7. What procedures need to be implemented to safeguard governance, regulatory reporting and compliance?

Ongoing use, management and maintenance

  1. What ongoing training and education programs need to be instituted so that staff continue to use the system effectively?
  2.  What strategies are required so that the ERP system encourages the standardization and classification of information across the business
  3. How will you extend the ERP system from just a transactional system to one that assists with planning, analysis and insight?
  4. What people and policies will you put in place to maintain the Return on Investment of the ERP system?
  5. How often will you review the alignment of the ERP with the business?

This was originally published on the SYSPRO Smarter ERP blog

 

Is Microsoft losing the ISV plot?

microsoft partner logoVia my work email I received an invitation from Microsoft to session called “Ignite your marketing potential with Microsoft”. The agenda for the session was:

  1. An Overview of the Microsoft Marketing strategy in a world of Devices and Services
  2. Campaign Priority – Cloud OS: Azure, Windows Server and SQL
  3. Campaign Priority – Your Complete Office in the Cloud: Office 365
  4. Campaign Priority – Flexible Workstyles : Windows 8, Office & Devices
  5. The value of these campaigns to you?
    • What is the potential deal size?
    • How can Microsoft help you save on producing the assets? A look at brand tools.

This was sent to a representative (me) of an ISV (independent software vendor) that develops enterprise software.

Item 1 might be somewhat relevant to gauge where Microsoft wants to go, but it’s not really that relevant to an ERP company.

Items 2 is relevant, but as I said to a Microsoft VP recently, “if you want your partners to transition to the cloud, what kind of investment are you prepared to make to help us move?”

Items 3 to 5 are basically irrelevant to us.

So my question is, as the title of this blog, “Is Microsoft losing the ISV plot?”  because it seems as though they have become almost entirely B2C and cloud oriented, and have forgotten the B2B aspect.

Four tips for starting an ERP project

Cross-posted from SYSPRO SmarterERP blog

There has been a post on the SYSPRO blog on how an ERP system can help a business, and also some suggestions on how to select an ERP solution. But if you have read some of the stories about ERP project problems you might wonder if it is worth the risk. The answer to this is twofold.

  1. The reports on ERP project failure mainly refer to large organizations implementing fairly large projects, and are not representative of projects undertaken by small- and mid-size businesses.
  2. It’s how you approach the implementation that is a significant determinant of success or failure.

So where and how do you start?

The lead up to an ERP project is a good time to consider Eli Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes, which is a set of tools to help organizations identify what can be done to significantly improve any business system. By the time you start the project you should have dealt with the question “Why change?” Now you need to look at the other questions:

  • What to change?
  • What to change into?
  • How to cause the change?

A number of organizations might think that all they need to change is their business system, when in reality they will probably also change and streamline processes, and realign roles and responsibilities. Therefore I recommend the following steps.

1. Do a business process blueprint.

To answer those “what” questions you need to understand the processes that operate in the business. A process blueprint provides a graphical view of the way processes work, who is responsible for the processes, and the interaction between different roles.  It also helps by creating a view of the business that both IT and business can understand and discuss – a common, visually-based language. From the blueprint you can see more clearly what might need to change (e.g., in terms of streamlining processes), and with a decent blueprint tool you can try out different changes to see what might be most appropriate. The blueprint enables you to identify solution gaps and define integration points between IT solutions.

2. Check that the key project issues are covered

Evidence from many projects shows that there are four main factors that create project problems, and so mitigating them will improve the chances of project success.

Main causes of project problems How to mitigate them
Unclear objectives and poor focus Focus on strategy, involve stakeholders and define project teams responsibilities and accountability
Changes in project scope Ensure project team and all affected staff are aligned to work towards common project goals
Lack of appropriate skills Ensure appropriate skills are available
Unrealistic schedules and poor planning Have a good project manager

3. Plan the project in phases

The implementation project plan describes how the transition from current state to envisaged future state will occur – it addresses “how to cause the change?” Plan the project in phases and implement over time, for several reasons.

  • It’s easier to estimate and manage the budget for a smaller set of tasks than it would be for a ‘big bang’ type of approach
  • It restricts the impact of the change to a smaller number of people, which means disruptions to everyday work can be minimized
  • Showing rolled-out wins will keep people motivated

4. Make sure change management is included
Forrester-change management
The biggest cause of failure in IT projects is not software, it’s ‘wet-ware’ (people). Resistance to change can block even the most perfect plans, so building active consensus and buy-in is crucial. Forrester Research offers the following steps.

Lastly, although you may have undertaken a thorough business process analysis, and done the proper project planning, be prepared for unexpected complications that occur during roll-out. This is especially true for manufacturing businesses with complex processes, and where integration with other manufacturing applications is needed. If, however, you have done the upfront work, you will be in a position to handle these complexities without seriously impacting the project or the business.

What is your experience with starting an ERP project? Have you got any other tips to add?

Beatles fifty years on

Fifty years ago today the British pop group The Beatles made their ground-breaking performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the US, kicking off the so-called British invasion.

Beatles in BournemouthMy personal experience with the Beatles happened a few months earlier. In August 1963, the group played in the English south coast town of Bournemouth, which was about an hour’s drive from where my family lived.

My father was overseas at the time, and my mother took the remarkable step of taking my younger brother and I to see one of the performances.

As I was only seven years old at the time, and my brother was five, I remember feeling a little out of place as we queued to get in because there were lots of teenage girls waiting as well. But with adult hindsight, my mother would have been a few decades older than anyone else there.

That concert introduced me to the phenomenon of Beatlemania. It didn’t happen right at the start of the performance, but during one of the songs the (mainly female) audience got so excited that my brother and I had to stand on the arms of the theatre chairs to see the band.

Postscript: About thirty years later I repaid my mother for her kind action by taking her to see the first concert that the Rolling Stones did in Johannesburg. Once again, she was still the oldest person at the show.

No end to B2B and B2C

marketingThere are several analysts and marketers who are have been saying that the distinction between B2B (Business-to-Business) and B2C (Business-to-Consumer) marketing has ended.

I first saw this view in a Harvard Business Review blog where analyst R ‘Ray’ Wang commented that

The emergence of extremely viral people-to-people (P2P) networks has changed the notion of the customer and employee forever. Social media, social networks, and mobility also herald the death of B2B and B2C as we know them.

This was repeated by a marketer who wrote ‘There Is No More B2B Or B2C: It’s Human To Human, H2H.’

I have not been convinced of this view. There are valid reasons why marketers separate B2B and B2C (as mentioned in the Wikipedia entry).

  1. Transaction volume and type. A business can have many B2B transactions in its supply chain processes involving different suppliers, materials and components, but only one B2C transaction.
  2. Buying decision. For an individual there is (usually) one person making the buying decision, whereas in a business there will be many people involved in coming to the buying decision.
  3. Buying process. A business usually has many criteria to weigh up in determining what to buy, and a lengthy and sometimes complex process before finalising the decision. An individual has fewer criteria and a fairly simple decision process.
  4. Brand image. People often buy something because of its brand image. Businesses may be influenced by certain industry brands, but other (often technical) issues can have a major influence as well.
  5. Risk. For a business buying a product (software, machinery), the benefit of the product has to be considered against the risk of going with that product, especially with high-value purchases (e.g., machinery, enterprise software). For an individual, risk is not issue, even for a purchase like a house.

An article by venture capitalist and technology strategist, Geoffrey Moore, writing about an updated edition of one of his seminal books ‘Crossing the Chasm’ points out the difference between B2B and B2C by discussing what makes a successful business product as opposed to a consumer one. There are two different models involved:

  • For businesses, the model of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle defines the characteristics and behaviours of different types of business buyers.
  • For consumers, Moore identifies a separate model, the Four Gears, a framework upon which to build a consumer-oriented business.

Those are enough reasons why B2B and B2C are different, and cannot be pulled together. Are there any more? If you disagree with my view, what are your arguments?

Update: I can across these two related blogs, which give a different perspective to the B2C vs B2B debate.

My 40 years in South Africa

40 years in South AfricaForty years ago today, 13th January 1974, I landed in Johannesburg at the then Jan Smuts International Airport (now OR Tambo International Airport). My father had been living there for about a year, and as I had finished school in England and had no other plans, it was deemed OK for me to go to South Africa and see what I could do.

At the time it was going to be a short temporary stop, but as of today it has been a long one. In England at that time university was not considered necessary, but thanks to my Dad’s contacts who said I should go, I ended up going to university in Johannesburg, and that basically established my future path.

One of the original reasons for thinking my stay would be temporary was of course that South Africa at the time was becoming a pariah state due to its apartheid policies. But even though I was aware of it, the way life was lived by white people in those days, you didn’t see the bad side of the racial divide – because now I realise that the government made sure we didn’t see it. It was only through being conscientised at university that I began to realise apartheid’s impact. But it took events twenty years later like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for white people to really understand what apartheid was like.

When I arrived in South Africa, the population of the country was about 25 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_South_Africa). The latest census figures show population in 2011 was 51 million. In 1974 South Africa was a police state with fairly strong censorship, today we are a constitutional democracry with a good deal of personal freedom (although I now think that some censorship would be a good thing). In 1974 South Africa claimed to be a Christian state, however as Beyers Naude pointed out, apartheid was not scriptural and its effects were unacceptable. Today it is a secular state with what is considered one of the best constitutions in the world.

In 1974 South Africa didn’t even a national television service – the Nationalist government considered it bad. Now we have more television stations available inside the country and internationally than could have been imagined forty years ago. In those days, the only way to communicate with people other than face-to-face was via the telephone, now we mobile telecommunications and the power of the Internet.

In 1974 the only family I had in South Africa was my father. Now I have a wife, three children, a future son-in-law, some wonderful friends, a great church family, and good colleagues at work and around the world.

In 1974 my father could fill up the 40 litre petrol tank of his car for R10; now the same amount costs over R500. In 1974, the SA Rand:UK Pound exchange rate was about 1.5:1, now its 17:1.

In 1974 my father and I lived in a 2 bedroom flat on the outskirts of the Hillbrow flat land (then it was a cool place for a young guy to live). Now I live in a four bedroomed house in the suburbs of Randburg, and have a holiday cottage on the Garden Route.

In 1974 the area where I now work was rural, and people who lived here would have been considered as living far out. Now this is part of the built-up area of northern Johannesburg. Ten years ago, it was a dream of mine to working at this company, but I could not see how it would happen. I have now been here for nearly five years.

In 1974 computers were huge machines that were housed in cooled rooms and managed by people in white coats; the early experience I had in second year university made them anathema to me. These days I have a small cell phone with more computing power than those 1974 behemoths, and I have been working with computers for thirty years.

I wonder what is going to happen in the coming years?