Change, technology adoption, and resistance

technology-adoptionWe are all aware that new technology often meets with resistance, the most recent and well-publicised case is that of the tax app Uber. The problem is some people seem to think that resisting change is unnatural. It isn’t.

As I’ve got older I realise that you get into patterns in life, and it can be hard to break those patterns. You also develop skills and technological changes may affect those skills. Consequently, the more you do something, and so the older you get, you harder it is to change.

A recent article on Kevin Benedict’s blog reckons resisting technology is like resisting aging. If like me you are over 40 (well over), that may sound a little crazy. But if also like me you have children, you know that you have to change your attitudes about many things as your children grow up.

One of the current themes on technology is how it may reduce the rate of job increase – or put another way, how technology reduces jobs. For example, this is a main concern of Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson. But as the Benedict blog post points out, there can be other more positive aspects. The introduction of photography had a devastating effect on artists in the portraiture industry, making many jobless. However, this led to the development of the Impressionist movement.

An industry that has been affected by technology is the printed newspaper. It is well-known that print media has been in decline as the Internet has grown. There is an interesting story in LinkedIn of how two different media companies reacted to technology changes. The New York Times and South African media group Naspers both faced the same issues around the beginning of the 21st century. The difference is that

The management of Naspers decided to ride, rather than fight, the technology tide while the management of the New York Times chose otherwise.

The result is that the New York Times’ revenue and profits in 2013 were less than 50 percent of what they were in 2000, whereas Naspers is now the largest Internet company outside the US and China.

Going back to the Uber case, an issue that frustrates me is how (mainly) US pundits seems to believe that their attitudes and approaches apply to other countries. Why are these pundits surprised about Uber being banned in Germany? It’s because technology adoption is spikey, not flat – being significantly affected by geography and national culture.

The ‘flat world’ view was most famously stated in Thomas Friedman’s book which stated that globalisation is effectively complete. Others however contest this view, and bring convincing data to show that the world is only 10 to 25 percent globalised.

In some ordinary activities, differences in the way urban areas have developed make shopping very different in the UK as opposed to the US.

Even when it comes to mobile technology, adoption is different. The USA is far more of an ‘Apple’ culture than the rest of the world, where Android has taken over.

We need to be mindful therefore about how technology impacts people. New technologies like the steam engine, photography, the motor car, and electricity did just take over from older technology, but mainly it was not a sudden change and societies had time (several years) to adapt. Companies like Uber need to remember that technology change and culture change often have to go hand-in-hand, and changing culture takes some time.

IT talent needed for SMBs

1410454581_skillsAn article on the McKinsey site recently discussed the issue of developing and retaining IT talent, especially the key skills it believes are necessary for organisations planning to become a digital enterprise. For an enterprise to become digitized it needs to implement transformative IT-oriented projects, and without the necessary IT knowledge and experience, projects often overrun on budget and time, and don’t deliver value. However, being McKinsey, the article is targeted at large organisations, whereas I am more interested in how small or mid-size businesses (SMBs) can apply their advice.

McKinsey highlights three IT roles which companies should keep in-house.

  • IT program manager

needs to oversee the project, understand both the business context and the technology involved, and have strong management capabilities. He or she must also be able to talk about technology and business decisions in a language that business managers understand.

  • Business change leader

responsible for ensuring that the organization adopts the new solution. This role requires strong communication skills and an understanding of the full amplitude of the transformation and its implications for the business side, including required organizational, process, and mind-set changes.

  • Lead IT architect

responsible for reviewing and challenging technical proposals and deliverables such as solution design and IT architecture. He or she needs to understand the current IT architecture and also have a good view of the transformation journey to ensure that decisions fit with the architecture road map.

Why could this not apply to SMBs? Because SMBs typically have staff with multiple or overlapping responsibilities, while larger companies tend to have more specialised, narrow roles. SMBs also dont’ usually have the budget to hire such specialised staff.

Therefore I would modify the McKinsey article for SMBs. Here are three existing roles in an SMB which could take on the responsibilities mentioned above.

  • CFO or Financial Director – IT program manager role

In most SMBs I have dealt with, the overall responsibility for IT has been with the CFO or FD. Therefore this dual role should not pose a major problem for most SMBs.

  • Human Resources Manager – business change leader role

This is the dual role that could be controversial. In some SMBs, the HR manager role can be mainly administrative, however unless the CEO wants to take on this responsibility, HR would seem to be only only other option.

  • IT manager – lead IT architect role

A non-brainer in my opinion. The only manager in an SMB with the background and skills to do the IT architect role is the IT manager.

I would be interested to hear if any alternatives are suggested.

Smartphone apps change the daily commute

For years the commuting trip to work was a gamble I took every morning.

The route I take is never covered by the radio traffic reports, so I was never sure what the traffic would be like, and how long it would take to get to work. There were mornings when I had to get to a meeting but the traffic was far worse than I expected and I was late, even though I left home early.

Now thanks to an app on my smartphone, and the data the app uses, I have a better idea of traffic conditions. Not only that, I can review different routes to see which might be better.

HereDriveCommuteI’m referring to the Here Drive+ app on my Nokia Windows Phone. The My Commute function on Here Drive+ allows me to view different routes I have used to get to work. It shows how long each route will take and indicates where the traffic flow is bad.

I had to initiate My Commute and let it run during my first commute in order to store my particular routes, but after that the routes are saved. Like Google Maps, it will also calculate a best route.

According to one article, the Here traffic algorithm works by aggregating data from various sources into the cloud, and giving almost real-time reporting. In most cases that is sufficient for me, however I look forward to a real-time traffic alert because traffic jams seem to happen very quickly.

Reading about the company, which is part of Nokia, it seems to be part of the new wave of connected in-car apps that will re-design the driver interface.

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?