The accompanying article can found here.
I was one of the many who was greatly impressed and influenced by Geoffrey Moore’s early books on the Technology Adoption Life Cycle and the High-tech Marketing Model – Crossing the Chasm and Inside the Tornado. These books deal with the issues of high-tech product development, marketing, sales and service; describing and analysing processes, positioning and practices of a product as it goes through its life cycle.
Not only did Moore discuss how a technology product should be packaged, delivered and adapted through the life cycle, but he also dealt with the changes in service and support that would be needed, depending on the stage of the life cycle.
For a long time after I read his books I assumed that it was written for the benefit of customers first, then the high-tech industry managers and other workers. However, after attending SYSPRO’s international executive conference, and hearing CEO and founder Phil Duff talking about how the company focuses on its customers, and how it has been, and will be, delivering products and services, did it strike me that Moore’s books are really aimed at one audience – not customers or vendor people, but technology industry investors.
This is another case of me taking a long time to ‘get it’!
Because SYSPRO is privately held, the focus has always primarily been the value of the product to customers, and the protection of a customer’s investment. When Phil Duff speaks about what SYSPRO will be providing in the future, he talks about things that make a difference to customers. At other established ERP companies, a major concern is on the value to shareholders and their returns (something I have personally seen).
When you look at Moore’s bio and credentials, as a venture capitalist, the purpose for writing the books should have been obvious. So in future, when I come across one of Moore’s other significant concepts – e.g., the whole product – I will remember that while this is for the customer, the ultimate reason for the concept is to deliver benefit to shareholders.
A few days ago I was privileged to be included in a conference that SYSPRO held for all its international executives and senior managers. The title of the conference was ‘Future Focus’, as the conference was primarily around the company’s future strategy, and as SYSPRO CEO and founder Phil Duff pointed out, the key to making strategy work is focus.
The conference took place over several days and in two locations around Cape Town. Initially, the sales and marketing people were at a hotel in Milnerton; then everyone came together in the Franschoek valley, about an hour out of Cape Town. I stayed at the stunning ‘Le Franschoek‘ hotel.
Here are some of my photos.
If you want details about the actual conference, check the official SYSPRO blog – I’m sure there will be something there shortly.
Finally, a photo of some of the people I work with.
Part 2 of a series on enterprise information systems
Building a house on a solid foundationThis blog has been cross-posted on the SYSPRO corporate blog.
You can hardly miss it these days: questions about why Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) projects hit problems, or worse fail, are appearing on many websites. I have seen many ERP implementations and thought I had some answers, but it was only after I had been involved in building a house that I could see the similarities between building projects and ERP implementations, and why we don’t see buildings collapsing in the same ways some ERP projects fail.
Eric Kimberling’s Panorama Group identified this similarity at the same time I was building the house. The critical requirement for construction is the blueprint; the drawings of what the house will look like, what its parts will be and how it will be constructed.
The problem with projects, especially complex ones (like a house or an ERP project), is how to communicate the varied components, interactions, hierarchies and responsibilities to all parties concerned. You need a representation that will capture all these elements in a way that is clear and easy to understand, even if you are not a professional in the field. This will ensure that the various parties involved can achieve alignment in terms of common understanding of business needs and technology capabilities.
You also need a way for the plans to develop as your ideas and perspectives evolve. When you start planning a house you don’t go straight into the details. You may have some thoughts (even a vision), but you need guidance from an architect on what is possible, feasible and within budget. So you start with drawings that help you decide on the appearance of the house, then move into the technical and architectural details, and finally the construction and engineering specifications.
Until recently there was no easy way for ‘ERP novices’ to see the business in terms of how it would look after an ERP implementation. But now, with the integration of business process modeling (BPM) and ERP, those visual representations (the drawings) can be done. For an ERP implementation, the functional requirements and business processes are like the rooms and materials of a house, and a business process model is the equivalent of an architect’s drawings. The Business Process Modeling tool can be used in the same way that you start a house with some initial sketches. It allows you to view the business from a high level to make sure executives agree with the ‘look’ before going into more detail.
This graphical way of representing an ERP project can replace the mountains of design documents that were the staple of past ERP projects. This pile of paper used to be the main documentation a business had to describe its strategy, plans and processes. The sad fact was that only a few people ever probably read them, and even fewer understood them.
It’s about time that “the big freakin’ requirements document must die”. What is needed is one tool which can capture scope at different levels in one place, which provides traceability between business requirements and IT capabilities, and which uses better means of communication to illustrate than the common legal-style text of many project documents.
If you are an ERP implementer, how did you experience communicating via traditional project management tools? If you’ve experienced an ERP project as a business user in the past, what did you think of the project documents that you had to use?
At SYSPRO, we now provide a tool that can replace the big project document, which is graphical and shows how integrated BPM and ERP functions: SYSPRO Process Modeling (SPM). Analyst Brian Sommer described the combination as “A Key Mid-Market Need”. With SPM we believe that our customers will get more value, and have a far lower risk of problems in their ERP implementation projects.
In the next part of this series: changing the system as business realities change.
I saw a short news article (registration required) that Microsoft’s Dynamics AX (the old Axapta) could now provide integration of documents between AX and SAP (the Microsoft press release is here). My initial thought was “what’s so special about that”, until it dawned on me that some people think SAP integration requires something magical. Granted, SAP is not the easiest application to work with, but it does have integration hooks – Netweaver being one.
If you are not sure why SAP integration is needed, the reason is that many large national and mega international corporates run SAP at the head office or for large divisions, but they don’t necessarily run SAP everywhere. There are large multi-national companies which uses SAP in their main offices, but the dozens of smaller divisions don’t run SAP, they use SYSPRO. Why? Because SAP is so complex and expensive it makes no business sense for a smaller organisation to use it, but SYSPRO provides all the functionality they need (for distribution and manufacturing) at a much lower cost and far less complexity. Analyst R ‘Ray’ Wang has discussed in more the ERP needs of small and medium businesses (SMBs) and when companies should have a two-tier ERP strategy.
Microsoft will try to sell you their Biztalk product to help the process. However, Biztalk is costly and adds another layer of technological complexity to the integration issue. If you run SYSPRO you don’t need Biztalk for SAP integration.
SYSPRO solved the problem a long time ago when it introduced its e.net integration software and a feature called Document Flow Manager (DFM). SYSPRO e.net solutions (the proper name of the product) is a set of components that enables access to SYSPRO business logic and data without using the SYSPRO client interface; it was one of the first applications to take advantage of Microsoft .NET Framework for interoperability and application integration. The DFM module consists of a group of services that:
- poll a data location (ie, folder) looking for files (documents), or for incoming email looking for particular attachments,
- compare documents against specified ‘contracts’ for a match,
- places the matched documents in a message queue,
- processes the message queue and applies an appropriate SYSPRO business object to process the document and return a result
The contracts can be configured to specify file types that must be located and which SYSPRO e.net business objects must operate on the files.
Incoming documents do not need to be in XML format. A contract can specify pre-processing using XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations), an XML-based language used for the transformation of documents into XML documents. The same process can be applied in reverse to ongoing documents.
You will need .Net Framework and a few other bits of Microsoft software (such as MS Message Queue), but they are essentially “free features” available in Windows.
While the skilled work is in setting up the XSLT transform and configuring the contracts, the important work is getting suppliers or customers to agree to using electronic document processing and a standard for the documents. Ten years ago, some vendors started talking about inter-company transaction processing using integration software. Now the reality is here and the functionality is available. Remember, SAP integration is not difficult if you have the right technology and, of course, the budget and commitment to do it.
Are you considering a more cost-effective ERP for parts of your organisation but worrying how to link to the head office SAP system? Have you been told you need Biztalk, or some other costly specialised software, to allow you to transact and operate electronically with partners or larger divisions? Have you looked at SYSPRO? I would be interested to hear your comments.
Amongst the news about the ashcloud in northern Europe and the build-up to the FIFA 2010 soccer World Cup here in South Africa, there was an announcement from a US software company called Microsoft :) about the release of Office 2010.
Reading the Dynamics-related articles, my impression is that Microsoft is trying to sell Office 2010 as the user interface for ERP – which is what I said almost exactly 2 years ago.
For data manipulation and presentation, Excel now has ‘Slicers’, ‘Sparklines’ and PowerPivot:
- Slicers are a better, more visual way of filtering for pivot tables.
- Sparklines are another of Edward Tufte’s innovations of graphical data presentation which provide a simple, ‘word-size’ graphic to accompany a number in a table. This looks cool and is obviously a feature made feasible via XAML.
- PowerPivot is a set of tools to get data out of a SQL database and into Excel and/or SharePoint.
If you have seen SYSPRO 6.1 you will know that the Fluid User Interface with XAML allows graphics like sparklines to be created, and SYSPRO Analytics already has the data management capabilities of PowerPivot – so Microsoft, no differentiator there for the Dynamics ERP products.
However, they show up one of Microsoft’s traditional focus areas – Office. Microsoft seems to have abandoned the opportunities made available from ProClarity, which could have complemented their ERP offerings, in favour of the product they know so well … and which earns them so much money.
What do you think of Office 2010? Will the Excel and other features encourage you to get Office 2010?
In my experience of ERP implementations, I’ve noticed how a major ERP application, to which a company has committed significant budget and resources, starts losing its value in the organisation sometime after the system is implemented. I call this application entropy (after the thermodynamic effect that energy degrades to heat, or noise); SYSPRO calls it ‘application erosion’.
The process works like this. When an ERP project starts, people are often keen, committed and involved. But not long after implementation, those ideals and attitudes begin to diminish until a point is reached when the comments start: “ this ERP isn’t giving us value anymore, why are we still using it?” This eventually kicks off an ERP evaluation or re-implementation project, and the process begins all over again.
When executives invest similar large amounts in capital equipment, however, they are usually insistent that the equipment is used optimally and people are properly trained and kept up-to-date. When it comes to enterprise software, that drive is not applied with the same vigour. It seems that continual training on IT-related aspects is not often company policy in many businesses – people are supposed to “get it”, absorbing knowledge and expertise by osmosis, usually from others. This approach commonly leads to the growth of poor practices.
What are the solutions?
One is training – obviously. It probably needs only 1-2 days training per year per person for a typical user to keep up-to-date and proficient on a particular area of an ERP system.
Another solution is to make IT part of the executive board’s responsibility. In South Africa, The King III code of corporate governance seeks to make IT a mandatory item on the board’s agenda. King points out that IT is now essential for the modern business and the board should understand the issues and strategic importance of IT. The recommendations include that the board be responsible for:
- strategic alignment of IT with the business,
- improving the value of IT,
- optimising knowledge and IT infrastructure.
This leads to a third solution – what SYSPRO calls the “Seeker of Value”. The role of the Seeker of Value is to prevent the disconnect that occurs in the ERP system of an organisation. This person, or group of people, is identified as being responsible for bridging the gap between the ERP supplier and/or implementer, and the organisation, thereby reducing costs, optimising ROI and giving the organisation greater control over its destiny. The kind of issues that a Seeker of Value should take responsibility for are:
- having some knowledge, and keeping up-to-date with, the ERP;
- balancing and scaling the software;
- aligning the ERP with the strategy of directors and management to prevent disconnect between the high-level business processes and operational processes, and to ensure the software is meeting the strategic business requirements of the organisation;
- ensuring the board is aware of new business models that the software could accommodate;
- using the ERP system to improve or implement methodologies such as Six Sigma, Lean and Balanced Scorecards.
Getting value from an ERP system is never going to be one of those activities that can be left to proceed automatically. In order to keep entropy (or erosion) from occurring, continual intervention is required. Individuals and groups in the organisation need to make a conscious decision to ensure this happens. As Elliot Ross points out:
anything you have implemented, but have never revised is probably an obsolete silo that is sucking the life out of your organization.
Like so many IT projects, success or failure does depends more on people issues than technical ones. If your organisation managed to avoid ERP entropy, what are the policies and factors you dealt with to combat the erosion of value?
Update: I should have checked, but it has been brought to my attention that this topic has also been covered by TechnologyEvaluation.com – Application Erosion: Eating Away at Your Hard Earned Value and Application Erosion: More Causes and Cures.
Other links related to this subject: The Problem with Mature ERP Systems (ComputerWorld)
What Does a “Successful” ERP Implementation Actually Mean? (CIO.com)
I know there are many stories and case studies of the power of social media to get spread a message. But it always reinforces the point when it happens to you.
Stuart Lynn, R&D director at one of SYSPRO’s competitors, recently cited a personal experience – How can your business use twitter? – in which a blog he wrote about innovation got more coverage than he could have imagined as a result of Twitter:
… even though I only have a few hundred followers myself, within the first hour, my original tweet had an audience of over 30,000 people. Within a couple of days my blog had gone around the world …
I recently had my own ‘wow moment’, maybe not as big as Stuart’s, but significant nonetheless. Here is how it went.
1. We had a press release from a UK reseller:
K3 Business Technology acquires DigiMIS
K3 has an existing relationship with DigiMIS which provides hosting services to a number of K3 customers who deploy SYSPRO ERP and Microsoft Dynamics.
2. SYSPRO only recently set up its own Twitter ID (sysprosales) which had very few followers, but the news was tweeted:
K3 acquires DigiMIS – full-service hosting solution available for SYSPRO http://mzan.si/1ixf
3. I picked it up and retweeted it.
4. I too only have a few hundred followers but star analyst, Ray Wang, saw it and tweeted:
Now consider that Ray’s audience is over 6,000!
5. When we checked the followers for @sysprosales, we could see see how that one message had given a good push start for our company Twitter profile.
What we now realise is that we have to sustain that momentum, and bring SYSPRO even more into the social sphere.
There are case studies of big social media successes – you don’t hear of the small ones. The one we had was a small one, but there must be many more like that which do not make the news. Have you had one which you can share?
Finally, with all the positive stories, it amazes me that there is such a small presence by Oracle in the social networking space, compared to similar-sized organisations – SAP, Microsoft, IBM etc. I can only think that it reflects an incredible need for control in that company.
ERP software is developed by very clever people, so you would think that they would have enough sense to make the application upgrade process straightforward.
A few years ago I managed a Microsoft Dynamics reseller group that did Navision (OK, I know Microsoft wants it called Dynamics NAV, but lots of people still use the old name). I was responsible sales, account management and project management, and got to learn about the hassles of ERP upgrades firsthand and repeatedly.
If you are a NAV customer who has customised their application, the process of upgrading involves:
- installing the new version of NAV without customisations
- migrating and testing each customisation separately
- final testing of the new version with customisations
- make the new version live
Step 2 can be a serious project phase if the customisations are numerous or complex. For a few of my NAV customers, it might have been cheaper to buy a new ERP than upgrade.
I saw this post from the Sapmesideways blog, detailing his ongoing SAP project, and was interested to read what it’s like trying to manage SAP software upgrades.
When I started selling SYSPRO 3 years ago, one of the things that really impressed me was how easy upgrades were (caveat: be on SYSPRO 6 and Windows). Again, I had firsthand experience of its relative simplicity in 2008. The customer is a large manufacturer with over 1000 employees, with multiple points of integration between SYSPRO and specialist third party applications, and with some serious customisation for its particular ETO type of business.
There was fairly thorough discussion and planning for the upgrade in the weeks leading to the event. The preparation for the upgrade started at the beginning of the week, but the actual upgrade process to SYSPRO 6 Service Pack 2 took one weekend. A significant part of that time was taken up by backing up and restoring the SQL Server transaction database. The upgrade was done by Sunday morning, and the rest of the weekend was used to test the application and the integration with other systems.
The most serious issue after the upgrade was training the accounting staff on a new A/P payment cycle that was introduced with SP2.
As SYSPRO moves towards the next major software release in May – SYSPRO 6.1 – the issue of upgrades comes up frequently. The beauty about SYSPRO is that any customisations done on the user or module side are carried through from the previous version 6 into 6.1. Interfacing between SYSPRO and other applications is done using SYSPRO’s e.net solutions, a Microsoft .NET-based integration layer, and that doesn’t change. So the integration with external applications doesn’t need to be re-developed.
Making upgrades easier is important for the market that SYSPRO addresses – the mid-market distribution and/or manufacturing organisation. IT resources, skills and budgets for these types of companies are limited, so having an ERP that actually reduces complexity should be a plus.
There used to be a TV advert for a South African bank that coined a phrase “Makes you think, doesn’t it?” Makes me wonder what other ERP applications have done the necessary work on their application internals to take the hard work out of upgrades?
The bloggers I respect disclose their business-related interests. So I feel it appropriate that I disclose my new business role.
I am joining the ERP vendor SYSPRO. My position will be in Product and Industry Marketing and my responsibilities will include some standard duties like:
- product-based messaging and collateral,
- working with Product Managers to understand and articulate product value,
- assist and communicate with sales to position, articulate and sell product,
- working with Marketing to optimise marketing through all channels and drive demand generation and awareness programs,
- support the company’s analyst relations effort,
- work with User Groups around the world.
In addition I will be able to participate in social media and networking, so what used to be a hobby now is part of my job.
I will also be working with the team on the launch of a new release of SYSPRO in the coming months.