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    Entries in upgrade (3)


    Oil changes for life

    Quick show of hands - do you change the oil in your car yourself, or once every few months or so roll up to the local QuickJiffySuperFast Lube place and have someone else take care of it?

    I will bet most of you don't change your own oil any longer.  There are plenty of reasons why these lube places seem to be on every corner.  Changing the oil yourself is a hassle. It is a dirty, occasionally difficult job.  Engines have become increasingly complex over the years making even simple maintenance tasks beyond the skill level of the average motorist. On many new cars, 'oil changes for life' done by the dealer are part of the purchase discussion. Disposing of used oil is a real hassle, (I don't want to tell you what my Dad had me do with the used oil from his cars back in the day).

    For the vast majority of drivers, we need our cars to take us where we need to go, in relative comfort and safety, and really can't be bothered with the grease, spare parts, and complex systems that make the car 'work'.  We just need it to work.  And more and more, we want our cars to do more, embedded GPS, enhanced safety capability, better fuel efficiency (maybe no fuel at all), and able to provide backseat entertainment for the kids. Oh yeah, and also pop a warning light on the dash when it's time to change the oil.

    I have been sitting in sessions this week talking about the approach to another major ERP system upgrade.  It is just as you would expect, an old version of the suite, (and really showing its age), installed on-premise, loads of customizations, with application and database hardware probably not equal to the task.  Major, major cost and effort to effect this upgrade. Nothing (save the data) in the current deployment to remain.

    I even heard a random, 'this is going to take 18 months', comment tossed about.  And the thing is, the 'latest' version of the suite the organization would be upgrading to, is already a few years old. Tack on the time for planning, testing, re-training, and deploying and by the time the effort is complete, the organization will be the proud owners of a five year old system. 


    Lots of time and effort by dozens of smart people working hard to deliver a 'slightly pre-owned' system to a set of drivers/users that really just want all the best features of the newest models on the road. Systems that have the newest capabilities, features, updated interfaces, integration with internal and external social networking, mobile apps, and more.

    And oh yeah, toss in the 'oil changes for life' and we have a deal.


    But we don't want to be the Milwaukee Brewers

    Editors' Note - This post originally ran back in July 2008, an update to the story is below

    Here is Reason 31 of Steve's reasons why the ERP vendors will eventually crumble. My shop is now about 9 months in to another 'major' upgrade of the ERP system. Before it is all over, we are looking at a full year of essentially no progress on any meaningful, strategic, or high employee or candidate satisfaction project.

    No online total comp statements, no automated competency management, performance reviews, or succession planning. No new processes rolled out to employee or manager self-service. No, pretty much a full year of test upgrades, patches, bugs, regression testing, more bugs, five day outage to production, more bugs, support, did I already say more bugs? And we went through pretty much the same scenario in 2003.

    So 1 out of every 5 years, all progress stops, the organization retrenches, and all important and interesting work is 'frozen'. In theory we get lots from these upgrades, compliance fixes, latest in technology, new features, etc. And most of that, I admit, is true. But at what cost? One out of every five years essentially wasted.

    What does this have to do with the Milwaukee Brewers? Well, for a team like the Brewers, showing slow and steady progress for four years, maybe even making a playoff appearance is a notable achievement. In year 5, if they have to regroup, trade off a few players they can't afford, and load back  up on young prospects, that is really ok with them, and most likely their fans (customers/employees). After year 5, the team (hopefully) starts the slow climb backup to contender status. Maybe they make another run at the top, before the cycle inevitably repeats.

    But what about that plan for the Yankees or lately, the Red Sox? They would not be content or satisfied with an every fifth year halt to progress, or worse a regression back to square one. The fans get restless, the media relentless, and team ownership would not stand for it. Managers, executives, or players responsible for the problems would be sacked or traded. Those teams simply will not accept a 'cycle' like lesser teams like the Brewers would.

    How does your organization see itself? Do you really want to be the Milwaukee Brewers? Or do you want to be the Yankees? Can you afford to take every fifth year as a 'no-progress, just keep running the Payroll' year? Will your staff accept that? How about your owners, executives and customers?

    Is it time to get off the ERP upgrade treadmill?

    Update - Feb. 2009 - A full 16 months since the major upgrade started, and my organization is still not fully recovered.  We are still logging new bugs every week, sometimes several a week.  Basic functionality that worked fine for years on the prior release, still fails to work consistently or reliably.  No significant new development or introduction of new features or functions have occurred, save only for those that 'Had' to be done, as the new release of the ERP system changed quite a few processes that frankly, did not need changing. So sure, my organization is positioned for the next several years, but was the cost of a year and a half of time, money and lost opportunities worth it? 

    Think about this before you jump in the pool with ERP, I urge you.



    The Weakest Link

    When an enterprise adopts an ERP system to support most or all administrative functions certain efficiencies are certain to be gained with the inherent integration of data. The list of employees entered in the HR module is automatically that same list available for Accounting and Procurement processes. The organization structures and physical location information is shared throughout the system, so fundamental changes need only be made once, in one place. From a technical perspective, there are often efficiencies and cost savings for be gained from the standardization of operating systems and core database technology. It becomes somewhat easier to find technical talent, as you can focus on candidates with very specific skills.

    But the advantages of central ERP are starting to hamper many HR departments’ ambitions to deploy more strategic Talent Management applications. ERP vendors have only recently begun to improve or augment their Talent Management functionality in order to provide a better solution set in this area, (which is the fastest growing sector in HR Technology). Many of these new features will require entire ERP system upgrades for HR departments to try and take advantage of. Remember, ERP upgrades require all components of the system go through the upgrade. So, if an HR department wants to deploy some new Talent functionality, they will have to rally support of Finance, Procurement, and possibly other areas to agree to submit to a major upgrade.

    Typically, (especially with Finance groups), those conversations do not go very well. The vast majority of finance departments prefer the reliable status quo. Can you even think of any great innovations in accounting software that would encourage a finance department to want to upgrade?

    Quite naturally, either for reasons of functionality, or inability to justify an ERP upgrade, many HR departments will gravitate to third-party best of breed solutions for Talent Management solutions. But then a new challenge faces HR, namely having to convince the IT department that the introduction of a new technology won’t lead to excessive integration work, potential security issues (many of best Talent solutions are SaaS offerings), and an increase in the overall support responsibility.

    So no matter which option HR chooses, some kind of internal conflict in likely to arise. For me, I am a staunch proponent of HR departments taking a strong position and advocating for the best overall solution, which more and more is a best-of-breed package. For many HR departments, the right move is to get off the ERP treadmill.

    That also could be the latest ERP upgrade I have been involved in has been an unabashed disaster, but that is a post for another day.