Legend has it that when Apple engineers demonstrated the first iPod prototype to Steve Jobs, he rejected it as being too big. When they argued that they couldn’t make it smaller, Jobs dropped it into his office aquarium and pointed out the bubbles rising from the device. “That means there’s space in there,” he snapped. “Make it smaller.”
The anecdote illustrates the importance of knowing your requirements first-hand and not leaving it up to technical professionals. That’s especially true when implementing a new or extended ERP system. It’s a costly undertaking to provide a platform on which a company will shape its business for the next 7 to 10 years and cannot be left to chance.
“Here’s an opportunity to really innovate,” says Hein Pretorius, CEO of Onpro Consulting. “Yet so many project managers leave the vital task of determining business requirements in the hands of software specialists.”
The fundamental risk to this approach is a final solution of which the software specialist is proud but which doesn’t align with the original business need or provide for future innovation. The result is an ERP system that is technically successful but can kill business velocity for years to come.
Here are just a few reasons why software specialists should not steer business requirements:
- They often base the requirements conversation on previous experience. This produces a model that’s built on limited knowledge of operational imperatives and bears only a generic resemblance to your unique business goals.
- They typically limit their investigation to ERP requirements. But ERP software does not work in isolation and may need the support of external systems or processes to satisfy broader business concerns.
- They usually give disproportionate consideration to system configuration and technical functionality. When it comes to management information, business intelligence and analytics – the core motivators of modern business strategy – these are seen as add-ons and treated as an afterthought or not at all.
- They often overlook the needs of the users in adopting the system and have no experience in change management. Without this vital skill, users may feel marginalised and never fully accept ownership of the solution.
- They are inclined to think in terms of lowest project cost and shortest timelines as an indication of good performance. Unfortunately, when this results in cutting corners or minimising requirements, the business suffers in the long run.
- They are driven by their own business demands, such as reaching sales quotas and the profitable distribution of skilled personnel across their client base. Without question, many of their requirements decisions and implementation choices will be affected by these forces.
Says Pretorius: “Software specialists are not the right fit for developing a concise set of business requirements in advance of ERP selection and implementation.”
He advises companies to seek the services of an impartial 3rd party with broad experience in both business and enterprise technologies. “Such an advisor has no attachment to the implementation phase of the project,” he says, “so they have no reason to skew requirements in their favour, consciously or unconsciously.”