The following is a guest post by ————–, an expert in ERP and business process currently in the ERP witness protection program. His opinions are his own.
Traditional ERP has served us well but has built-in limitations that make it a dinosaur. I’m not the first person to make that observation. Legacy ERP, just like the PC, started out as a way to provide business processes to customers using the latest technology. But businesses aren’t upgrading their MITS Altair 8800’s. They are starting to realize that they need a completely new ERP solution, too.
First, a little of my history. As an ERP implementer and development manager for the past 14 years, I built my career around upgrades to ERP hardware and applications. Besides doing upgrades, I served my customers by discussing, designing and developing: customizations, bolt-on applications, and features in the next release. Legacy ERP was all I knew and I loved it
I always tried to focus on the customer’s business process and how to improve it, but the day-to-day of ERP held me back. This led to a decision.
Why I gave that up
We’ve all heard the “we are staying vanilla” pronouncements. It doesn’t work because ERP systems are too easy to customize. Customers and implementers are like the kids on the hidden camera show that are first taught what to do when they find a gun. They’re left alone in a room, camera rolling, where they find the hidden gun, promptly break all the rules of gun safety.
While not as dangerous as a gun, customizations fork the delivered software away from the ‘vanilla’ version, requiring a team with deep understanding of application code to maintain the customized system as patches and upgrades arrive. Even ERP-supplied bolt-on functionality requires months of system babysitting to get right. As a consultant, it’s great work if you can get it.
Oh, and that team of people required to dig into the application? They all have access to data with essentially zero audit capability. The solution I employed was database-level security. Vendors have change management products as well but this ads up to even greater complexity that doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
Paraphrasing Forrest Gump, “I’m not an architect…but I know what fast is.” You could insert several different words and it would still work because legacy ERP is a kluge of servers and technologies. It can’t be fast as it is too tied to the past and has become obsolete.
Does that seem unfair? Just one example…the database itself is a traditional relational database that has tens of thousands of tables. This kind of problem isn’t at all hidden from the customer. Hosting a system like this doesn’t hide the problem, either. To qualify as hidden, the applications would run fast and upgrades would happen frequently, automatically, and on schedule.
Where to go instead
Instead of customizing legacy ERP, the enterprise should provide access to ERP applications that allow configuration and integration without customization. New features needed? That should come through conversations with other customers and the vendor. Release cycles? Should be months and not years.
The real payoff? Time spent focused on labor-intensive ERP upgrades can be refocused on refining business processes. That’s where the competition gets beaten.