NEXT SUB-SUB-SECTION: Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations >>>
Links to previous articles at the end
of this article
In the previous article I outlined the extent of the problem associated
with poor information content and offered a number of simple examples
that pointed to measures you could take immediately.
These issues hinder executives and managers from obtaining reliable
answers to their questions when they need them, generate substantial
manpower overheads and generally impede the strategic essence and
therefore competitiveness and profitability of the business.
also touched on some more complex problems that would
take longer to address but which would produce
substantial lasting value IF undertaken correctly.
you have not yet read the previous article it is
available on my website.
Today's article discusses some principles associated with this field
that I call "Data Engineering" or "Strategic Information Architecture".
In reading this article you may think that you have a full
understanding of what I am writing about. You might even think
that you have what I am referring to. Please consider the
possibility that I am describing a level of excellence with regard to
precision and method that goes well beyond what almost every
organization on the planet achieves in their business information
systems. Please also consider the possibility that IF you can
really get a handle on what I am writing about you will add considerable
value to your organization.
Following are some principles that apply to this field:
Determine the strategic essence of the business.
Remember, when you engage with a document or a list most people read in
detail at the start and skim progressively as they run out of time.
In building the hierarchies of your lists place the most fundamentally
strategic categories at the top of the list, the things that matter
most. A powerful way of getting the entire organization to focus
on the strategic essence of the business, even when processing mundane
This also ensures that, at the executive level, when you skim the lists
and resulting reports the information that is most important to you is
at the top of the list, where you first look.
A high level of rigour and precision, finely granular, down to the "last nut and bolt".
Carefully thought out.
Facilitated by a person with considerable information classification
and cataloguing experience who demonstrates intuitive understanding of
your organization and the subject matter being modelled.
considerable time and effort into the design -- a
well thought out design can last for ten to twenty years
if it is based on the essential elements of the
video on my website.
There is a huge spectrum of quality in this field, this is NOT the
place to start experimenting. One can do material damage with a
weak design and deliver huge value with a strong design.
Attention to detail, careful wording, logical grouping, accuracy of
hierarchy and coding, respects and works with strategic essence and
The opposite of "sloppy" which applies to just about every configuration I have ever seen.
4. Taxonomy -- hierarchy
Hierarchy as in:
Domestic Short Hair
A logically structured semantic (word) hierarchy that accurately reflects the real world.
a practical example click here
I apply a diversity of conventions in building these lists. The
indents above coupled with capital letters for heading level items and
proper case for posting level items makes the lists easy to scan and
Where the software permits, the indents should be mirrored in the code
scheme with trailing periods or, as a compromise, zeroes, making the
code easier to scan and analyze.
6. Structured codes
People only understand meaningful text, computers only
understand binary digital patterns. The hierarchy is for the people and
the code scheme is for the computer to manipulate. The code
must mirror the hierarchy, I use trailing periods "." wherever possible.
One digit in the code for every level of hierarchy.
on the list -- mnemonic alpha codes where these make sense or
numeric where mnemonic is impractical or hybrid alpha-numeric codes.
7. Cognitive span
The average human being can almost instantly grasp the content of a
list of seven plus or minus two items. A person with a limited
education will typically grasp no more than five items, someone with
considerable education and intellect may be able to grasp a list of nine
or at most ten items. Seven is the optimum.
Every hierarchy should be structured with between five and nine items
at every level of the list with ten or more items accepted only in
extreme circumstances. If necessary restructure the hierarchy in
order to comply with this rule.
Respecting cognitive span makes it easy to scan large volumes of
data and easy to navigate -- vital for effective decision support.
Provided the levels are well thought out and correlate closely with the
strategic essence the list will be easy and effective to use, to post
to and to roll up from a reporting perspective.
At all times the strategic essence is the highest priority to focus on.
8. Answers to questions not previously asked
Always remember that you do NOT know the questions that will be
asked tomorrow, let alone the questions that will be asked in five or
ten years' time.
The defining complexity is the real world. Any form of
"clumping" -- lumping items together because it is too much trouble to think things
through to the full level of detail simply guarantees work for
mid-level staff with Excel in perpetuity. The detail is always
there at the time of posting, yes it may take a bit more time to train
operational staff, but they actually work with the detail anyway so it
is really NOT that much of an issue provided the hierarchy is well
thought out and makes sense. Posting actually becomes faster!
Once you have the transactions analyzed accurately and in detail then
you can ask new questions with confidence that you will find the
9. Model the REAL world
In all of this it is vital to accurately model the real world.
The real world IS complex and detailed. Accurately reflect
complexity in your hierarchies and your code schemes and the software will be easy
to use and the databases will become easy to query. Complex
reports will become straightforward.
10. Electronic drill down all the way from the Board summary
A fundamental principle relating to this approach is to be able to roll
up the operational data to a single dashboard on the screen of the
Executive Boardroom with drill down all the way to the finest detail
electronically with a series of intuitive mouse clicks.
With high level strategic executive input and associated facilitation
it is possible to configure your systems so that this becomes achievable
on a consistent basis -- provided you make the data engineering investment
11. Clever software that leverages the clever data
you have done the above it is then possible to easily
conceptualize and build pieces of software that are
finely tuned to your business in ways that can provide
dramatic competitive advantage and greatly improved
to the case study on my website.
Application of these principles
will give rise to a high value solution that will last
for years. This will be coupled to improved operational and strategic efficiency and leveraged growth. This growth will be achieved with the
current staff complement or staff complement will be reduced if your
organization remains at current size of operation. These principles will
also greatly extend the life of your existing systems.
I aim to follow this article with further articles discussing in detail the implementation of this approach.
There is NOTHING
more important in your systems than the configuration and master data that
we have been talking about and, correctly addressed, remediation of these items
can make a significant difference. This should be undertaken to high
standards of precision, as you would undertake in any other form of
engineering endeavor. This will open the door to add very substantial value to
your organization and unlock significant value from your existing business
A hundred fold increase in information value is entirely achievable
and, coupled to this, greatly improved management efficiency and
business competitiveness, leading to increased profitability and growth.
I offer advisory services with regard to the application of these
principles and would be delighted to discuss how I might be of
assistance. I also offer a light touch diagnostic service to
evaluate the state of your information tables and advise how to
If you have found value
in this article please forward to colleagues and
Dr James Robertson PrEng
James A Robertson and Associates Limited
Assisting clients to thrive through effective and efficient application of Business Information Systems
to serve the Almighty Creator in all things
Mobile: +44 (0) 776-862-2875
Landline: +44 (0) 207-059-0007
Strategic Essence -- The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
A discussion of how strategic essence should inform all business
improvement projects and particularly business information system
projects. This thread is intended to discuss the analysis of
strategy, the planning of strategy and feeding strategy through into
business system specifications and the management of projects.
Articles to date include:
The Essence IS Different
The Real Issues in Business Information Systems
A discussion as to why business information system (and other business
improvement projects) fail to deliver on expectations or fail outright,
together with discussion of the critical factors that must be taken into
account in order to achieve successful outcomes. This thread is
intended to progressively discuss more hands-on specifics of achieving
high value outcomes and builds on the Strategic Essence series.
Articles to date include:
The Real Issues -- Mythology and Lack of Executive
Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems
Discussion of practical specific measures that can be taken in order to
greatly improve the information yield of business information systems
at both the operational and executive strategic level. A number of
simple steps that can be taken immediately and more complex measures
that can be taken over time. This thread is intended to discuss
increasing business system and data warehouse value yield using
techniques that lead to significantly improved business intelligence
capability, including support for the ability to "obtain answers to
questions we had not previously thought to ask". This builds on
the content in the Strategic Essence and Real Issues threads.
Articles to date include:
Robust Business Systems Procurement
In order to fully apply the methods and principles discussed in the
threads above with regard to new systems it is vital that a robust and
effective approach to procurement is applied. This requires a
tough procurement approach directed at achieving a tough business
outcomes orientated project that ensures a high value outcome.
This thread is intended to discuss the components of such a procurement
approach, including the individual documents and process that make up
the approach. Thereafter the components will be discussed in more
detail. Articles to date include:
A simple confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement which you can tailor and elaborate on as you see fit and which may vary depending on your legal jurisdiction and your attorney. I recommend that this initial document is kept simple as you want ALL persons attending the initial tender briefings to sign this
You would possibly have a much more comprehensive agreement for your short list bidders and possibly more comprehensive still for your final choice although I personally hold that very detailed documents of this sort tend to be excessive
Business Systems NOT delivering?
Call the Business Systems Specialist
Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.
Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.
He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.
If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist
Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.
Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.
All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.
There HAS to be a better way!
This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control
We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website
We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues
By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT
This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.
In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.
Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:
Click here to send us an email subscribing to our free newsletter -- all articles posted by James Robertson will be emailed to you
James has a very detailed profile on LinkedIn should you require further information about him.
You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/DrJamesARobertsonERPDoctor
James has an open networking profile -- click on "Connect" and use email address James@LinkedIn-at-JARA.com.
You can contact us on
LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/drjamesarobertsonerpdoctor
Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/james.a.robertson.393
Mobile: +44 (0) 776-862-2875
Landline: +44 (0) 207-059-0007
Fax: +44 (0) 844 774 4580
There is a large body of white papers, articles and other content produced by Dr James Robertson available on this website
Please click here to visit the detailed listing of articles
About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics
Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures
About the Engineering Approach
James Robertson's Value Add
Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution
Recognizing Business System Failure
The Critical Human Foundation
Old Software IS Viable
From South Africa
Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng
About Professor Malcolm McDonald
Table of Contents
About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing
Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics
Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson
List of Articles
Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes
Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?
The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody
Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration
Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
IT Project Management
CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement
No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes
Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™
The Pulse Measurement Workflow
The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement
Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations
What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?
Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business
Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years
Sample Pulse Measurement Reports
Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
Strategic Essence: Overview
Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined
Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation
Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different
Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure
Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence
Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?
Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment
Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual
A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting
Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works
Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc
Part 3 -- Executive Engagement, Bid Compliance, Adjudication and other matters
Guidance and Advisory Services
The Art of Project Leadership
Why Regular Communication with the CEO is Vital
The Business Simulation Laboratory
Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture
Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies
The JAR&A Cubic Business Model
Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal
The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration
Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask
Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration
092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013
088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa
026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf
018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf
011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng
Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering
Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations
Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment
The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual
Part 1: Introduction, Problem Statement, Definitions and Examples
Part 2: Why Use JAR&A, Required Knowledge and Experience, Cubic Business Model and Chart of Accounts and Taxonomy Software
Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References
Example General Ledger Manual
Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous
The RIGHT Approach
Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction
Standards for Custom Software Specification
What IS Software?
Critical Factors for I.T. Success
A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail
Case Studies examining Business Information System failures
The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle
The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict
Speaking and Training
Showcase of Conference Presentations
Most Viewed Presentations
Briefings and Seminars
Why your ERP/BIS is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it
ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results
The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success
Conferences and Public Presentations
Conferences 80 to 99 -- 2009 to Present
Conferences 60 to 79 -- 2005 to 2009
Conferences 40 to 59 -- 1996 to 2005
Conferences 20 to 39 -- 1994 to 1996
Conferences 01 to 19 -- 1989 to 1994
On-Line Seminars (Webinars)
Webinar on Preparing and Presenting Webinars
Contacting James A Robertson and Associates Limited