In considering the question of how to create wealth in a country, engineering training immediately directs us to seek precedents from which we can learn.
Consideration of those countries in the world where there are high standards of living and limited or no poverty immediately shows that there is a single common thread, namely effective and efficient use of productive technology to gear the capabilities of the people of the country. Switzerland, Germany and Japan are examples that spring to mind. It is very evident from visits to these countries that their technology is well designed, well implemented, well maintained and well operated. Things “just work”.
So, one finds that the effective application of technology is the cornerstone of creating wealth in ANY country – it is the only proven recipe.
Random social experiments that jeopardise the reliability and sustainability of technology are fundamentally at odds with any prospect of a vibrant economy, particularly when those policies involve diverting the money that should be going to infrastructure development and maintenance to rewarding people on the basis of criteria that cannot be linked in any way to wealth creation.
Reflection on this principle immediately indicates that South Africa is going in the wrong direction as far as technology is concerned. It does not matter what technology or methodology one considers, be it roads, sewerage, water supply, electricity supply, electricity distribution, health care, education, justice, etc., in all cases once-reliable and sustainable infrastructure and capability is progressively degrading as a consequence of failed experiments such as outcomes-based education, the abolition of the death penalty, lack of maintenance as in the case of roads, water supply, electricity distribution, etc.
Irrespective of where the money and manpower have gone that have resulted in this widespread degradation of technical capability and assets, it has been inappropriately applied.
If South Africa truly aspires to create sustainable wealth, we need to cease redirecting funds from infrastructure, whether it be hard infrastructure such as roads or soft infrastructure such as health care professionals, teachers, engineers, etc. More critically, we urgently need to stop driving experienced personnel at all levels of economic activity out of the country on the basis of their skin colour. Reverse apartheid coupled with a lack of recognition of the vital role of knowledge and experience in creating wealth is rapidly crippling the capacity of South Africa to create sustainable wealth.
We stand at a watershed – can government refocus to retain and grow technical capability and infrastructure or will it persist with a policy of endowment at the expense of sustainable wealth creation? Redistribution does NOT create wealth, it redistributes wealth away from those with the proven ability to create wealth. If remuneration does not relate directly to productive input that creates more value than it consumes, then the economy will progressively degenerate. Arguably, there was indeed a need to level the playing field, but the problem now is that the playing field is no longer level: it is tipping in the opposite direction, towards national impoverishment.
Spending money on elaborate infrastructure, such as prestigious soccer stadiums, does NOT create wealth. Instead it simply creates an illusion of wealth but does not sustain productive activities which create material value that significantly exceeds the cost of inputs.
ENGINEER AGAINST FAILURE
In the light of what I have written above and what follows, I would like to position myself. I am first and foremost an engineer – my passion is engineering and solutions that work. I first started designing and making things when I was about six years old and I have been doing this ever since.
When I was three my father was erecting a trellis. A steel pole slipped from his hand and split my skull, leaving me with a deep-seated abhorrence of failure and a love of solutions that are elegant and work reliably and dependably. This grounding has been pivotal in shaping my career.
Having graduated at Wits in 1976 as a civil engineer, I went on to do a PhD in construction materials and then found myself having to learn how to use computers in order to process my laboratory test results.
I soon discovered an aptitude for the strategic value-adding application of computers in business and in 1989 set out on my own to bring the “disciplines of engineering” to the information technology industry.
I rapidly became aware that I placed strong emphasis on preventing failure, but it took me about ten years to realise that as engineers we are not trained to design bridges to stand up, we are trained to design bridges not to fall down. This is a fundamental difference in approach that I have applied to all aspects of my work as a management consultant and strategist.
“Engineer systems and solutions NOT to fail” has become the cornerstone of my approach and is as fundamental to the design of business strategies and national policies as it is to businesses.
Until we formulate strategic business plans and national policies not to fail, we will continue to find that failure is rampant as is evident in many areas of South African wealth-producing and maintaining economic activity today.
This worldview leads me to the conclusions presented above – as a nation we are going in the wrong direction – we are doing things that are destroying the sustainability of wealth creation wholesale, instead of doing all that is required to preserve and grow our capacity to create wealth.
As a nation, we are not talking about failure and how to prevent it, and so it is rampant, whether in the form of a blowout after hitting a pothole, a rundown hospital with doubtful hygiene, children who leave school ill equipped to compete on the global playing field or electrical transformers silently decaying as a consequence of an invisible lack of maintenance. Just below the surface of our apparent prosperity lies a mountain of technical neglect that is destined to dramatically damage our economy in the near future.
I am passionate about success through implementing exceptionally high-value strategic concepts cost-effectively and timeously to achieve success by preventing failure. This is missing from the current South African economic and technology arena.
What is strategy? Strategy is the essence of why an organisation (or nation) exists and how it thrives – the right things as determined by the customers (or voters). Tactics is doing things right.
Our focus should be on determining the right things to do, using technology and methodology to support exceptionally high-value outcomes and then doing them right. We must prevent failure at all costs – failure is always more costly than doing it right first time, provided that there is a valid and valuable value proposition to start with. Spending millions on number plates with microchips consumes value.
If we do the right things well, the organisation or nation will thrive, if we do them not so well we will survive, but if we do the wrong things, the organisation will die and it is only a matter of how quickly. If we do the wrong things well, our organisation or nation will die fast, or else it will die slowly.
South Africa is approaching a tipping point where our failure to maintain core infrastructure and invest in core technologies and methodologies is almost certainly going to slip into the die-fast quadrant – we are getting very good at spending money in ways that do not create sustainable value, and even better at driving out experienced people and making those who remain feel unwelcome.
The implementation of strategy has a time dimension. A strategic plan is not a forecast or a goal, it is a trajectory of change, the path to success or failure. It always follows an exponential curve; this is directly comparable to the trajectory of change of direction of a motor vehicle, aircraft, ship, etc. It starts out tangential to the current direction and slowly changes direction IF the hands on the steering wheel are constant. Inconsistent steering leading to constant changes in direction will prevent change from occurring, and change that takes place too rapidly will become unstable. The car will roll, the ship capsize or the aeroplane stall.
South Africa is in a situation where it is seeking to change too much too fast and instability is now rapidly approaching. Instability in policy in various areas is also crippling the capacity to plan effectively and to execute plans that deliver lasting sustainable value and wealth creation.
In my journey of discovery into the factors that cause failure in information technology investment, concentrating particularly on the implementation of large business information systems (enterprise resource planning –ERP – systems), I have come to understand the critical factors.
More recently I have come to understand that the same factors cause failure of all technology investments, including electricity supply failure, failure of road maintenance, etc. and that these factors are in fact an indication of failure in strategic capability – the ability to visualise a future state and achieve it.
These factors are (percentages indicate relative contribution to failed projects):
There is an exponential trajectory of value-creating knowledge and experience. It takes about 40 to 50 years from birth to form an engineer or other high-level professional who can conceptualise and execute projects that create high-value sustainable wealth and even then very few are able to do this. It will take more than 80 years of appropriate activity to achieve demographic parity with regard to high-level engineers, medical specialists, educators, etc. in this country IF we plan and execute to prevent failure. This is not happening; we are driving out the very people who are the only ones who know how to do this.
There are three worldviews according to Marco Blankenburgh:
i. Guilt and innocence – the North American and European culture
ii. Honour and shame – Asia, the Middle East, some of South America
iii. Power and fear – some of Africa, Asia, some of South America
Understanding the differences and tensions between these worldviews is vital to understanding South African politics and thereby to understanding how to prevent failure within the South African context.
However, the worst thing South Africa could do now would be to scrap outcomes-based education and start another social experiment. We are committed to OBE, now we must MAKE IT WORK!
In order to achieve success we must first prevent failure, then we must manage towards success. The critical factors for success are:
When one reaches a point where technology is starting to become a visible issue, such as potholes in roads, power supply failures and other technical manifestations of problems, then it is time to realise that the first six factors are NOT being adequately addressed.
The ‘load shedding’ of 2007–2008 was first and foremost a failure of executive custody and no national executive even offered to resign as a consequence of inappropriate policy decisions. The blackouts were also a failure in terms of strategic architecture, failure to have a clear view of the future state of the country and also a failure of strategic alignment: there was no clear plan of the journey towards the future state.
On the basis of this analysis, the fact that technology and methodology failure has reached epidemic proportions in every sector of the South African economy indicates that dramatic collapse is imminent.
Drastic measures are needed to alert government and business to these harsh realities and to mobilise initiatives which need to be every bit as bold as those that tore down the walls of apartheid in the years preceding the elections in 1994.
The application of these principles within a context that places appropriately high value on knowledge and experience, irrespective of skin colour, is vital if South Africa is to avoid slipping catastrophically into the abyss of technology and methodology failure that looms large before us.
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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:
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
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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
Robust Business Systems Procurement
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
Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems
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