NEXT SUB-SECTION: Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody >>>
Frank Buytendijk, vice president of research at Gartner Inc, at the firm's Business Intelligence Summit in London said "most organizations are not making better decisions now than they did five years ago."
Some months ago Bloomberg Personal Finance and many other websites reported "BMW Owners Vent Anger at Months-Long Wait for Spare Parts" relating to a SAP Warehouse implementation in which IBM was also involved.
Mark McDonald of Gartner reports "McKinsey Report Highlights Failure of Large Projects: why it is better to be small, particularly in IT"
What is notable about the above reports is that they all originate from
highly reputable international sources and relate to mainstream
products implemented in leading global corporations, clearly something
is not right!
The McKinsey report is interesting in that it recommends small projects
as being safer, seemingly oblivious to the reality that the
construction industry regularly successfully executes mega projects with
little fuss and consistently reliable outcomes.
I live less than a mile from one of many constructions sites on the £16
billion Crossrail project in London that is building a new railway line
end to end under London, billed as the largest construction project in
Europe at present. There is little fanfare but consistent reports
of steady and reliable progress and no indication of the sort of
problems experienced by Bridgestone and BMW.
No one is suggesting that Crossrail should be scaled down because big projects are difficult.
Crossrail also dwarfs the Bridgestone and BMW projects.
So what is going on?
On one hand engineers just get on and make things work, consistently,
reliably, day in and day out and we take it for granted that our roads,
railways, buildings, factories, etc will be built and will work.
Yes sometimes there are overruns but the level of failure that is at
epidemic proportions in the Business Information Systems arena is
entirely unthinkable. If engineering structures failed the way
Business Systems projects fail and under-perform we would all be living
in wattle and daub structures in the country and riding horses in order
to keep clear of the massive failure levels that characterize Business
What to do?
I am a Civil Engineer by training, schooled in the use of computers for
engineering applications, coupled to formal qualifications at the
Regimental Commander level in the Army Engineer Corps. As a
consequence of a series of unexpected events I found myself involved in
running projects to design and implement Business Information
Systems. In the process I gained experience in economics and in
general business management as well as working as a practicing
Professional Engineer for a number of years.
As I gained more experience with business computer systems I concluded
that the business information systems industry lacked engineering rigour
and that there was an opportunity to "bring the disciplines of
engineering to the business systems industry".
I have been on that journey since 1989 and, in the process have learned a huge amount about what works and what does not work.
Because I had the benefit of never being exposed to the methods and
thinking of the business information systems industry, I developed my
methods from a first principles engineering perspective built on the
fundamentals of the application of computers in rigorous engineering
practice and self-taught business computer software design and
The result has been that my methods are significantly different and my
world view of business computer systems is also different and, since
they are based on deeply ingrained engineering disciplines and practical
experience, I hold them to be better as well.
In 1990, having started out in business for my own account I rapidly
came to understand that many IT projects, as we called them then, were
failing, in fact about 70% were never commissioned and only about 10%
actually met expectations. Statistics which the Bridgestone, BMW,
McKinsey and many other examples suggest are unchanged or worse
today. I started to speak about these statistics at conferences
and found myself called in to investigate failed and sub-optimal
projects and at times, turn them around. Accordingly I built up a
considerable body of experience.
In 2003 I analyzed all this information and developed what I termed
"The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success", I
developed a course and wrote a book which is available on my website
Since then I have continued to consult and present courses with regard
to these principles. I have also gained considerable hands-on
practical experience in the application of these factors.
Recently I have refreshed the fundamental analysis.
This article is the first of a series of articles in which I plan to
share the different facets of this approach and, I hope, afford you the
opportunity to take a fresh and better look at the way you relate to
business information systems.
Whether projects or your existing operations.
The Factors for Success comprise two elements, the factors that cause
failure that must be managed out of the project and the factors for
success that must be managed in. Managing the factors causing
failure is, I suggest for your consideration, one of the key
differentiators in what is being discussed here.
In this article I will give the headlines and then in the series of
articles which I plan for you to receive in the months ahead I will
discuss these components in more detail and give guidelines on how to
manage them in order to achieve high value outcomes. Articles in
other threads that I intend to publish will elaborate on some of these
themes as, for example, the thread relating to Strategic Essence that I
started publishing recently.
Succeed by Engineering against Failure
fundamental principle of engineering is that engineers do not design for
success, they design against failure. In other words, " engineers do not design bridges to stand up, they design bridges not to fall down".
It is a fundamental principle that a well-designed system that does not
fail will succeed yet success is achieved by preventing failure as
consideration of any undergraduate engineering curriculum will
show. "Factor of safety" and "probability of failure" are concepts
that student engineers learn in the first weeks of their education and
spend the rest of their lives understanding how to apply. This is
one reason why IT people struggle to understand engineers. IT
people are prone to hyping up their projects with road shows and flashy
presentations, engineers insist on focusing on what is not working and
then making it work.
Engineering structures stand up while companies like Bridgestone launch
$600 lawsuits against mega IT companies for failed and sub-optimal
project outcomes. In the process the IT industry focuses on
getting better and better at doing the things that got them in the mess
in the first place and no one seemingly steps back and questions whether
they are getting the fundamentals wrong.
I will leave you to read on and form your own view of whether there is
something being presented here that is different from what the business
information systems industry practices. It is my deep conviction
that if you engage with these articles and look for what is different
not what seems the same, you will find some useful principles that will
help you to push your business systems to a higher level.
The percentages in the points that follow are indicative of the
relative importance of these factors in my experience and are also
roughly indicative of the relative frequency of these factors in causing
sub-optimal and failed outcomes. I plan to discuss each of these
items in more detail in subsequent articles:
1. Mythology, hype and tradition -- 30%
This is a huge subject. The business systems industry is rich in
mythology, hype and tradition and light on delivery. Perhaps the
biggest myth is a seemingly deep conviction that the current ways of
doing things, that have such a poor track record will, one day, if
executed really well, turn around and produce different results.
What I term "process obsession" is perhaps the single biggest myth around.
2. Inappropriate or ineffective executive custody, governance and corporate policy -- 19%
The governance and policies of major business information systems
projects is frequently flawed. Projects which are directed at
business outcomes are handed over to the Chief Information Officer to
run when, in fact, the Chief Executive as the custodian of the
integrated view of the business is frequently the only person with the
mandate and the insight to give direction to the project.
The level and mandate of other key project members is also frequently defective.
3. Lack of effective strategic alignment and strategic solution architecture -- 16%
If you have not read my series of articles on "strategic essence" you might consider doing this now, the full article is available on my website
As the examples in that article demonstrate, clear understanding of
the strategic essence of the enterprise and how to translate that
into practical components of system configuration, software customization
and overall commissioning and operation are vital to successful high
value business information system investments. In fact, without
support for the strategic essence your massive high end business
information system will be little more than a glorified clerical
transaction processing system -- a major factor in why Gartner reports that
organizations are not making better decisions.
4. Lack of Precision Configuration -- 14%
A major distinction between the average business information system and
the average engineering design is that engineering systems are designed
literally to the last nut and bolt. Business systems are
generally configured to inexact tolerances with limited or no strategic
insight by mid-level personnel on both the implementer and client side
who have no grasp of the fact that the precision of the configuration of
a system can result in variations of at least a factor of 100 in level
of value and performance delivered. Process obsession is a factor
that gets massively in the way of precision configuration much of the
5. Failure to address soft issues, business engagement and change impacts -- 12%
"Change management, we do that!" I hear many IT people cry losing sight
of the fact that change management as traditionally applied is
frequently a blunt instrument to force intelligent staff to do stupid
things because the system is badly configured and badly
commissioned. True engagement with the business results in systems
that are easy to use, require little training and work consistently and
reliably. Yes, there is a need to train, including training
standard methods of working, policies, protocols, etc but I am really
talking about system configurations that are harmonized with and flow
with the enterprise.
I am also saying that putting in systems to cut head count instead of
putting in systems to grow the business with the existing headcount is
an intensely negative and massively destructive morale and loyalty
6. Lack of an Engineering Approach -- 6%
The only reason the Engineering Approach has such a low score is that
the other aspects have greater impact and, that said, the rigour,
discipline and design against failure of the engineering approach must
permeate every element of the project.
7. Technology Issues -- sub-optimal or defective software, hardware, network, etc -- 3%
Technology is virtually never the problem today and when it appears to
be the problem it is generally the consequence of the other factors that
are discussed in this article that manifest in bad technology
decisions, configuration or commissioning.
The Critical Factors for Success
Having managed failure out of the project we can now focus on success.
Incidentally, you should have a senior project team member who has as a
key project responsibility, to manage against failure. They
should sit in project meetings and listen for the factors causing
failure, trap them and manage them off the project. They should
also review all project documentation, ranging from the requirements
definition through to eliminating the hype from the presentation to the
The factors, weighted as above, are:
1. Effective Executive Custody -- 25%
The right organizational executive in charge of the project. A
strong single individual as client project leader. An equally
strong single individual on the implementer side as project
leader. A strategic advisor to the executive sponsor who is not
caught up in any other aspect of the project and, above all, NO steering
Simply put, if you boarded an aircraft and found a steering committee
in the cockpit I suspect you would run to get off the plane!
2. Effective Strategic definition and alignment -- the Essence of the business -- 22%
The extension of the point on strategy above, work the strategic
essence into the entire fabric of the project, the configuration, the
customization, the testing, the commissioning and the operation of the
system. Do not allow any person who does not demonstrate a deep
and empathetic understanding of the strategic essence to give overall
direction to any aspect of the project. Capture the strategic
essence in every validation list, every classification table, the Chart
Enable the system to support the organization to do the right things well and thereby to thrive.
3. Effective engineering solution design and implementation approach -- 17%
Introduce the rigours of standard engineering practice into your
project. Problem is that most engineers do not understand business
systems and business and business systems people do not understand
engineers so they miss each other totally if you are not careful.
Also be careful as to what type of engineer you engage with and who you
commission to brief them and induct them. Things can go horribly
wrong but if you get it right they can go really right.
4. Effective Precision Configuration -- 16%
Precision configuration as opposed to the "sloppy", inexact
configurations that commonly occur in business systems are vital.
Your multi-million pound business software system is a precision
machine, ensure that it is configured with extremely precise strategic
information that is extremely well structured and which makes use of
structured code schemes to model the hierarchies and logic in the
lists. I plan to produce a separate thread that will discuss
elements of precision configuration.
5. Effective Business Simulation Laboratory operation -- 12%
An engineering laboratory is a place where key parameters of the real
world are precisely modelled. It looks nothing like the real world
but it models the real world. The business simulation laboratory
is the same. It is designed to test the configuration to
destruction until it can no longer be broken, then all reports and
business intelligence can be developed and tested, workflow can be
optimized and embedded, training material can be developed and training
can be delivered. All this in a robust environment to engineering
standards which simulates real business operations with war game type
exercises that deal with all the exceptions and unusual circumstances.
The final goal is that all staff are fully conversant with the system
before it is commissioned to run live in the business, analogous to the
exhaustive performance tests that are applied to an engineering system
before it is put into public operation.
6. Effective business integration, training, change facilitation, process specification -- 6%
Business engagement, integration, training, helping people to change,
prescribing, configuring and adopting workflow (process) elements,
etc. These flow from the business simulation laboratory as a
natural extension of the approach.
Handling the reality that sometimes people do become redundant.
7. Reliable technology -- 2%
Reliable technology is essential, never cut corners here. Your
goal should be exceptional response times and no compromise should be
tolerated. Do not allow some technology specialist with a mistaken
idea that they need to save money here specify your hardware.
Demand high performance and specify accordingly.
The knock-on costs of under-performing hardware, networks, etc not only
in terms of direct headcount cost but also morale, accuracy, etc cannot
be under estimated.
If you address all the above in conjunction with a high quality
technical team who know the software and a high quality business team
that know the business and you treat your major investment as one of the
most far reaching projects your business is likely to ever undertake
you will find that application of these principles will have a huge
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
diagnose the root cause of problems and how to fix them for both
operational systems and projects that are not meeting expectations.
Dr James Robertson PrEng
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:
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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.
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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