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Anthony Lee, Managing Director and Shareholder of Transport Holdings discusses his experience of undertaking a Business Systems (ERP plus) procurement facilitated by Dr James Robertson, Anthony can be contacted on
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
The only way to prevent many of the almost universal problems with ERP procurement / selection and implementations is to move to a much more rigorous and robust technique
I have developed and proven such a method that includes:
1. An extremely robust Request for Proposal document that covers all the bases that vendors and implementers typically use to drive a bus through with change of scope, misrepresentation, etc and results in a robust legally enforceable fixed price contract
2. Three stage procurement process that allows the client to cast the net as wide as possible and lets the vendors and implementers do the work of proving their software can do the job
3. Moves all the risk that belongs with the software vendor and implementer to them and massively reduces client risk
4. Balancing terms that govern client behavior and responsibility
5. High level strategic (essence of the business) business outcome orientated requirements specification which avoids all the incidental and irrelevant items that typically make up a requirements document and completely mask the real issues -- these requirements are driven from strategic considerations from the top down with a high level of executive engagement and commitment
6. "Bill of Services" which is comparable to the "Bill of Materials" on a large construction project -- a very detailed schedule of what will be done and by whom such that it creates a basis for an "allowables" based contracting approach -- implementers ONLY get paid for items that are on the schedule and they ONLY get paid the amount on the schedule UNLESS the client business materially changes
7. Comprehensive configuration testing in a business simulation laboratory that uses a small sample of statistically representative data to comprehensively test the configuration, develop and test the reports, BI and workflows, develop operating standards and training material and train personnel such that by the time the system is commissioned all staff know how to use it. This is coupled to a very robust legally enforceable "Certificate of Readiness to Commission" signed by all parties coupled to retention of a percentage of interim certificate payments
8. Highly formalized three stage tender process in which the entire table of contents, certificates, etc are prescribed in the tender documents such that every bid can be lined up against the others on a section by section basis and compared on a robust basis. All key documents are initialed and signed such that the final outcome of the procurement is a comprehensive and robust enforceable contract
9. Comprehensive reference document pack that contains every document, spreadsheet, etc that is currently used to run the business with a prioritized covering schedule which stipulates which documents are critical to the configuration and must be supplied before "go-live"
This extremely robust and, by IT and ERP standards, harsh procurement approach forces vendors and implementers to be honest about their offerings and creates a basis to hold them to all of their promises
I have recently completed a project using this approach where the implementer went about three times over budget and did NOT get paid because of the robustness of the contract AND, most importantly, the client obtained a high quality business outcome that was an exceptional fit to their REAL requirement
The majority of ERP, BI, CRM, IBIS and IT system configuration and commissioning (implementation) projects run way over time and way over budget and, most critically, fail to deliver expected business outcomes, frequently at disastrous levels – the absence of a robust procurement approach that locks in a clearly defined business outcome for a robustly fixed price within a robust, legally enforceable contract is a major contributor – the journey commences with inadequate and inappropriate preparation, often with highly sub-optimal software and a sub-optimal implementer choice in terms of Strategic Business Fit. This LinkedIn Group is intended to provide a forum for discussing such an approach. The initial discussion topics address the major elements of this approach:
PROCUREMENT APPROACH REQUIREMENT – a robust procurement approach directed at achieving a robust and enforceable contracted outcome and price.
RISK – move as much of the outcome, time and budget risk currently carried by the Client to the Contractor (Implementer/s and Software Company) in a manner that results in an equitable and appropriate distribution of risk through a robust Request for Proposal pack including a strategic level Requirements Specification – all designed to give rise to a contract that will stand up in Court – and, because it is designed to stand up in Court, very unlikely to end up in Court.
1. STRATEGIC FACILITATION – the procurement process must be facilitated by a highly experienced professional who is able to lift out the essence of the Business (Strategy) and the essence of the Business Requirement and document this in an enforceable manner by working closely with the Chief Executive and Executive team of the Client organization. This facilitator must operate within the framework of a comprehensive set of proven standard documents, templates and methods – someone who has done this before. Note the term “Facilitator” – the contract is between the Client and the Contractor, this party is a highly experienced independent Business Systems Strategic Adviser with many years of ERP, IBIS or other relevant experience, depending on the nature of the project, who acts as a translator to the Chief Executive and the Business and facilitates the dialogue between the business and the Contractor to make sure that there is a meeting of minds and the solution accurately fits the Client requirement. This person acts as the “Agent of the Client” in a similar role to that played by the Architect on a prestige building project. It is vital that the Client does NOT have a Project Manager, it is the responsibility of the Contractor to supply the Project Manager and manage the overall project. I advocate the role of “Contract Manager” on the Client team – this must be a senior executive with the business experience necessary to manage a large and complex contract but this person must NEVER give technical direction to the Contractor – the Contractor is the expert on their system. Notice here that we are separating the knowledge of the business – which is the responsibility of the Client -- and the knowledge of the software and its configuration and commissioning – which is the responsibility of the Contractor. The responsibility of the Facilitator is to ensure that at all times both parties to the contract are on the same page and understanding each other.
2. ROBUST REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL – the Request for Proposal (RFP) must contain an in-depth specification of a three stage procurement process coupled to comprehensive documentation, contractual terms, certification directed at achieving a legally enforceable fixed price, fixed outcome contract backed up by a highly detailed “Bill of Services” which is the basis of payment using an “allowables” model. This RFP document must be proven in practice and be very comprehensive – I have a master RFP document that is currently 64 pages in length. Coupled to this RFP is a bid tolerance, typically 20% to 40% on the first stage offer, 10% to 20% on the second stage offer and a final fixed price – the tolerance is the tolerance on the final price – if the tolerance is 40% on the first offer then the final price is capped at 140% of the initial offer. Some complain that this whole approach pushes up the bid price and that is, in part, exactly the objective, the industry has a severe problem with deliberate under quoting and this approach is designed to make it extremely unattractive to under quote. A client of mine has held a Contractor who under quoted to a fourfold increase in work at the bid price because of the rigour of the approach.
3. STRATEGIC BUSINESS REQUIREMENT SPECIFICATION – Strategically focused (essence of the business) business function orientated weighted headline Requirement Specification.
This specification must focus on headline BUSINESS function at a level that fully defines the fundamentals of the business but places the onus on the Contractor as the expert in the configuration and commissioning of their chosen software package (ERP, BI, CRM, etc) to undertake the necessary discovery in order to be able to commit to a fixed price.
The three stage procurement process is fundamentally a process for the bidders to discover the full complexity of the Client business and budget accordingly and for the Client to discover the full complexity of the software solution offered and budget accordingly. This document is the heart and the ART of this approach – failure to accurately define the essence of the requirement and word it in such a way that it places the onus on the Contractor to ensure that they fully understand the business and provide the required thought leadership will nullify all the other aspects of this approach to a greater or lesser extent.
A highly experienced facilitator is critical to the success of this method. Note that a strategically focused Business Requirement Specification will focus on the essence of the business, that is the core of the business and therefore, most likely on industry specific packages that fit this part of the business. An almost inevitable consequence of this approach is that the accounting modules of any ERP will do the job and, in many cases, no ERP will have the required functionality – this is an essential component of moving the procurement towards IBIS (Integrated Business Information Systems) and away from ERP in the narrow sense being the Accounting Suite plus.
There are numerous industry specific packages for most industries and these differ widely in functionality and focus and THIS is where the art of system selection lies. Note that the Strategic Essence and Drivers of the Business are frequently as important, if not MORE important, than industry fit. The approach advocated here casts the net as wide as possible to find the core system that best fits the heart of the business and then zooms in to achieve a fixed price fixed deliverable contract. The Strategic Business Requirements Specification is supported by a much more detailed Business Requirements Specification that, again, focuses on what the business does. Clauses that specify IT technical requirements have NO PLACE in these documents.
4. DETAILED BILL OF SERVICES – a critical component of the Request for Proposal pack is the draft Bill of Services – modeled on the Bill of Quantities on a Construction Project – a detailed schedule of all the business components and associated project activities that the system is required to include against all categories of personnel that will reasonably be required to execute these activities. Bidders are required to price every activity that they consider necessary and to add in all activities and personnel categories that they think have been overlooked. This schedule, which for a relatively small procurement can run to 48 A3 pages (1000 rows by 60 columns neatly spaced and formatted), is the basis on which bidders price their service offering. The Bill for a large organization could easily run to several hundred A3 pages. This approach allows competing bids to be held up against each other and exactly compared, just as the Bill of Quantities allows such comparison on Construction projects. The final contractual price is based on the Bill of Services, as updated during the three stages of the Procurement Process such that each line on the Bill and the summation of the lines on the Bill constitute the ONLY basis of payment on an Allowables basis. By “Allowables” is meant that the amount in the Bill for that activity is THE fee that will be paid, whether the work is done in half the time or ten times the time, it is up to the Contractor to manage the project in order to come in at the allowable amount, the Client team simply concern themselves with whether the required business outcome for that activity has been achieved and, once it has, they authorize the contractually agreed amount for that activity against a formal certificate less a 10% or 20% retention. 50% of the retention is released on issue of the “Certificate of Readiness to Commence Live Operation” and the balance of retention is released on the issue of the formal “Completion of Commissioning Certificate” which includes a minimum 30 day bedding in period.
5. PRECISION CONFIGURATION – the essence of “implementing” a new system is the configuration of the software. I have coined the phrase SEPC – Strategic Engineered Precision Configuration. This approach uses a rigorous, highly structured, taxonomic (hierarchical) approach to configuration and particularly to populating validation and attribute lists including the Product Catalogue and Chart of Accounts designed to accurately reflect the executive strategic essence of the business as determined by executive management. It is NOT possible to achieve a lasting high value solution without Precision Configuration and a really well designed and implemented precision configuration coupled to limited strategic customization can easily deliver a hundred fold increase in project value outcome. It really is so that there are HUGE differences in the value of ERP and other Business Information System configurations developed by different implementers and consultants. Refer to the ERP and BI Taxonomy Group on LinkedIn at
http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=4200343&trk=hb_side_g for more detail.
6. BUSINESS SIMULATION LABORATORY – a comprehensive Business Simulation Laboratory in which a small but fully representative sample of test data (no more than 0.1% of total transaction volume) which fully simulates every facet of the business that the new systems are to service in the context of an Integrated Business Information System (IBIS) view of the systems. This Laboratory is to be used to develop and test the full configuration and integration until it cannot be broken (remember, “Engineers design bridges NOT to fall down”), then the comprehensive set of representative data is used to test reports, models, Data Warehouse ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) and dashboards. Thereafter workflow is modeled and standards set and configured and once this is in place training materials are developed. Finally all personnel are trained in an experientially relevant environment until all personnel are fully qualified to operate the system. At this point the team leading the project progressively issue acceptance certificates until finally the Chief Executive and, if required, the board issue the final certificate of suitability to commission. A necessary pre-cursor to Certification is one or more comprehensive Walk-throughs of the entire configuration and progressive bottom up certification by each team of business specialists that their area of the business is accurately accommodated in a manner that exactly models the Real World.
7. FORMAL “GO-LIVE” CERTIFICATION – only at the point that all staff have been fully trained is the system deployed in the business. This process will significantly extend the total time for the implementation but this extension of time is a realistic reflection of what is required to ensure that the system is ready to be used by the business. The “Certificate of Readiness to Commence Live Operation” provides a basis to penalize the Implementation Contractor in the event that the certificate is issued prematurely.
8. PRESCRIBED CERTIFICATES – a key element of this approach is “Certification” in the form of “I the undersigned in my capacity as Implementer Project Manager hereby certify that …”, ditto for Business Team members. “Sign-off” has a connotation of getting a signature on a piece of paper and mostly those signatures mean nothing, Certification carries with it a culture of accountability and this includes penalties for the business in the event that certified specifications and other documents, certified testing, etc are found to be deficient through Client personnel oversight or negligence. Bidders are also required to sign a “Certificate of Compliance” to the effect that their offer fully complies with the requirement, if necessary with formal exclusions. Required certificates are prescribed throughout the Tender Pack and apply throughout the configuration and commissioning project.
9. CLIENT COMPACT – there is also a Client Compact in terms of which the Client contracts to ensure that the most knowledgeable people are designated to work on the project, attend and give full attention, that standing time is paid for workshops that start late or are cancelled at short notice, that rework resulting from Client personnel oversight is an “Extra Over” cost to the Client, etc.
10. EXECUTIVE ENGAGEMENT – a key aspect of this approach is a very high level of executive engagement both on the part of the Client AND the Implementer – executives can resolve fundamental configuration decisions in minutes that lower level personnel on both sides may never resolve or may resolve in drastically inappropriate ways. Key to making this work is the role of the Strategic Project Facilitator acting as adviser to the Client, specifically the Chief Executive, as outlined above.
11. FACILITATION OF CHANGE – using the approach set out here greatly reduces the need for Change Facilitation (also, erroneously referred to as “Change Management”) provided there is comprehensive on-going and inclusive communication throughout the project duration.
12. BID COMPLIANCE CHECKLIST – another element of the Bid Pack is a compliance checklist that lists all terms in the RFP and other documents to be complied with. Bidders are required to initial against each and every item to signify Compliance / Acceptance of the term or Non-Compliance / Non-Acceptance of the term. This document provides the basis for a rapid assessment of the validity of an offer and enables bidders to quickly assess the essential elements of the Bid Requirements.
13. BID ADJUDICATION SCHEDULE – the Bid Adjudication Schedule is a structured and weighted document that is drawn up with the Chief Executive and other interested Business Executives, facilitated by the Project Facilitator.
The schedule is broken down into roughly seven major subject headings each of which is divided into roughly seven sub-headings. Each section and sub-section is assigned a weight out of 100% and provision is made to score compliance and assessment of the validity of the offer on each of these points.
This schedule is used by the Adjudication Panel, coupled to a “Gut Feel Adjudication Schedule” which assesses soft issues like “Do I trust this bidder as a long term business partner?” The Bid Adjudication Schedule is included in the bid pack so that bidders are able to ensure that they address all the items that are particularly important to the Client – the goal is a win win situation in which the Client is as transparent as possible thereby giving the bidder the best possible opportunity to craft an offer that is ideally suited to the Client Business Requirement.
14. PRESCRIBED BID TABLE OF CONTENTS – another important aspect of the approach is a detailed Bid Table of Contents which exactly specifies the format of bid documents.
This document also prescribes that the RFP and other key documents are initialed on every page, prescribes the certificates to be signed, requires that the Requirements Specification is to be responded to paragraph by paragraph in an electronic version supplied as part of the tender pack, etc. All bid documents are also to be supplied electronically with the same Table of Contents.
This approach allows every bid to be laid out against the next and quickly and easily compared.
Bidders who do NOT fully comply with these requirements may be disqualified and NOT adjudicated at all – simply put, a bidder who cannot be bothered to comply with Client Tender Requirements at the bid stage is unlikely to comply with Client Business Requirements during configuration and commissioning.
15. COMPREHENSIVE PACK OF REFERENCE DOCUMENTS – All the above is supported by a comprehensive document pack containing every single report, piece of manual stationary, redacted printout of every Spreadsheet, etc that is currently in use and which must be accommodated or supplied by the solution.
An overarching schedule describes each document and specifies its level of criticality ranging from 10 = “must be present and working BEFORE go-live” to 0 = “for information only, NOT required”. A copy of this pack, without redaction and supported by electronic copies of all documents where these exist, is supplied to the preferred bidder at the commencement of stage three of the procurement process.
The “Certificate of Readiness to Commence Live Operation” will NOT be issued until all mandatory reports, etc have been created and are operating accurately and reliably in the Business Simulation Laboratory. This ensures that the syndrome of the business flying blind for months after Go-Live because reports do not work or being faced with continuous claims for “Change in Scope” in order to provide mission critical reports is prevented.
Again, this component can push bid prices up but these are essential requirements and a decision to proceed with a project is fatally flawed if these items are NOT in the budget or NOT in the project schedule. The discovery by the business of all these documents is a vital component of preparing the business to bid and should be coupled to creation of the detailed Business Requirements Specification.
The existence of this pack is a vital component of ensuring that bidders have an accurate understanding of the true scope and complexity of the of the Requirement and the pack provides a fundamental frame of reference with regard to deliverables when it comes to the issue of Certificates for completion of particular components of the work.
16. DATA WAREHOUSE – it is taken as a given that any comprehensive business solution WILL require a Data Warehouse and that there WILL be customization to fit that Data Warehouse and associated “Business Intelligence” models, reports and dashboards to the business. The rationale for this is that in the real world executives really DO want to create reports, models and dashboards that draw on data contained in ALL the different software components that make up the real world business solution.
17. THREE STAGE PROCUREMENT PROCESS – as alluded to several times the Procurement Process being discussed here takes place in three stages:
a. STAGE 1 – MARKET SCANNING – cast the net as wide as possible, approach all software vendors and implementers that market scanning indicates may be able to fill the requirement. The approach here is to seek to find any player which may be a contender and give them time to form partnerships in order to fill the entire requirement.
It is recommended that there is NO pre-qualification unless you have strong reasons to decline to have a particular player involved – I recommend against this generally.
During Stage 1 those parties that are strong contenders will self-select – the chancers and the fly-by-nights will be discouraged by the weightiness of the bid process and will generally opt out before the end of Stage 1 which requires the completion of the FULL bid offer pack to the specified price tolerance.
Part of Stage 1 is a one day or longer comprehensive headline briefing on the Business and the Requirement focusing on those aspects of the business that are fundamental and those that are unusual relative to general industry practices – it is the exceptions that cause the problems, NOT the 95% plus of the business that conform to widely applied practices – “Best Practice” is a fundamental distractor in this process and the term should be avoided.
As stated above the Bid Tolerance for Stage 1 should be set at between 20% and 40% -- this is the limit by which the final price may exceed the initial offer. Note that in practice you may well negotiate the final price DOWN from the initial offer – remember that because you have a very detailed costing you can use this as a shopping list and negotiate with the final bidder in terms of curtailing scope on a basis that both parties understand and agree to from the “get go”.
At the end of stage 1 only a limited number of bids will be submitted, those that seriously consider that they have something that really fits the requirement and are willing to sign the required certificates and comply with the full RFP Requirement. Bids that are halfhearted should be disqualified and potential bidders should be warned of this at the first briefing. The aim should be to narrow the field down to between three and four bids, less than three is undesirable as it leaves one with limited fall back options if something goes wrong with one of the lead candidates.
Note that at the end of Stage 1 it is possible that one bidder will stand head and shoulders above the rest in which case one MIGHT move directly to Stage 3 although I would recommend going through Stage 2 including a couple of the weaker bidders – you can learn a lot through this process and sometimes these apparently weaker bidders may surprise you.
IF there really is NO basis to consider alternatives the steps in Stage 2 provide a structured basis to learn more about the bidder and for them to learn more about your business – after all, they do not need to know that there are no other candidates
b. STAGE 2 – SELECTION OF PREFERRED BIDDER – Stage 2 involves site visits, including private discussions with the Client’s concerned, a Discovery Workshop with each bidder separately where you seek to gain a better understanding of their offer and clarify things that were not clear in the initial adjudication and they seek to gain further knowledge of your business such that they can move their bid from the Stage 1 Tolerance (20% to 40%) to the Stage 2 Tolerance (10% to 20%).
You should also arrange a detailed “Walk-through” of ALL the systems that make up their offering – a Walk-through in this context is a systematic step by step presentation / demonstration of their software from end to end highlighting those aspects that the bidder considers particularly important in meeting the Requirement.
A key aspect of this Stage is to get to know the Bid Team, Company/s and Products so that you can start to develop an informed view of their real suitability. If they take you to a reference site that demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of what is important to you or if their presentation fundamentally fails to address the essence of your requirement, be on your guard – if they cannot understand your business during the bid process, how will they understand it later?
At the end of Stage 2 bidders resubmit their bid with refinements to the tighter offer price tolerance AND present their offer to an adjudicating panel of Business Executives and Managers. Bids are re-evaluated and a “Preferred Bidder” is selected.
c. STAGE 3 – DETAILED DISCOVERY, FINALIZATION OF PROJECT PLAN AND CONTRACTING – Bidders are required to contract a fixed fee by the end of Stage 3.
In Stage 3 Bidders are free to talk to whoever they need to talk to in the business and ask whatever questions they need to ask in order to arrive at an enforceable fixed fee.
By the end of Stage 3 the only reason that a change in price will be agreed to is a significant change in the Client’s business or a mutually agreed decision to add an item removed earlier in the bid process or remove an item in the agreed plan.
Detailed planning and scheduling, using the Bill of Services as the basis of the Project Schedule, will take place, deadlines and milestones agreed and all other planning and negotiation will take place.
Management, assisted by Legal advisers for both parties will negotiate to arrive at a final contract that accurately reflects the terms and conditions set out in the Bid Documents, particularly the RFP, and which incorporates terms and conditions proposed by the Bidder in their offers and accepted by the Client in agreeing to move to the next Stage with that Bidder.
d. CONFIGURATION AND COMMISSIONING – the full project to configure and commission the software as agreed in the above Stages based on Executive Engagement, Executive Strategic Facilitation, the Business Simulation Laboratory, Precision Configuration and issue of Certificates, etc. The details of this component are not central to the ambit of this document.
18. RFP PACK AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE WITH VARIOUS SERVICE AND ADVISORY OPTIONS – this article makes reference to a very comprehensive pack of documents, 19 in all, that form the basis of the Intellectual Property on which this approach is based. I offer a service to take Clients through the entire process alternatively you may purchase the entire document pack on a licensed single use basis to use standalone. You may also purchase the pack together with a range of limited scope high value services to assist you to get the greatest possible value out of the method by obtaining guidance with regard to the high level strategic Requirements Specification, Bill of Services, Bid Adjudication Schedule, etc
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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
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Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures
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Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business
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Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
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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
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