Common Business Processes

Motherhood and apple pie, or the evil empire?

By N. Dean Meyer
Sat, September 30, 2006

CIO

By N. Dean Meyer

When Barry joined the small consumer-products company as its CIO, he found a mess—not just a mess of systems, but business units that had grown quickly and paid little attention to their fundamental business processes. The basics weren’t working well, and the company was struggling as a result. One business unit struggled to deliver its products. Another delivered products just fine, but then couldn’t get invoices out!

Prior to Barry’s arrival, the CEO had convinced the venture capitalists who own the company to invest in ERP. He saw it not only as a replacement for the jumble of legacy systems, but also as a way to clean up business-unit operations and to gain business synergies through common business processes.

This makes a lot of sense, right? Read on....

Implementing ERP
Barry was tasked with implementing the ERP project. As you’d expect, he managed the software vendor selection process with involvement from the business units, and then hired a technology integration consulting company to help with implementation.

As suggested by the consultant, Barry then identified "business process owners" whose task was to represent their business units, redesign their business processes and ensure clients’ "buy in." A reasonable senior manager was selected from each business unit. It quickly became apparent that IT couldn’t get any time from the business, even from those business process owners who were supposed to be on the project team. They were just too busy fighting fires, that is, running their businesses.

To solve this problem, the consultant suggested that the business process owners be assigned to the project full time. Again, on the surface, this makes sense, right?

Take Them Out of the Business?
Fortunately, Barry had seen this strategy before, not just in past jobs but throughout the industry. And he knew exactly where it would lead. He knew that as soon as the business process owners were assigned full time to the ERP project, they’d no longer represent the business. Virtually overnight, clients would view them as IT staff and no longer as business-unit people.

Meanwhile, having given up these people to IT, the business units would feel even less obliged to participate in the project. Short on headcount and without any significant role in the project, they’d certainly have no time for IT. These business process owners had the knowledge to come up with sensible business processes. But if they were assigned to IT full time, they’d no longer run the business and so they’d have even less legitimate authority to approve these changes in the business. Meanwhile, the people who’d be left running the business would not be involved at all.

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