by Thomas Wailgum

What Does a “Successful” ERP Implementation Actually Mean?

Jul 27, 2009 3 mins
Enterprise Applications

Success for an ERP rollout depends on how you define it.

My inbox never seems to lack this type of e-mail: “XYZ Software Vendor Announces Successful ERP/CRM/BI/Supply Chain Application Implementation/Upgrade at XYZ Inc.”

You get the idea: There never seems to be a shortage of “successful” software projects delivering “exceptional” and “industry-leading” value.

And yet, once you talk to actual customers, software implementation strife or failure is never hard to find. (Oddly, I don’t often receive “XYZ Software Vendor Announces Failed ERP/CRM/BI/Supply Chain Application Implementation/Upgrade at XYZ Inc.” pitches.)

As I’ve written in the past, any type of enterprise software project is a risk-laden endeavor: one study showed that an enterprise software project had only a 7 percent chance of coming in on time, would more than likely cost more than what companies estimated, and would very likely deliver very unsatisfying results. (In addition, companies have only a little better than a 50 percent chance that users will want to use and, indeed, actually use the application.)

So it is with all that in mind that I parsed this recent e-mail: “Au Bon Pain Successful SAP ERP Go-Live By YASH.”

At Au Bon Pain, the global restaurant chain, it was out with the “legacy systems” and in with “SAP ERP and SAP BusinessObjects.” Assisting was integrator YASH Technologies. According to the press release, Au Bon Pain now has a unified IT platform that will allow for: “Optimized performance, Enhanced visibility with real-time data capture, Increased productivity, Accelerated financial closings and Improved business processes with access to aggregated information.”

Noted Ed Mockler, CIO of Au Bon Pain: “We’re faced with tighter profit margins than other industries and wanted to leverage the best-in-class functionality of SAP to help us gain a competitive advantage.”

Now, I’m not attempting to impugn the good name of Au Bon Pain (they have amazing dessert treats), CIO Mockler or YASH Technologies, but there’s so much collateral pain that goes along with this type of a project, I’m wondering if Mockler or his staff might describe the project more candidly along the lines of a “tumultuous slog that we managed to get through” (deep exhale and rub furrowed brow).

But how today’s companies define “success” when it comes to an ERP implementation or upgrade, I suppose, is largely due to well how they have planned for contingencies, set reasonable expectations, and created lines of communication between the CEO and front-line users and everyone else in between.

Because there’s just no way the majority of these bloated projects come in on time, on budget and without one or two people losing their jobs.

The environments in which IT professionals are toiling away on projects like the one at Au Bon Pain is daunting: Most businesses today are oversoftwared, many users are frustrated by poor application performance, and return on software investments is usually forgotten—just to name a couple of woes.

The result, I contend, is that CFOs and CEOs have arrived at some state of general ambivalence (at best) toward ERP systems or an accrued and outward hatred of software overhauls (at worst).

This isn’t me being pessimistic. This is the reality I hear from CIOs and other IT professionals in the industry. Success, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

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