From the Inside November/December 2017

There is a constant battle between business and technology, and it looks like businesses might finally realize that winning is losing. Over the last decade (and more) companies have been in a battle between the need for technology and the requirements of business' rules and practices.

CEOs and CIOs have come and gone, with many of them focusing on the technology and software via a shortcut logic: "If it works for ACME corp, it will work for us." This philosophy has been very damaging. It encourages people to implement solutions that work for massive companies without understanding if they scale to the smaller shops or if they are a good fit in any other way.

It also misses the point on another level. That giant company may have invested a few million or more, modifying that software. That means that the thing you are buying isn't really the same as the version they are using.

Much of this is predicated on what everyone is seeing in the consumer market, what they read in publications, and see on the news. Then when a salesperson comes selling software or hardware and says, "Oh, we do that," and "We do this," and your current systems don't, it looks very appealing.

The problem is framing. When I ask you to judge two products on taste, you need to know that while that works well with desserts, it is the wrong system for picking floor cleaners or an industrial paint. This skewed framing creates the conflict between business and technology.

The classic syllogism is:

John is a boy. John has freckles. Therefore all boys have freckles.

The business version is:

This software works for <some Fortune 100 company who may or may not be in our industry, country, or market segment>. I have a company. Therefore, it will work for me.

Technology should be chosen based on its ability to make our business better, but not all technology is right for your business. One size does not fit all. As marketing increases, as the public becomes more immersed in technology, shortcut logic gets applied more frequently.

While MultiValue is now being sold the modern way, older systems were bought despite the lack of "sizzle." They were bought because features and price established their value to people who were looking at the details. Most older MV applications still do well under scrutiny. The newer ones tend to cover both sides, the shortcut logic and the detail-oriented approach. Our market changes with the times.

Setting the shortcut logic aside, there is also a tug-o'-war between software focused on technology implementations and software focused on business implementation. They can be quite complementary, but they can also be at odds with one another.

For many years, we in this community have come down primarily on the side of business-focused implementations (does it handle AR, AP, inventory?), and have avoided the technology focused implementations (does it interoperate with the web, can it do automatic data encryption?) for some examples. This has caused our business software and infrastructure to look and feel aged. It is what most of us in IT feel like we are battling: "Our software is old, limited, and needs to be replaced with new technology to make our business better."

This should lead to the question: What it would take to replace existing systems with new technology, versus the effort involved in enhancing the existing systems with new technology? Often it leads to a yearning to start over, which has a massive hidden cost created by the loss of business rules.

Business-focused implementations are always more successful than technology focused implementations because you are solving a business problem. The problem is already well defined, thought through, and implemented into existing processing, instead of replacing processes. Of course, solutions which speak to both needs are the best approach.

When replacing existing business applications with something new, very rarely are you focusing on solving a business problem, even though some in the company may think they are. The new software has all the latest bells and whistles and is technically advanced, so logically it would be better than the old software . This is the shortcut logic talking.

Once implementation of the shiny new system is complete, most businesses find they don't use the vast majority of the new features. They begin to see the loss of features which they had in the previous software. The project then becomes a failure, but it can't considered a failure, because it has to work and you can't go backward; too much money has been spent.

That doesn't mean that all changes are bad or all new implementations are failures. It means that there are a few right ways, and many wrong ways, to replace a system. When a replacement is decided based on a business-focus, it is forced to answer the same needs served by the existing applications as well as answering the "What's new and better?" aspects.

At the end of the day, software is a part of how your business runs. The same way hiring a bad employee at the executive level can derail a company, "hiring" the wrong software can be just as dangerous. Not all technology is equally suited for every business, even if you are in the same industry. As business people, we can't settle for shiny. Once we do a business-focused review, we may find that the old horse has a lot more races left in him.

NATHAN RECTOR

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