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ERP systems: Putting lipstick on a pig?

Rob Livingstone

Rob is a respected and experienced CIO, with more than three decades of industry and ICT experience. Over the last 16 years he has held the CIO role at several multinationals, most recently Ricoh. He is the owner of Rob Livingstone Advisory and a Fellow of University of Technology, Sydney. Rob delivers the Pathways Advanced and Business ICT leadership programs in conjunction with the CIO Executive Council.

With all the ICT industry ‘buzz’ on the latest gizmo, handheld, technology hype, social networking site, ‘must-do’ initiative or whatever, it seems to me that we are somewhat de-focussed or distracted on the fundamentals of what the modern enterprise is all about. At the granular level, the humble transaction is the rivet that holds together the SS Modern Enterprise, as we ply the high seas of the commercial world.

As with sailing, the basics of commercial enterprises have not changed over the millennia; we profit and thrive on the difference between inputs and outputs, in its simplest form, which in turn

  • Drives the businesses’ need to accurately know what their input costs are, (ie transactional data), as well as the actual or planned revenue is (ie transactional / forecast data), which in turn …..
  • Drives the need for data categorisations, (eg P&L, GL, Cost centres, customer accounts and market segmentation), which in turn …..
  • Drives transaction processing (data entry via ‘green screen, web portals, data exchange, self service websites etc) which in turn …..
  • Drives report generation, business analytics and enterprise dashboards which in turn …..
  • Drives executive and operational decision making processes, which in turn…..
  • Drives ongoing organisational resilience, growth, and value creation, which in turn …..
  • Drives shareholder value, and contributes to the well being of individuals, the economy, and so forth.

What triggered my thinking about this issue was a recent comment I overheard from a manager who said, ‘giving us a web data dashboard to our ERP system is like putting lipstick on a pig’.

The comment reflects the ongoing underlying tension that rises from time to time between IT and various lines of business managers, when it comes to data and information provisioning. There is no easy fix. (I get the feeling that I’ll be writing something on enterprise Business Intelligence at a future date!)

These humble little transactions lie deep in the bowels of the enterprise application stack, and typically out of the reach of the business as a whole. In our modern enterprises, the transactions are spread across many thousands of data tables totalling millions or billions of transaction records.

Given the volatility, variety and urgency of the need for different types of information (derived from enterprise data), it is a real challenge to surface massive slabs of data for all to use as they see fit at short notice. The complexity of the data structures, when combined with the access control and security over who is authorised to see what data only compounds this issue further. The end user or line of business manager really does not understand this, nor are they interested in hearing about it. This is, however a common feature of complex enterprise systems. A bit like having teenage kids: You hate it when they don’t listen to you, but you’d be lost without them!

If you are sitting within your organisation’s IT department, you might want to send this to your peers outside of the IT department, as it could be useful in generating some internal discussion within your organisation as to what’s important, what’s really important, what’s really.. really important and what’s critical!

Find Rob at www.rob-livingstone.com

Tags: ERP, transactions

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