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A Forty Year Perspective on ERP and Digitization

Looking forward by looking back

With more than forty years of experience from digital transformation with ERP and 2017 quickly taking off, it felt like an invitation to reflect on what has been and what lies ahead when seeking to deliver better value to users of enterprise software.

January 1977, half a year after having left high school 1 year before exam, having past IBM’s programming ability test with distinction and as a result employed by the pioneering ERP vendor Movex and educated through numerous IBM courses, I was nearly 19 years old and full of energy to serve customers and make a difference.

Learning from Practice

When acquainting with the real world at customer sites (where I spent most time as we could not afford our own computer), I was enamored by the ease and speed the computer made me carry out tasks the typewriter and calculator made tiresome and error-prone.

In my role as a programmer, I improved my ability to make the computer do magic by understanding how the resultant functionality enabled digitilized business processes where users are not just keying in data but actually using data as information.

Customers were the biggest source of inspiration. I felt great when they were happy, such as when a production manager said: “Now when I see the result, it was definitely worth the time and money invested in explaining our wants. What impresses me is that the solution you delivered not just meet our wants, it also fulfills our needs.”

Due to our success the volume and size of the projects increased, forcing me to practice more management and teamwork. In doing so, I realized we could energize more power together than we could one by one, why collaborative efforts became a way for us to deliver more value for less money to customers.

There was no doubt in my mind that the life of the users was about to dramatically shift for the better; the outcome of the enterprise solutions we delivered would transform paper-pushers to knowledge workers and send productivity to new heights.

Overcoming the Obstacles

But not everyone I met shared the same enthusiasm of it all. The resistance, to the point of anger at times, that people displayed when faced with learning how to use the applications we offered was fascinating to watch but tricky to handle.

The majority of the users had been in the workforce for many years and had been doing fine without computerized applications. Often they made clear to me that things were fine the way they were, so why change?

I am positive that to many customers, I appeared as a bright but naive youth with no experience to understand that the old way of doing things would prevail and the technology I gushed about would fade away as a failed experiment in time.

There were different approaches to avoid changing. I remember a warehouse manager asking me, “Can my job be preserved until I retire next year?” His wish was fulfilled because we could not automate all his duties. A year later, the missing pieces was filled out making his job obsolete, but then he was happily retired.

Recently, I met with a process owner replying, “That is not possible!” After the “impossible” was demonstrated, she rhetorically asked, “Why is this not already implemented here?” A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions. But why must it take so long to be aware of what is possible?

Progress is inevitable. We can, and will create the economy of the future when we remember that the function of technology is constantly empowering people to do things that were previously impossible.

Just as we had to find a way to help bridge progress in the early days of enterprise computing, we need to do the same today as we puzzle over our next move and wonder how to help our business and customers successfully through a new wave of digital transformation.

Successfully Going Forward

To cross the divide, we are going to need to see things from a fresh view, which involves not just technology but just as much customers, colleges, and culture:

  • We need to adjust our approach to speak uniquely to customers thinking and their real needs. Therefore, we will need to find ways to understand what customers want, say, and do. What we hear may challenge our business model while some requests may fly in the face of “what we have always done.”
  • There is a new generation coming to play. We must give room for them to fail, learn, and thrive to bring the world forward, while knowing that bureaucracy and Taylorism will not impress them. And they are right; Taylorism being about static optimization of work imposed by “those who know” on “those who do” is not how competitive advantage originates in the digital age.
  • Delivering value is so important that it needs being rooted in an authentic interest and focus of understanding what has merit in the customer’s eyes, not yours. The winners will have a culture where self-reflection and seeking smarter, less wasteful solutions across the business modus operandi is the ideal.

As you contemplate on transforming your organization, as you search for the right way to steer into the digital age I believe these seven provisions can help getting it right:

  • Take a genuine interest in the customer. Listen first; take the time to hear what they are saying, and why they are saying it.
  • Be prepared to change, based on what your customer is telling you. Do not give your competitors an opportunity to serve your customer better and faster than you can.
  • Be aware; sometimes the problem lies not with ERP but with the demand for quick fixes or the need to cure underlying structural problems.
  • Ready to invest, even if it means a short-term loss for long-term gain, to bring forward real benefits to your customers.
  • Honesty about your company’s capabilities, from the view of the customer will pay off. Bear in mind, they like to know what is going on, so you need to constantly feed them with new information.
  • Assure you have a clear vision of the desired outcome of your digital transformation. Be proactive.
  • The secret of winning change is to focus all of your energy not fighting the old but on realizing new and better solutions.

Author: PeterBj

Proud to be enough experienced to understand that there is more to learn

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