Emerging Technologies conference, not so emerging

At the recent conference the sessions provided the normal mix of good topics and presenters who gave good presentations, bad presentations and presentations that barely matched their title or description. You know, your normal conference experience. The conference covered cloud computing, rails, groovy, JRuby and crowd sourcing and all important topics for anyone who has an interest in technology. However, they are all about 3 years past ’emerging’. They are however, maturing past the bleeding/cutting edge into full value propositions with demonstrateable case studies.

Add to this the current crapper of an economy and many IT leader’s and their companies are ready accept change that they would normally be resistant to. This economy has been called the perfect storm. Well, even in a bad storm good can come out it. Treasures buried for years under the sea are suddenly exposed. In this perfect storm the fear of change has been blown out to sea and allowed these really cool and beneficial technologies to get a their rightful place in business.

So, back to the non-emerging emerging conference. Good location, well for me. Strong attendance from a majority of techy types and correctly matching snacks to personality types. You know plenty of Starbucks, Coke Zero (score!) and TastyKakes and the big seller (well they were free) Super Pretzels. The keynotes were the most stirring of all the presentations as they should be.

My favorite was Andy Hunt’s Refactoring Your Wetware. Style and substance were both there and I will be buying his book, so he won a sale too. The worst was this unfortunate man presenting Realizing Lower TCO with Open Source. A bad combination of reading the slides, slides way too busy and not the greatest amount of confidence led me out the door early. His name is withheld to protect the innocent.

So in the end, a worthwhile time with new knowledge and that is nothing to sneeze at. For those who have not arrived at the let’s move our information services to the cloud, than you should find a way to get there, and soon.

What is the critical information technology at your company?

If you gathered all your managers in a room, all accept the IT people. Gather all your non-IT managers, directors, VP’s and C-level executives and ask what is the critical information technology at your company. What answer would you get or expect to get.

Is the most critical information technology your ERP system?

A module of your ERP system? Finance? CRM? Product Demand Planning?

Even more specific, a single business process in your ERP? A/R? Order Management? Inventory Management?

Or is it your project management solution?

Your business intelligence solution?

Or your content management solution?

I offer that while the answer from management would be a mix of the above, your staff would demonstrate that none of the above are critical to their daily functions.

The three that most staff positions are affected immediately by when there is a service outage is email, Internet access and MS Office. If your IT function has a help desk software that tracks incidents and number of user calls per incident, compare the number of user calls when the ERP system goes down, to the number of calls when email or the Internet service goes down. Look at MS Office support activity and compare the time between users noticing it is not working and calling the Help Desk versus when ERP is not working. This may not be a metric your Help Desk tracks, but it would be very revealing once you gathered the data.

What does this mean to your business. First, when the ERP system is down your employees find other activities to do, but are they contributing to the top or bottom line growth? No, they are not. It is busy work that is wasteful as it is not focusing the end user critical business processes or IT on prioritizing operation performance and reliability on the right information technology.

The squeaky wheel, the loud, thunderous roar of end users squeaky wheel is when email, the Internet and MS Office are unavailable or just slow. Therefore, ERP, BI, CRM and the rest of the high priced, high return information technology platforms are allowed to have reduced reliability, performance and slow general maintenance, such as upgrades. IT upgrades email constantly in the hopes that the new version will be more reliable and lower support calls and increase end user satisfaction. The same for the Internet pipeline, they expand it and expand it, buying new routers and firewalls that have higher speed capacity. With MS Office you upgrade twice as often as your ERP, due to end users complaints that they cannot open files from newer versions from customers and suppliers.

The costs of this mis-directed prioritization is the lack of leveraging available ERP upgrades, that your business has paid thousands of dollars in maintenance contract payments for those upgrades.

Printers get more attention than your information technology that directly supports your critical business processes that drive your customer retention, new product launches and track revenue growth areas and most profitable products and customers.

What is this costing your business? Even with a strategically minded CIO, the IT support staff will be pulled by the demands of the end users, which will reflect in application, server and network administration focus and planning.

What should business people be doing?

Measure IT focus. Help desk and operation activities that focus on critical information technology in terms of time spent, budget and project allocations and training dollars spent each year.

Ask the question what is the IT response when ERP goes down? How long to recover and how many end user calls are recorded?

Compare this to to the IT response when email or the Internet service goes down.

If the answers do not satisfy you, setup metrics on IT incidents and recovery from incidents, focusing on your critical information technology. Setup metrics on not just allocation of budget to your critical information technology, but on actual project time allocated to improving those critical technologies versus other non-critical business technologies.

It may take a senior management decree that if email, the Internet service or your MS Office goes down that the company will live with a longer down time to allow prioritization of IT budget, staff, training and projects in support of critical information technology that in turn directly supports the corporate goals.

Do you use your gut more than your business intelligence solution?

In a recent article on cio.com – http://tinyurl.com/trust-your-gut, the author, Thomas Wailgum, concluded that due to disparate systems in most businesses today, getting to ‘one version of the truth’ does not occur so that executives don’t trust their business intelligence systems and still make most decisions with little quality information. Thus, continue to trust their gut over dashboards. Are the executives to blame for not having the change management in place to be successful or are the consultants to blame for only proposing tools that give the impression of plug and play instant dashboards of quality information?

For the most part, it is a combination of both. Senior executives who want to be successful with business intelligence need to have strong change management in place along side the recognition that like any new business venture, the talent and skill level of staff needed to leverage this new business venture, called business intelligence, must be either hired outright or extensive training programs implemented to transform existing staff. Poor business intelligence projects are like a poor product offering. Many business intelligence projects suffer failure do to the afterthought manner in which they are treated.

Ferrero is a confectioner whose flagship product is the ROCHER Fine Hazelnut Chocolate. They also make a Nutella, a hazelnut spread like peanut butter. At a recent candy trade show, their booth featured tuxedo’ed men and black evening gown’ed women walking around a booth of glass pillars with crsytal plates and bowls with ROCHER gold wrapped chocolates displayed like fine jewerly. It was a very elegant presentation. Than in one corner of their booth, was a stack about four feet high of cases, cardboard bottoms wrapped in shrink wrap, of jars of Nutella. Hmmm, now here was a product offering treated as an afterthought.

Do you use your gut more than your business intelligence solution?The cases looked completely out of place in this booth, like someone dropped them there by mistake. You could not even taste test the Nutella, only the ROCHER had samples.

Is your business intelligence initiative not delivering as you had hoped? Is it a solution that came shrink wrapped, but now sits in a corner of your application set not getting used by all, only by a few who know how to get information out of it?

Do you know if you are a process manager?

If you manage people and you control a budget, than you certainly manage multiple processes in your organization. Do you actively manage those processes with the same formal and conscious effort that you manage your employees and budget? Specifically regarding managing development of the processes. You have succession, development and various other programs for improving the value your employees deliver to your organization and the value the employee gets from your organization. With a process you do not have to worry about the value ‘it’ gets from the organization, but that does not mean you should ignore the value your organization gets from your processes.

Your organization applies rankings on your employees based on their performance and their potential for promotion, amongst other criteria. Based on that ranking the employee’s merit, training and promotions can be determined. Utilizing a model to rank your processes based on mission critical, business critical, or compliance ranking along with a contribution value will define for your business how much effort your organization should be monitoring and improving your processes.

Automatic Process Discovery – A new buzzword or a real timesaver?

Automatically discovering how users interact with their software creates an un-biased view of what steps employees take to complete a process.

Typically hypothesized or accomplished through interviews and “time and motion studies”, automatically discovering processes could be a real timesaver. As process improvement professionals, how would you rate the value of having such un-biased information?

Does automatic process discovery save time? It can, when used as part of a traditional discovery effort. If you replace all of the discovery effort with only the automatic discovery then the real chance of missing the shadow processes that are in place exists. These shadow processes are run in tandem to the technology automation and feed the machine of automation with just enough input to appear to be fully automated. In the early days of EDI, companies would download the EDI files, print them out and manually enter them into their order processing system and vice versa. Today, it could be a planning process that is manually done on an Excel spreadsheet to allow for biased hedging and having the numbers edited in the planning system each week reflecting the spreadsheet.

The waste is not just in the tandem nature of this activity, but the shadow process itself, which stays the same even when you change the technology. As for the value, there is always more money, there is never more time. Therefore, anything that truly saves you time, is always worth the money.

Process – The language you use to work

A firm called Taruu uses the phrase “Process: The Language of Work”. I agree with this concept that the informal or formal processes we use at work are a language. The processes describe how our work gets done. If you wish to describe how something is done at work, you speak the language of process.

Poor process is like bad grammar or misspelled words. Use bad grammar or misspell your words and your meaning gets muddled which slows down the communication and/or creates misunderstanding that has people doing the wrong thing. Poor process reduces effectiveness and efficiency, having people do unnecessary steps or increasing waste.

Now good process is like a clear, well-written message. It is as short as can be, no unnecessary words/steps. Understood immediately allowing for clear chooses and mitigating waste.

Attain Business Process Improvement without a new ERP

When considering a return on investment for the major purchase of a new ERP system, the top ROI item is always the best in class processes that your organization will be able to adopt with the new ERP and the productivity improvements that will generate increased profitability. With the current economic conditions many companies are putting their ERP projects on hold. Extending the life of their current ERP, CRM and other bolted on solutions. While putting the new ERP on hold allows the company to save the capital investment dollars, it does not provide the high return that improved business processes deliver not just to your bottom line, but to top line revenue growth an improved customer relation process will deliver.

What if you could attain a large part of the process improvement, with your existing ERP. Consider with current Web 2.0 and Business Process Management technologies you can map your current business processes, compare them to industry best practices and integrate with you existing ERP solution. Leveraging both innovative new technologies and your fully depreciated existing technologies. This effort still requires capital investment, but the investment can be at a much smaller initial investment and deliver immediate return within 1 to 3 months versus 12 to 24 months in a full ERP implementation.

To gain productivity improvements that will deliver to your bottom line, business process transformation is key. To protect your top line revenue through improved customer processes that link you closer to your customers you need to transform your processes to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Re-evaluate successfully attaining your ERP project goals and objectives through an exploration of transforming your business processes while still keeping your existing ERP.