Stop whining about ERP failures

Stop whining about ERP failures

Summary: I'm highly skeptical of those who complain about failed projects without offering a better idea or solution. Unfortunately, that happens all the time.


As a guy writing about IT breakdowns and problems, I understand that large enterprise software rollouts don't always go as planned. Despite this, I'm skeptical of pundits, analysts, and observers who complain about failed projects without offering a better idea or solution.

In a blog post on this topic, CIO magazine's Thomas Wailgum wrote:

ERP software implementations can be painful—crazy expensive for the business, enormously complex for IT grunts, and annoying to change-averse users. Some see ERP as a necessary evil that enables 21st century companies to achieve competitive similarity with one another.

At best, these grueling ERP rollouts deliver a back-office system that will bore any sane person to tears. At worst, they can be costly and embarrassing corporate blunder....


Large ERP systems provide an organization with centralized planning, control, and analysis capabilities. These systems do work, but implementations are complex because the software reaches so deeply into processes and departments across the buyer's organization. It's hard to convince disparate groups in any company to engage cooperatively for the express purpose of instituting change.

Many projects fail because the buyer doesn't fully understand the ramifications of implementing a major enterprise system. For example, here's what I said about failing implementations in San Diego, Marin County, and Oak Park:

In general, it’s not unusual to see an enterprise software implementation overwhelm a small local government’s [or private sector organization's] capacity to handle change.

The solution lies in three areas:

  1. Enterprise customers should be more careful assessing their own capabilities before undertaking any complicated organizational change initiatives, including implementing ERP systems.
  2. Systems integrators and consulting firms must be more straightforward in explaining pitfalls and success requirements to potential clients. Some consultants paint an overly positive picture during the sales process. That nonsense has to stop.
  3. Software vendors should build modular and easier-to-implement systems; improving software usability also reduces implementation failure rates. The major vendors have already embarked on this path, but they need to do more.

Responsibility for improving failure lies with these groups. Failure rates will drop when all three more fully embrace their own responsibilities for driving successful deployments.

Although large back office systems aren't sexy, they are integral to the successful functioning of governments and businesses of every size. Despite unacceptably high rates of implementation problems, the world can't just walk away from large enterprise systems: that's why the implementation failure issue is so important.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Software

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  • If I am simply a user...

    of the failed roll out there is NOTHING wrong with me complaining about my IT departments failure - without offering a solution. As a user, solutions are not my job. My job is to be able to use the proposed solution. If its failure affects me, such as preventing me from doing my job, it is well withing my rights to complain. Just as it would be if my failure to perform my job affected others down the line.

    The buck has to stop somewhere. And with failed IT projects it stops at the IT department and/or those involved in developing, or not developing as the case may be, the solution.

    Anytime someone fails at their job there is going to be whining from those affected. If ERP developers are not up to the task they should be in the unemployment line or pushing a broom somewhere. Something more in line with their skills.
    • Really good point

      My comments were not directed at ordinary end-user "civilians." You are absolutely correct that users should not tolerate the kinds of terrible implementation experiences we read about all the time.

      Thanks for commenting!
    • This really depends on the failure.

      If this is a failure of implementation, then I suppose your general point has some merit (although complaining about a problem doesn't really accomplish anything, so it's kind of a big waste of time).

      However, if it's a failure of achieving the expected ROI, that is most often a failure of the users. Assuming the system is implemented properly, it is the job of users to derive benefits from the system for the business, not the job of IT.
  • (big yawn)

    "Despite unacceptably high rates of implementation problems, the world can?t just walk away from large enterprise systems"

    Who said that the world wants to walk away from large enterprise systems?

    Noone. Therefore, your point is moot.

    And if people want to complain about ERP implementation failures then that's functional. And based on facts.
    • Actually...

      ...the CIO Magazine blog post cross-referenced (Thomas Wailgum), [i]did[/i] conclude that companies will avoid large ERP implementations due to the enormous waste associated with either failed, run-away, or terminated implementations.
    • The CIO guy said so

      That's the whole point: the CIO fellow said companies will walk away from ERP. My point is that's impossible, so therefore we need to figure out how to implement less expensively.
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  • RE: Stop whining about ERP failures

    Michael - let me offer a solution for you to help us move in the right direction. The first step is realize that traditional "build-from-scratch" implementation approaches will not work for packaged software like ERP. What is required is an implementation approach that addresses both the strengths and weaknesses associated with ERP - or any packaged software. To you readers I would like to offer my 10 principle strategies for ERP implementation success.