Stop whining about ERP failures

I'm highly skeptical of those who complain about failed projects without offering a better idea or solution. Unfortunately, that happens all the time.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

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.

Editorial standards