The inside story of Santa's dealings with the industry...
In a special Christmas 'What if...' column, new economy commentator Dale Vile wonders what Santa might gain from the latest supply chain, HR and ERP solutions. (It's a magical time of year - but maybe not that
We know technology vendors don't sell technology products anymore - they sell 'solutions'. Now it would be nice to think that they all identified the relevant problems before coming up with these solutions but it clearly doesn't happen in that order often enough. Even when it does, the chances are that in the real world a vendor can only tackle one aspect of the problem, namely the technology piece. This is especially true with ERP, CRM and ebusiness in general, or in other words, when a problem is defined at a market or business process level.
The truth is that it takes a lot more than technology to effect significant business change successfully in order to gain the benefit. Just because the technology can do something doesn't necessarily make it right or sensible to do it in business terms. Unsuspecting customers can be caught out by this if they allow their agenda to be set by vendor marketing messages or technology sales people.
Consider the experiences of Santa Claus over the past couple of years.
It all started with Christmas 1999. It was a bumper year and more gifts were manufactured and delivered than ever before. Santa's operation had struggled to handle the volumes, however, so he promised himself he would make some changes for the following year.
He was therefore very receptive when approached by an enthusiastic sales representative in January 2000. The young man explained that lots of other global manufacturing and distribution organisations were moving to ecommerce. He recommended that Santa set up a B2B electronic exchange. It sounded good. If the elves on the production line found themselves short of little plastic machetes due to a rush order of Jungle Warrior action figures, Santa could publish a tender on the exchange and get suppliers to bid and deliver at the drop of a hat. Best price, shortest delivery times. Fantastic. So he went for it.
Nine months later, he was not a happy Santa. He had taken his best procurement elves out of their day jobs to work on the exchange project but none of the suppliers seemed interested. Apparently, they were afraid that every transaction would turn into a Dutch auction. It didn't seem to matter to them that by helping the player at the top of the supply chain, they were helping both customers and the industry as a whole. How could they be so selfish?
Again, Santa coped, this time by paying more overtime and sneakily speeding up the conveyor belts on the production lines to catch up.
Unfortunately, this last measure got Santa in trouble with the elf union, so he thought it wise to investigate ways of improving employee relations. As luck would have it, another sales person came knocking. She explained that he needed a state of the art web architected human resource solution. Santa seemed interested, so being good at her job and sensing that she was on a roll, she started asking about other aspects of Santa's business. She empathised profusely as she heard about his operational difficulties then said: "If I could show you a way of solving all of your problems with just one solution, would you be interested?"
"Too right," said Santa then sat back and listened in wonder about how a fully integrated end-to-end ebusiness system could turn his operation into the slickest, most efficient and most responsive gift manufacture and delivery business in the universe. It had everything - HR, ERP, CRM, APS, LES, B2B, B2C, B2E and much more - all as a single solution. As the sales person explained, this meant fewer interfaces, less cost and better harmony across the whole business. So Santa went for it.
Eleven months down the line and the accounting elves, manufacturing elves, and distribution elves are at each others throats arguing over product codes, cost codes and who is responsible for which bit of the overall business process. Santa has had consultants crawling all over the place criticising tried and trusted methods that he's been using for hundreds of years and doesn't particularly want changed.
The last straw was when they suggested ditching the reindeer and outsourcing the whole of product distribution to DHL, just because the route planning system couldn't cope with the concept of a delivery taking nanoseconds. This sounded to Santa like the tail wagging the dog, which seemed to be a problem across the board.
We have just heard that Santa has decided to kill his mega project. This caused us some real concern over whether Christmas would happen this year. After all, we have seen major companies brought to their knees in the past by putting technology before the business.
We have learned, however, that Santa has found the help he needs to catch up. Luckily, he discovered a few thousand Canadian telecoms workers with time on their hands that were already used to working in the snow and ice. With triple shifts in the grotto, Christmas 2001 should happen after all.
And for a special xmas epilogue see - http://www.silicon.com/a50008 What do you think? If you want to respond to this article post a Reader Comment below, or email email@example.com to let us know what you'd like to see Dale cover in future 'What if...' columns.
**Dale Vile is service director at analyst house Quocirca. His c.v. boasts years at Nortel Networks, Bloor Research, SAP and Sybase, and his job now involves working with vendors and users wanting to tap the business benefits of technology. For more information see: http://www.quocirca.com