Here we go again…
“I don’t need process, I have advanced technology…”
Cards on the table time…I’m a technology guy. What’s worse is that I’m not even “trained” to be a technologist – if you go by my college training, I’m supposed to be an investment banker. Technology has been a passion pretty much all my life in various forms, and I count myself as extremely fortunate that I can make a pretty good living at something that’s basically a hobby*. So, arguing that technology will be able to relieve me from having good process should be a natural…
In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Modern technology can do wonderous things, from transporting hundreds of thousands of people around the world daily to making medical conditions much more livable and extending everyones’ lives, and just about everything in between. However, one thing is constant in all of these uses of technology – the people that design, implement, and operate it. Technology is simply a tool to facilitate human endeavours. It cannot be substituted for people, no matter how advanced the “intelligence” that is programmed into it. Science fiction is replete with cautionary tales of machines threating the very existence of mankind, so it is unlikely to me that machines will replace human functions any time soon – which is a topic that’s far away from what we’re discussing here (so I’ll stop).
Back to enterprise software…The major ERP vendors have developed extremely function-rich applications that can handle most of the situations and configurations present in business today, and they are developing even more and better functionality all the time. Most of this functionality revolves around “industry best practices” in the fields of human resources, financials, customer relationship management, and supply chain management, to name a few major functions. The term “best practice” refers to a base of commonality for each of these functions that has been developed by the vendors in their interactions with thousands of customers – for example, there’s only so many ways that a company can compensate their employees. The issue that arises is that most companies’ established processes do not fit into the vendor application processes, so some measure of configuration or customization is required to make the software usable to the company.
So, we’re back to establishing processes to manage these configurations and customizations, which precludes using the technology to solve the problem – a vicious circle.
Even if a company can miraculously fit into a vendor’s software process, the people who administer and use the software will need to be trained on those functions, and it’s unreasonable to expect the entire staff to self-train on all of the functionality and permutations of the application. Therefore, the company will need a training program – damn, there’s another process that needs to be managed. The executive management will have questions regarding the data that’s being collected by the application, and to prevent “query chaos” in the organization, you will need to establish a reporting process – hey, there’s that word again! I know there are more areas of an implementation that require human intervention, and therefore need a process or two…but I think you get the idea.
It’s very easy to make this argument initially – in my earlier experience, I even made that argument: “If we just had this (database/development tool/report writer/etc), we could get the job done with a minimum of fuss (read: little new process to be implemented).” It may be a function of growing older, but I see the issue now not in terms of technology, but how people use the technology – and that involves developing and maintaining solid processes. There’s really no way around it.
Next time: “I don’t need process, I have an experienced manager…“
* – Now if I could only figure out how to make the same living making music without selling my soul…