Ninety-nine percent of consultants fall into one of two categories: strategists or technologists.
Strategists – They are essentially the smartest people in the room. They are polished, published, and have all the data an organization requires to make strategic decisions. The strategists develop elegant binders and inspiring presentations that capture the imaginations of CEOs around the globe. All that remains is implementation of something big, such as a major ERP, process improvement, or organization alignment program. Bring in the easy button, and voila! The problem is solved.
Honestly, we at Trenegy envy the high rates strategists are able to command and wish we had the time to take a sabbatical and write an inspirational book.
Technologists – They are intelligent beyond imagination and any lack of politesse is compensated with technical prowess. Technologists can make an ERP or accounting system hum like a honeybee on a spring day. All you need to do give them your detailed business requirements for every possible business scenario, let them perform their configuration magic, and the company is ready to roll into the future with a new ERP solution.
We envy these guys, too. The amount of revenue they can rake in on a typical ERP implementation is in the millions.
There is a huge chasm between the strategist and the technologist:
- The strategist has little to no practical experience with implementation
- The technologist has deep technical expertise but does not fully understand the business functions or industry
A Typical Story
The CEO, or worse yet, the board (this means someone is in trouble), hires a strategist. The strategist scans the market, interviews dozens of people, applies a magical set of algorithms to the data, and creates a think binder of recommendations. The CEO hands the strategist’s final deliverable to the executive team and says, “This is the plan. We shall go forth and implement, and all of our wildest dreams will come true.” The executives spend months in bewilderment reviewing the strategist’s deliverables while keeping the day job going. The executives start playing hot potato with the strategist’s recommendations because no one completely understands what’s in the binder. The executives notice there are recommendations hinting of digitization, workflow, and automation. Since the CIO can make this translation of the strategist’s recommendations a reality, the CIO ends up with the hot potato.
The CIO is left holding the bag and takes the challenge to the technologists. The technologists proclaim, “We can do it!” A year later and millions of dollars down the drain, the technologists have crafted a phase II and III to take the company into the next millennium. Meanwhile, it’s business as usual and nothing has changed except new technology is in place. The CEO scratches his head and wonders what went wrong. Firing one of his executives may be the answer he is looking for. He calls his strategist for advice and a few more dollars so he can find out what went wrong.
What went wrong? The executive team had the right intentions. The heart of the issue was a lack of connection between what the strategists recommended and what the technologists could reasonably accomplish.
The Strategist’s Challenge
The strategists will typically assume management teams will be aligned and have the time, energy, and resources to commit to the changes. Adding to this challenge, the strategists’ view of what it takes for implementation is unrealistic. Four major pitfalls cause strategists’ recommendations to fall short of implementation success:
1. “I am not going to let go of ________.” Strategists’ recommendations are not assigned to a single executive sponsor with full carte blanche to implement successfully. This typically happens in matrix organizations where a bold recommendation around enabling the supply chain falls under several executives’ purview. For example, corporate supply chain reports to the CFO and local buying reports up through the COO. The CFO and COO do not have the time and energy to battle out ownership of tactical supply chain issues. The CFO says, “I’m not giving up corporate supply chain oversight for the sake of our controls policy,” and the COO says, “I’m not letting the accountants decide what we buy.” In many cases, an organization needs to address its decision making and organizational structure before attempting to implementation bold recommendations.
2. “I am not going to change.” Strategists’ recommendations presume corporate-sponsored change programs will somehow magically be embraced by field sales and operations. Field work is required to align people outside of the corporate offices. Field work takes time and requires people with a business orientation to spend time in the field helping to communicate why and how the changes should be delivered.
3. “I don’t believe the changes will work.” The lofty benefits in a strategist’s business case are not believable. Their business case is typically built in a nirvana world where the stars and moon align. One flaw in the business case, and the recommendations are doomed. For example, a VP of operations might say, “We have deepwater and land rigs. It’s infeasible to standardize the business process across our entire fleet. We would kill our land operations.” A strategist’s recommendations should be rationalized and made fit-for-purpose, requiring a tactical understanding of field and business operations.
4. “This costs too darn much.” A strategist’s recommendations presume there are resources available to implement the changes. The organization has pressure from stockholders to meet short-term profit goals and expensive programs are not feasible. The COO says, “We could have spent tens of millions of dollars to implement the Six Sigma program and make it happen, but we aren’t GE.” There are always less expensive means to achieving the same goal. Understanding the true alternatives requires a bit more tactical knowledge of what alternatives are available.
The Technologist’s Challenge
At the other end of the spectrum, technologists assume the business has an appetite to accept technology at face value and will align all business processes, scenarios, and organization accordingly. The technologist’s implementation gaps typically come in the form of alignment around four major pain points in any technology implementation:
1. “We assumed the new system would get us the information we need.” Fulfillment of information needs is typically, and often inaccurately, assumed to be automatic and prepackaged with the technology solution. For example, a company may implement a comprehensive field ticketing and invoicing system and finds the system unable to capture job profitability. The operations director declares, “What good is the system if I can’t see how profitable my jobs are?” Clear definition and agreement regarding the information required to run the business must be in place before starting any technology implementation.
2. “The system requires too many approvals and steps.” Many organizations fail to understand how to use the system to replace existing approvals and work steps. There are inherent controls in most ERP or accounting systems. The automated controls enable an organization to let the system control the process instead of requiring excess approvals slowing progress. We have seen clients perform up to six approval steps passing through one executive to buy a service item. This includes the budget, AFE, purchase request, purchase order, invoice, and payment. Operations managers continually ask, “Why the heck did you have me do a budget when I have to get everything approved again when I need to buy something?” The organization must align and define an efficient workflow and approval process prior to effectively automating the process with technology.
3. “Our paper documents are difficult to access through our systems.” Technology has actually created more paper than ever before. The perceived need to have a physical piece of paper should be rationalized. We hear clients say, “We are required by Sarbanes-Oxley to have a copy of the vendor invoice on file.” Invariably, the invoice paper requirement is not specified anywhere in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. The new system should replace paper instead of serving as a place to store paper electronically. Prior to implementation, a company should map out all paper touch points and develop a plan to eliminate paper and replace it with digitization.
4. “The data in the system is still a mess.” In many cases, new technology requires additional work to complete transactions. For example, a materials manager says, “It takes a long time to enter an inventory requisition in the new ERP or accounting system, so I wait until the end of the week to enter all the material requisitions in the new system.” As a result, inventory values and the corresponding data in the system may not be accurate. Either the company has over-engineered the inventory process and didn’t rationalize information needs, or the materials manager does not understand the importance of keeping accurate inventory records. In either case, the process of capturing data needs to be addressed during the implementation as a part of an overall communications, training, and acceptance plan.
The rare, third type of consultant is the realist. Realists fill the gap between strategists and technologists. The realist knows enough about technology and ERP systems to be dangerous but also understanding the difference between a good strategy and a great one. Practically speaking, realists understand the business functions in a company and have a strong grasp of the industry. They know how companies can get value out of their ERP systems and organizational structure.
Realists are hired to:
- Listen and understand the company’s strategy and direction
- Clarify what is preventing the organization’s functions from achieving the desired direction
- Recognize realistic alternatives for closing the gaps based upon industry experience
- Develop tactical solutions and roadmaps based on technical experience
- Implement the recommendations
- Sometimes, just clean up after the consultants
Realists operate under the fundamental beliefs that:
- There are simple, quick, cost effective alternatives to any challenge organizations face
- There’s no such thing as a best practice that applies to all organizations
- Every organization deserves to get value out of its ERP or accounting system
If your organization needs assistance closing the gap between the strategists and technologists or just cleaning up after the consultants, give the realists at Trenegy a call.
If your organization needs assistance with closing the gap between the Strategists and Technologists or just cleaning up after the consultants, give the Realists at Trenegy a call.