Be Careful What You Wish For
By Mala Narasimharajan on Dec 13, 2013
Rick Beers is Senior Director of Product Management for Oracle Fusion Middleware. Prior to joining Oracle, Rick held a variety of executive operational positions at Corning, Inc. and Bausch & Lomb.
With a professional background that includes senior management positions in manufacturing, supply chain and information technology, Rick brings a unique set of experiences to cover the impact that technology can have on business models, processes and organizations.
Rick hosts the IT Leaders Editorial on a monthly basis.
My wife and I are finally making our move to Williamsburg Virginia, the center of the nations ‘Historic Triangle’ (Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown). Long a goal of ours, we’re absolutely thrilled to see this underway and one would think that on such an occasion the editor of The AppAdvantage Oracle.com site would give me a pass on my regular IT Leaders Editorial. No such luck.
I was stumped with all those fifes and drums playing in my head and considered going into hiding when while packing up my home office yesterday I came across a book I’d read about three years ago. It was sent to me by a friend during my short time in consulting and I still remember the impact it had on the way I view enterprise technologies, which carried over to work I was about to begin as I joined Oracle. That book is ‘Wrench in the System’ by Harold Hambrose (2009, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)
With a tagline of ‘Why business software doesn’t work – and how to fix it’, the Wrench in the System explores the state of business software, its perceived inability to meet the needs of business, its unjustifiably high cost and complexity and its inability to unleash the creative needs of business users. By using Auto Industry lemon laws as hyperbole at the outset, Mr. Hambrose provides the foundation for the conclusions to be reached throughout the book. It’s an entertaining read and one cannot initially disagree with any of the points being made or solutions proposed. At least in the abstract.
But I ended the book with one word: ‘Why’. Why does the condition exist and why had it not yet been resolved, given the compelling reasoning throughout the book. One can argue that there are pretty bright people in the business software industry and its customers are not easily duped. So what’s going on here?
I participated in the ERP roll out era during the mid to late 1990’s, as part of teams that designed and deployed these systems. I still have the scars to prove it. Yes, we were deploying the rigid, tightly integrated, workflow driven, waterfall developed business software that is so often criticized today. But it was done for a purpose, a critically important one at the time that remains today. To grasp that fully we need to recall the state of business computing prior to ERP.
By the early 1990's, the Client-Server era has been underway for 15 years. A vast improvement over the earlier generation mainframe technology, Client-Server, or if you will, distributed computing, allowed business applications running on multiple desktop PCs (clients) to access a database server over a network. This put business technology in the hands of business users and gave them the freedom to use that technology within their individual business processes. But this desktop independence came with an unintended consequence.
Departmental data began being created, stored and manipulated on the desktop without being passed to the central data server, and desktop applications grew to become disconnected process transaction systems. Lotus became the platform upon which Finance processes ran; and MRP managed the supply chain. Over time business organizations became increasingly siloed, processes became increasingly autonomous and data structures diverged to the point where consolidation became impossible. CFO’s became increasingly concerned that compliance to standards was becoming impossible and COO’s worried that business processes were becoming increasingly sub optimal. These were the wild wild west days of business computing.
Emerging to address this need was Enterprise Resource Planning (an evolution from Manufacturing Resource Planning). With its common data structures, rigid workflows, common business processes and tight integration across the enterprise, ERP retained the value delivered by distributed computing but within tightly bound structures. While some now see this as a basic set of flaws (as in Wrench in the System), it’s necessary to remind ourselves that the design was deliberate and the deployment stayed true to the needs at the time. And those needs remain. Quite frankly, Finance processes are rigid for a reason (think Sarbanes Oxley) and compliance to regulatory standards, whether legal or ethical, are reliant upon enterprise technology to control. ERP succeeded in accomplishing its goal.
But once again there was an unintended consequence. ERP’s rigidity was like oil and water to the agility required by the increasingly volatile marketplace. And far reaching innovations such as the Consumerization of IT, Cloud Computing and Mobility have put increasing strains on the rigid, tightly integrated protocols of ERP. Enterprise systems have been increasingly customized to attempt to meet those needs, at a high cost and complexity. In response, there has been an explosion in Business leaders purchasing software that meets their particular needs. This puts enterprise IT on a downward spiral that cannot be sustained.
In response to this need, Oracle has launched AppAdvantage, a unified view of applications, technologies and infrastructure With its adaptable architecture that can flex with business requirements as they change over time - a hybrid of ERP, best of breed applications and services, interoperating in real time (either On Premise or in the Cloud). This truly represents the best of all worlds: the ability to standardize around common processes and data where necessary, to deliver the agility and openness that business requires for market leadership, while maintaining a secure and compliant enterprise platform.
For more views on AppAdvantage, keep up with Debra Lilley’s posts. Debra, an ACE Director with 18 years of experience with Oracle Applications, is another veteran of ERP and offers terrific insights on all this from the business user’s point of view.
The moving van is here. Off to Williamsburg.