Typically, such Rube Goldberg farces involve consultants, and although none of the survey respondents flamed their ERP vendors, a few had choice words for consultancies. A reaction against consulting excesses, along with a dose of cost-cutting, may underlie a general trend toward insourcing rather than outsourcing. In our survey, three times as many readers said their IT staff's responsibility for directly maintaining ERP applications would increase rather than decrease during the next 12 months.
Consultants also make a convenient scapegoat. AMR's Shepherd says the culprit may be a lack of commitment to the idea of packaged software. "Often, what we find is that the consultants are battling hard to try and convince the companies to change their business processes to fit the product better, and they just can't get them to do it," he says. "They're battling hard [because] they know who's going to be held to blame." Shepherd observes that one of the good things about implementing an ERP system is the opportunity for enterprises to rethink and rationalize business processes across the organization.
The other side of the coin is that some changes are inevitable.
Jeff Loewer, vice president of planning and information technology at Sonnax, an automatic transmission manufacturer, remembers the functional-requirements phase well. "We found ourselves falling back on our processes and falling back on customizations," he says. "A lot of good intentions tend to fall by the wayside when you're in the heat of it."
The Upgrade Treadmill
The great risk of customization is that upgrades shatter already jiggered systems. In February 2001, at Oracle AppsWorld in New Orleans, Larry Ellison admonished customers not to modify the Oracle 11i E-Business Suite at all for just this reason. He was lambasted -- and he ultimately backed down -- but he had a point.
As North Vancouver's Hunter puts it, "You can sit there and turn [the] PeopleSoft [ERP software] upside down and sideways and say, 'Now, make it do what I asked it to do.' But then, next upgrade -- poof -- it takes four years."
That may explain why, when asked when they completed their ERP implementation, most respondents answered either "1999 or before" or "not yet completed." You may have an ERP system in place, but you're never done implementing.
Patrick Harris, IT director at Sealing Devices, a seal and gasket manufacturer, describes the complexity of deploying a single patch in one module of Oracle's E-Business Suite. "Well, it's a big integrated system," he says. "You look at this patch and you find out what is prerequisite. So you install the prerequisite and then you learn … that affects the accounts-receivable application. So now I have to upgrade accounts receivable. But I can't upgrade that, because if I upgrade that, then I have to upgrade order management. It turns out to be this huge project just to get this one bug fixed."