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“For Those About To ERP, We Salute You” by Paul Saunders

by Debbie Wilson  |  September 28, 2018  |  Comments Off on “For Those About To ERP, We Salute You” by Paul Saunders

psaunders guitar

I never wanted a career in IT. From an early age I wanted to be a rock star. My older brother introduced me to hard rock, punk and heavy metal and that was all I was interested in. When I looked at my early guitar heroes Jimmy Page, James Williamson, Peter Green, Ace Frehley, John Sykes, Randy Rhoads and so on they all had one thing in common: A Gibson Les Paul. So my teenage brain made the assumption that if I too had a Gibson Les Paul, then I would also be a rock star.

The early mistake my starstruck teenage mind made in confusing causation and correlation can possibly be forgiven. It isn’t so easy however to forgive when companies do exactly the same thing with ERP: Competitor A uses Vendor X, Competitor B uses Vendor X, Peer Company C uses Vendor X and their growth numbers are great, therefore if we also use Vendor X then we will be as successful as them. It sounds ridiculous, but organizations do it every day. Indeed the vendors themselves encourage it by showing a slide of logos during pre-sales meetings, or announcing key client wins during an earnings call. It is as if they are saying ‘these companies are big and successful and have selected our solutions so if you do too you too can be big and successful.’

When asked by clients whether they should purchase vendor X or vendor Y I usually state that it doesn’t really matter. Every ERP solution from a major vendor ‘works’. They wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t. In reality the offerings probably aren’t as good as the pre-sales presentation would make you believe but they certainly aren’t as bad as the tech press would have you believe in their ERP disaster story of the week article either.

The challenge is how does your organization make them work for you so that they deliver a viable outcome? Owning a Les Paul didn’t help me deliver ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Black Magic Woman’ or ‘Search and Destroy’. There were, and are, many things that are needed for success in both rock and roll and ERP:

  1. Vision – If part of the band wants to be Nirvana and the rest want to be Poison then the end result might not be that appealing. With ERP, if part of the organization is viewing the goal as transforming how everything is done, how we operate as a business, our culture and purpose while the other part is viewing the program as merely installing some new software then the result is going to be disappointing. (And most likely not successful)
  2. Standards and frameworks – If I’m playing in C major and the rest of the group is in another key then things aren’t going to sound great (unless its freeform jazz then all bets are off). Similarly in ERP if one part of the business isn’t in sync with the others, if data and information governance isn’t agreed up front and so on then things will get messy pretty quickly.
  3. Teamwork – Many bands can continue to operate even when the individual members don’t like each other (think The Eagles) but when the professionalism goes out of the window then things fall apart quickly. ERP program teams must work together well. You don’t have to be best friends but you do have to be professional.
  4. Communication – Witnessing the non-verbal communication between members of great bands is something to behold. The Grateful Dead (my wife loves them, I most certainly don’t) were experts at this and could jam for an eternity. As ERP programs develop there will be bumps in the road that the ERP team needs to deftly navigate, adjust, sometimes reset, but always move forward.
  5. Marketing – I used to work in the music industry and saw many a talented band fail to ‘make it’ because they didn’t market themselves well. The music business is after all a ‘business’. The same goes for ERP programs. If the ERP team does not convince the organization to buy in to the goals of the program, the most technical, talented and well delivered solution can still be for naught.
  6. Roadmap – ERP is about delivering a series of measurable business outcomes over time. The order of delivery is as important as a band’s setlist. The ERP team needs to agree on the roadmap and get the business to engage. Changing the setlist of only one band member can be disastrous as J.K.Simmons showed in Whiplash (if you haven’t watched it you should)
  7. Talent – This may have been my shortcoming. At least Milli Vanilli could dance. ERP teams need great, not just good, talent. The long term success of the organization depends on it. ERP program leads should not settle for ‘available’ resources. If they are ‘available’ it is probably for a reason.
  8. Perseverance – Things will often go in the wrong direction in both music careers and ERP. Most successful bands have gone through the lean years and released some of their best music while doing so. It was the support from their fans that got them through it. ERP teams and programs need to do the same. This takes support the executive team who must demonstrate that they are raving fans of the ERP program and team. Sadly too many executive teams are too quick to blame the ERP team when things start to go badly.
  9. Luck – Some call this catching a break. Some bands just happened to be in the right place at the right time, others were not. I’ve worked on ERP programs that have had some terrible luck (server rooms flooded during UAT, heart attacks of key team members, major financial changes in the company midway through the program) and some great serendipitous moments at times too including meeting one of the most talented colleagues and friends after both of us moved to the same place from opposite sides of the country and ended up working together on a series of successful projects.

Buying a guitar does not make you a rock star any more than buying a new ERP from Vendor X makes you meet your strategic goals. There is one huge difference though: Buying a new guitar does make you happy.


Paul has 7 guitars. He buys 2 more. What does Paul have now?

Happiness. Paul has happiness.


Deborah R Wilson
Managing Vice President, ERP Strategy Team
12 years at Gartner
20 years IT industry

Deborah Wilson, a recovering Gartner research analyst, leads the Gartner ERP strategy research team. Read Full Bio

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