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By Tom Gordon, (MSc., CFPIM), Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

Aristotle talked about the ‘essence’ of a thing – i.e. What makes a thing what it is?  In   marketing and sales, we distill this idea into ‘Order Qualifiers’ and ‘Order Winners’.  For example, the ‘essence’ of an automobile is that it has wheels.  You would never purchase an automobile without wheels, or come to that, without an engine or transmission.  These are all ‘order qualifiers’.  Order winners are different, not really the ‘essence’ of a product.  Why would you purchase a Porsche rather than a Volkswagen?  The ‘essence’ is the same but the ‘order winner’ is probably the desire to impress the neighbors!

In engineering and system design we think in terms of essence but translate this into ‘function’ and ‘form’.   Function is how something achieves its purpose. Form is really what it looks like.  Taking the example of an ERP implementation. 

What is the function of an ERP system?

A report to the 83rd Legislature in Texas defined this very succinctly:

  • ERP consolidates aspects of a business within a commonly aligned set of systems – accounting, payroll, HR, inventory, fleet management and more.

Information is entered once and then carried over to all other functions, resulting in less room for error and reduced manual effort. Reporting is more accurate and highly automated, providing greater detail and better access to data for ‘big picture’ 

There are some key points in this definition: -

  • All businesses are a series of inter-related processes designed to take Customer requirements and translate those requirements into Customer satisfaction.  It would make little sense, then, if the processes were dis-jointed or did not fit together.  A useful analogy is a canal, designed to move product, without interruption, from A to B.  On the other hand, a river is not a deliberate design nor are the parts of the river aligned together.  A river can be thought of as a series of self-contained silos.  A well-implemented ERP system is a canal, a river might be attractive to look at, but it does not perform its function as effectively as a canal.  Many ERP implementations [95% according to the ASCM – previously APICS] fail because this fundamental fact is misunderstood: - function is sacrificed to form!
  • Information is entered once. In the silo-environment the same information may be entered many times into several different places.  This leads to error but also it is a non-value-added proposition.  Different areas in an organization need their data presented slightly differently – form over function.  It can create the illusion of activity but, in the overall picture, does not sponsor achievement.  In an ERP system the common database is available to all users, each can interrogate the constituent data in any format that suits them without the need to download to XCEL spreadsheets or any other algorithmic entity. A common database means that everyone in the organization is working from the same casebook, freeing the user for heuristic activity.  Function, again, over Form.

‘Function’ begs the question that you need to know exactly what you are trying to achieve.  Purchasing an ERP system based on a sales call is like buying an automobile without wheels; accepting the patter that the system can be ‘customized’ to meet all your foibles is like buying that wheel-less car without an engine.  The place to start is with a ‘Requirements Study’; if an organization does not do this then they will certainly fall into the above mentioned 95%, but the sad [and expensive] fact is that they will spend unproductive years trying to get an inappropriate system to work.

General Eisenhower once made the point that every plan is obsolete as soon as the first bullet is fired; he stressed the importance of planning as a process.  Sound preliminary study will ensure that whatever the future may hold the ‘function’ is protected from the blackest of black swans.  D-Day succeeded despite the curve ball of storms in the English Channel – comprehensive planning saved the Day.  The same is true of any change or system implementation – sound and detailed planning is the hallmark of success.

Missouri Enterprise would like to thank all of those who have fought and continue to fight for our country and for the greater good.