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Rob Preston
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Enterprise Software Failures Stem From Ignorance, Incompetence

A veteran of Big Software implementations writes: These large implementations 'are hard work, but they are not rocket science.'

In a few recent columns, InformationWeek's Secret CIO as well as two lawyers involved in enterprise application engagements (read their columns here and here) shared their views and stirred debate on the worst and best practices of managing these complex software projects. Their perspectives prompted one former CIO and Big Software veteran to weigh in with his own advice.

Pete Janak, former CIO of TRW and Delphi and now principal of PHJ Associates, says these large implementations "are hard work, but they are not rocket science. The software works and has been successfully implemented hundreds, perhaps thousands of times." So why do so many of these projects fail? "Ignorant and/or incompetent management," he says.

At both TRW and Delphi, he says he led global implementations of SAP software with "hard cutovers and never endangered the business." What follows are Janak's seven keys to success, which he says amount to common sense and discipline:

1. Cut off requirements and design on schedule.

2. Fix the configuration and put it under formal control with a strong change control authority.

3. Insist that the best functional people are assigned to the project on a full-time basis for the time periods required.

4. Put a major emphasis on data cleansing.

5. Insist that all users receive adequate training, are tested, and are then put through dress rehearsals.

6. Exhaustively test each module, string, and the total system.

7. Formulate a detailed and well-rehearsed cutover plan.

"Without doing item 3, one will fail at 4 through 7," Janak says. "This means the top management team must back the CIO and project manager 100%."

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Although most companies will need to contract with an integrator, "the smart companies" will put their CIO and their own project manager (perhaps with the contractor as his/her right hand) in charge. "If they don't have competent IT talent, then they need to hire it," Janak says. "The ERP is the life blood of the company, and one can't farm that out."

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek

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