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What Penguins Know about ERP Success

Photo from Wikipedia

Have you ever watched a nature documentary showing penguins entering the Antarctic ocean? They gather at the edge of the water, hesitating until more penguins arrive. They look at each other as if saying, “Do you want to go first?” or “Are we ready yet?” Then finally the hesitation will end and a large number of penguins will dive into the water together.

The penguins’ hesitation makes sense when you learn about penguin predators.  Seals hunt in those waters, and a single penguin swimming alone has a good chance of becoming seal food. But by waiting until there are significant numbers of penguins before entering the water, the penguins increase their chance of survival. There’s safety in numbers, or at least there’s an increased likelihood that the seal will go after someone else.

Last week I had dinner with some IT executives who are considering replacing their old systems with a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. They seemed to be hesitating before making their move, and from the discussion it became clear that they hadn’t yet reached the point where they felt they had enough executive support. Like the penguins, they knew it didn’t make sense to dive into the ERP waters alone; to do so would prematurely end their careers.

The next day I met a CIO who had successfully implemented major parts of SAP, a popular ERP system, in his company in only nine months. He attributed his success to (1) implementation of an off-the-shelf industry version of the software [see secret 10], (2) help from a third-party consulting group who had extensive experience in implementing this particular industry version of SAP, and (3) enough executive support to require everyone in the company to use the off-the-shelf processes “as is” — no matter how attached the employees were to their previous processes and systems.

The successful CIO didn’t dive in alone.  And the penguins would be pleased.

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