Leading projects from the top

Companies which have deployed ERP systems and CRM software have learnt one important lesson: involve top management from the start to ensure the implementation of the project is a success.

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By  Peter Branton Published  September 17, 2006

|~|79projectbody.jpg|~|IT professionals with business and communication skills and the ability to manage complex projects are the most sought after in the region.|~|The Middle East, we are constantly told, is shifting away from being an emerging market and is displaying more and more of the characteristics of more developed environs: proof of this is usually given in the uptake of solutions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Sadly, reality seems to fall some way short of vendor hype. For instance, when Sage Accpac wanted to highlight the region’s growing IT maturity earlier in the year, it commissioned a survey by UK pollster YouGov to back it up. However, while the survey revealed that firms embarked on ERP projects for extremely valid reasons — to have an integrated system, to improve efficiency and to help management make better business decisions were the most common — the really revealing answers were given by those respondents who had already gone through their ERP system selection process. When asked what changes users would make if they had to select an ERP system again, the most popular response, given by 60% of respondents, was to thoroughly research and document the company requirements prior to ERP selection. While only 14% had cited quality of implementation partner as an important criteria in first selecting an ERP system, nearly half, 49%, admitted it would be a key consideration second time around. And just over and just under a third, respectively, said that making a business case for actually implementing an ERP system and not underestimating the time and money the project would cost were important changes they would make. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 71% of the 342 respondents – all senior business managers at medium to large organisations in the GCC — admitted to being not entirely satisfied with their ERP systems. “This research has shown how important it is to get the top management involved in an ERP project,” says Marc Van der Ven, managing director for Sage Accpac. “We know from our own experience the value of properly resourcing a project of this kind and getting entire organisations to back it. It is the road to success.” GCC firms, according to Van der Ven face the realisation that “unless they thoroughly research their own company’s requirements prior to selecting an ERP system, they will struggle to make the project a business success and contribute to the bottom line of the company.” However, he believes that the survey indicates firms have now realised the importance of getting such projects right and argues that we will see more “matured” implementations in future. Let us hope so, for while the nature of the Middle East market means people are often reluctant to dwell on failure, there are still numerous instances of firms having to scrap high-profile projects because they did not achieve the results they wanted. For instance, last year a major bank in the region embarked on a big CRM project only to discover 10 months down the line it did not have enough data on customers to put its CRM tools to any meaningful use. The project had to be abandoned. Ask the professionals just why we see so many IT projects go wrong and the most common lament is the shortage of the skills needed to implement them: not so much the technical skills, but the key project management savvy to take charge of a big implementation and steer it through all the ups and downs. Lejla Vrazalic, associate professor for information systems and chair of the research committee at University of Wollongong in Dubai, believes that IT professionals with business and communication skills and the ability to manage projects rather than just pure technical know-how are the most sought after. “We need to be training our IT graduates in how to actually get across that technical knowledge into a practical domain. And what does it all mean — when you sit there and tell me about networks and stacks and all that sort of thing — what does that actually imply from a practical point of view for the company?” she argues. These types of professionals, claims Vrazalic, are vital because they understand IT within a business context and are able to apply technology in a way that will help businesses to grow. However, it may be more than a question of simply getting in the right graduates. According to Dwight Mitchell, president of Oracle business partner Mitchell & Associates (pictured, left), the problem often lies at the top. “The regional decision makers don’t see project management as important, a lot of the old school general managers have a very hard time understanding the value add, cost benefit, and ROI [return on investment],” he claims. “In the US for the same size company you might spend US$3million on doing a project properly, people here will be reluctant to spend US$1million.” “If you ask the same decision makers post-implementation what was lacking — without fail — each says qualified project management,” he adds. “People and processes are the largest and most important component of an ERP solution and that is what is factored in the least here,” Mitchell claims. “Companies are looking to save money in the wrong places because of a lack of understanding. They are bringing in junior consulting resources and not using certified project managers to implement corporate-wide ERP solutions. They are counting down the pennies, while the dollars are flying over their heads.” To drive the point home with general managers, Mitchell uses the analogy of entrusting a critical operation to a junior doctor. “[I ask them] if you are having open heart surgery, do you want the junior doctor, or the senior surgeon with years of experience?” he says. “They pick the senior of course. Well, computers are at the heart of every organisation now and when you do a corporate heart transplant you need a senior project and change manager with years of experience to get the job done right.” If the region wants to maintain good IT health, more firms here need to adopt good project management practices. ||**||

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