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Recognizing Business System Failure

Many executives and managers do NOT know how to recognize business systems failure.  They have failed systems right at their finger tips, gauged by the standards advocated on this website, BUT they do NOT realize that they are at some level failures and, because they do NOT recognize failure they do NOT recognize either the need OR the opportunity to DO something about it

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Business System Failure – HOW do you recognize it?

I have come to understand that many executives and business people do NOT know how to recognize business information system project failure.  In fact, many people with partially failed solutions actually think they are successful!

In most areas that an organization operates high levels of reliability and in most cases high levels of functionality and aesthetics are the norm, think aircraft, motor cars, etc.  Accordingly this should be the criteria for rating the value and success of business information system projects.  Refer to the discussion “Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution” for a discussion of what a system at the top right of the scale below comprises.  THIS is the benchmark for failure and, in terms of that benchmark the vast majority of business systems implementations (all the way down the curve to the bottome) are, at a significant level, failures.

This is over and above the extreme failures discussed in the Failure Catalogue.

So, HOW DO you recognize a failed business information system?


1.  Project aborted

The project was aborted before go-live.  Frequently because the project should NOT have been undertaken in the first place e.g. replace systems that do NOT need replacing.

OR the project was so badly conceived and managed that it had to end, or there was a lack of executive involvement and the system is totally misaligned with the core objectives of the business.

You might even have had a good project that was aborted for the wrong reasons such as a new executive who could not be bothered to do the hard work to evaluate the truth about the project.

Clearly this IS failure.

Sometimes such projects can be recovered.


2.  Catastrophic business damage

Catastrophic business damage that causes massive disruption e.g. Bridgestone – Tires stacked in the car park, BMW months long wait for spare parts, etc.

OR in the extreme case put the organization out of business – see for example the FoxMeyer Drugs Bankruptcy.

Problem is, as with Fox Meyer, it is hard to prove whether it was the business system that caused the failure or something else.

Well, actually, NOT so.

Once you understand the true causes of failure, things like mythology, lack of executive custody, lack of strategic alignment, lack of precision configuration, failure to address the soft issues, lack of an engineering approach (rigor, precision) and understand that technology is less than 3%, that’s right 3%  of what causes failure it becomes apparent that if a company puts in a new system and goes bankrupt it is almost certain that the existence of the systems project and all the ancillary and associated factors WAS responsible for the failure.

A systems project places HUGE stress on a business and this stress is entirely people driven and impacts people.  There is a HUGE need to understand the entire holistic picture of what is required to prevent failure and what is required to achieve success, see the section of the website on the REAL Issues for more information.

Accordingly, I submit that unless there is a massive unrelated upheaval in the market place, if a company goes bankrupt or close to bankrupt shortly after putting in a new system then the new system has failed.  After all, a well-run project should produce an outcome that IMPROVES profitability and competitiveness.


3.  Runs with kludges and lots of spreadsheets

The above two items are relatively easy to recognize although frequently masked by other factors.  It IS clearly possible to highly damage a business and in the extreme case cause it to wipe out.

BUT other failures are less obvious.

Consider – the system runs, sort of, with any number of kludges including unnecessary add-on software, quick and dirty Microsoft Access and other software and MASSES OF SPREADSHEETS, other tasks are performed semi-manually or entirely manually.

Tasks take unnecessarily long times or require extra staff, there is gross inefficiency.

That is a form of failure that is common to the majority of business information system implementations.

I have come across massive installations where almost nothing is done in the core system but management actually think that they have something of value and the software company uses the client for advertising purposes.

Are people lying?

Or are they just so dumbed down in terms of their expectations that they actually think their hugely inefficient monster IS doing something of value?

How honest are YOU being about YOUR system?


4. Executives and managers cannot get the information they need, WHEN they need it OR at all

Management and executives cannot get the information they need WHEN they need it OR at all.

Reports do NOT correlate.

Simple information requests take days or weeks to answer.  And then further time is required to drill down and / or the results are questionable. 

Overall executive and management efficiency and effectiveness is compromised.

That is failure.


5. The monthly board pack takes weeks to produce and drill down is manual

The monthly management and board packs take days or weeks to prepare and require highly qualified and expensive staff to sit for days or weeks every month preparing the pack in Excel or some fancy and costly other tool and the final result is NOT entirely trusted.  Drill down is time consuming and questionable.

Executives are flying by the seat of their pants to a fair degree.

THAT is failure.


6.  The audit takes MUCH longer than it should

This may seemingly be a small point but, in fact, it is a pointer to much wider problems – the audit takes MUCH longer than your gut feel says it should and you cannot establish why or how to curtail it, because it REALLY does take that long and the auditors may even have to take write-off’s in order to fit your budget.

A well running system should be quick and easy to audit.

A system that takes long periods of time to audit is a system that is inefficient to run generally, where there is little ownership of data, where reports are unreliable and not trusted, etc.

This is a form of failure!

Remarkably the audit in most organizations could be shortened dramatically coupled to a dramatic increase in management information and management effectiveness.  A system that is easy to use and is well used is easy to audit, see the V3 case study.


7.  The organization is fat and inefficient

This point flows from the previous points – the organization is fat and inefficient because “THE System” is fat and inefficient.

An inefficient business is frequently a pointer to an inefficient system in the same way that a lean, effective and profitable business is a pointer to an effective and efficient system – interesting that there are lean, effective and profitable businesses running so-called “legacy” or “obsolete” software and there are fat and inefficient businesses running the latest and greatest systems.

An inefficient organization and associated system IS a form of failure!

Effective systems are the consequence of rigor and discipline, of understanding of business and system fundamentals and applying systems in ways that work effectively and add considerable value, even at the most mundane levels – like all staff who use computers can touch type fast and accurately so the data is neat, clean, orderly, reliable and trusted, see the article on “Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution”.


8.  Your business system support bill is WAY bigger than reasonable

Your support bill to the implementers is WAY beyond what you consider reasonable.

Or your IT support team is way bigger than seems reasonable.

BUT NO ONE can tell you what to do in order to curtail these costs because the people REALLY are there and busy for that many days a month!

Badly designed, badly configured and badly implemented systems really are huge consumers of expensive implementer and IT staff manpower.  This is primarily driven by “sloppy configuration” as opposed to “precision configuration

A form of failure!

9.  The “old guard” say the old system was better

Many of your “old guard” say that the old system was better, some have resigned in frustration.

None of them have anything good to say about the system maintaining, often with good cause, that the previous legacy system was easer and leaner to use and gave the same or better results.

Fact of the matter is that the business grew and prospered with the OLD system, something that techno-sales people and tech-lovers lose sight of.  In fact the OLD system made the profits to PAY for the new system!

Many modern system implementations are so poor that the old legacy systems that truly were VERY basic but got the core job done WERE more efficient and more effective because they were built in partnership with the business to old fashioned rigorous software development standards by dedicated and disciplined professionals, and were far better aligned with the essence of the business.

This MAY be just unwarranted nostalgia in some organizations but, quite frequently, the old system WAS more effective because there is a massive overload of unnecessary functionality and gimmickry that weighs down the system.  Process obsession frequently drives this sort of overload.

This, again, can be an indication of failure.


10. You just KNOW you have been ripped off

And then there is that nagging feeling that you HAVE been ripped off, that the huge sums you paid really are NOT justified, that the new system IS massively inefficient, that you really DO struggle to get the answers, that profitability has been detrimented, that the old system was really NOT that bad after all.

And there is reluctance to talk about it because it reflects badly on management, and you do NOT want the shareholders to know, and, after all, it is fairly easy to keep it quiet because most people do NOT know where to look to identify failure.

And most people’s expectations have been dumbed down by several decades of mediocre outcomes that nobody believes the promises of the sales people and even if you DID believe them you are NOT surprised when they do NOT materialize, after all, why were you so foolish to believe them?

Could YOU undergo a comprehensive lie detector test about your system, say NOTHING but good things about it and come through with a clean score – NO LIES?

That is the acid test of a successful system, a system that has ALL the attributes of a high value solution, widely recognized by shareholders, executives and management.  A system that people speak highly of, on AND OFF the record!



Do YOU have a high value solution or, if you are honest, is your system a failure?


If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above points then get in touch with me to arrange a Pulse Measurement to evaluate the health of your system, diagnose what is wrong and prescribe the appropriate treatment to remediate it – it MIGHT be easier than you think!


Dr James A Robertson PrEng

10 September 2014

Download Business System Failure – HOW do you recognize it -- White Paper in Adobe pdf format

Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

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Business process is the focus of most business information system implementations and is highly ineffective, this article goes so far as to suggest that business process is irrelevant, distracting and dangerous and that there are other much more effective techniques that should be applied
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A layman's overview of why Information Technology projects are so difficult and what is required to achieve successful results

Dr James A Robertson PrEng

Business Systems NOT delivering?

Call the Business Systems Specialist

Dr. James Robinson

Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.

Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.

He has also developed highly effective methods of strategically enriching systems to unlock the full potential of existing investments, see the Precision Configuration page and couples this to architecting small pieces of clever software that harness the full potential of your investment, see the Software page.

If you are having problems with your systems, your project or your IT Department, call The Business Systems Specialist

Business System Failure is RIFE -- we offer insight into why this happens AND WHAT is required to prevent it.

Failure is at epidemic levels with massive damage done to client companies -- if you are NOT aware of the extent of the problem please visit the About Failure page for a catalog of major failures running to billions of Pounds and Dollars.

All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.

There HAS to be a better way!

This website provides information relating to that way with a large collection of white papers, presentations, standards documents, etc that you can use to start bringing the situation under control

We also offer high level advisory services with regard to the application of the principles advocated on this website

We offer an ENGINEERING APPROACH to addressing these issues

Click here to read more about the Engineering Approach

By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT

This approach is discussed further on the Engineering Approach page.

Search Articles

Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Cnf 037 The Reasons Why More Than 70% of Corporations are Dissatisfied with their I.T. Investment : How Senior Management can Respond Proactively to Overcome This Syndrome in Their Organizations

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SNw 057 Business System Failure – HOW do you recognize it?

Many executives and managers do NOT know how to recognize business systems failure.  They have failed systems right at their finger tips, gauged by the standards advocated on this website, BUT they do NOT realize that they are at some level failures and, because they do NOT recognize failure they do NOT recognize either the need OR the opportunity to DO something about it

Book -- The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success

In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.

Based on this I wrote the book of the same name, which is available in electronic form here for download:

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Detailed information about James Robertson on LinkedIn

James has a very detailed profile on LinkedIn should you require further information about him.

You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/DrJamesARobertsonERPDoctor

James has an open networking profile -- click on "Connect" and use email address James@LinkedIn-at-JARA.com.

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Articles by James A Robertson and Associates

There is a large body of white papers, articles and other content produced by Dr James Robertson available on this website

Please click here to visit the detailed listing of articles

ArticleTagCloud for Articles Published by James A Robertson and Associates

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Table of Contents


About Dr James A Robertson PrEng -- The Business Systems Doctor -- and Other Topics

Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures

About the Engineering Approach

James Robertson's Value Add

Attributes of a HIGH VALUE solution

Recognizing Business System Failure

The Critical Human Foundation

Old Software IS Viable

From South Africa

Competencies of Dr James A Robertson PrEng

About Professor Malcolm McDonald

Table of Contents

About my relationship with the Almighty Creator, Yah the Eternally Self-Existing

Comments relating to the Business Systems Industry and other topics

Testimonials and other positive material regarding James Robertson

Reference Articles

List of Articles

Article Catalogue

Achieving High Value Business Information System outcomes

Executive Custody -- What is it and HOW do you get it?

The REAL Issues in Integrated Business Information System Success

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody

Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration

Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

IT Project Management

Pulse Measurement

CEO Anthony Lee Comments on his experience of the Pulse Measurement

No Charge Guarantee on the Pulse Measurement Service

Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes

Critical questions regarding the Pulse Measurement™

The Pulse Measurement Workflow

The Critical Factors for Business System (ERP+) Investment Success in the Pulse Measurement

Indicative Pulse Measurement Durations

What is a JAR&A Pulse Measurement?

Survival of the fittest – why it makes sense to measure the pulse of your business

Examples of Pulse Measurement Outcomes over 24 years

Sample Pulse Measurement Reports


Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems

Strategic Essence: Overview

Strategic Essence: Part 1 -- Strategy Defined

Strategic Essence: Part 2 -- Differentiation

Strategic Essence: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different

Strategic Essence: Part 4 -- The Essence should be the Point of Departure

Strategic Essence: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence

Strategy -- the Essence of the Business: What is it and how do you develop actionable strategic plans?

Simple Steps to Increase the Strategic Value of your ERP Investment

Free Strategic Snapshot Toolset and Manual

A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting

Tough IT and ERP Procurement and Contracting that Works

Robust Business Systems Procurement

Part 1 -- Introduction

Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc

Part 3 -- Executive Engagement, Bid Compliance, Adjudication and other matters

Procurement Documents

Guidance and Advisory Services

The Art of Project Leadership

Why Regular Communication with the CEO is Vital

The Business Simulation Laboratory

Precision Configuration and Strategic Business Information Architecture

Precision Configuration based on Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies

The JAR&A Cubic Business Model

Highly Structured Strategic Chart of Accounts -- a Vital Element of your Corporate Information Arsenal

The Product Catalogue -- an Essential Element of any Precision Configuration

Attributes -- answers to the questions you have NOT yet thought to ask

Case Studies of Notably Successful Projects with high value Precision Configuration

092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013

088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa

026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf

018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf

011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems

Part 1 -- Introduction

Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering

Part 3 -- Steps in applying these recommendations

Simple Steps to increase the strategic information value yield from your Business Systems Investment

The Full JAR&A Taxonomy Manual

Part 1: Introduction, Problem Statement, Definitions and Examples

Part 2: Why Use JAR&A, Required Knowledge and Experience, Cubic Business Model and Chart of Accounts and Taxonomy Software

Part 3: How to do it, Case Studies and White Papers and other References

Example General Ledger Manual

Business Process -- Irrelevant, Distracting and Dangerous

The RIGHT Approach

Custom Strategic Software Design and Oversight of Construction

Standards for Custom Software Specification

What IS Software?

IT Effectiveness

Organizing Outlook

Critical Factors for I.T. Success

A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail

Case Studies examining Business Information System failures

The BBC Digital Media Initiative Debacle

The Bridgestone -- IBM Conflict

Speaking and Training

Showcase of Conference Presentations

Most Viewed Presentations

Briefings and Seminars

Why your ERP/BIS is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

ERP and IT Procurement that Delivers Results

The Critical Factors for IT and ERP Investment Success

Other Seminars

Conferences and Public Presentations

Conferences 80 to 99 -- 2009 to Present

Conferences 60 to 79 -- 2005 to 2009

Conferences 40 to 59 -- 1996 to 2005

Conferences 20 to 39 -- 1994 to 1996

Conferences 01 to 19 -- 1989 to 1994

On-Line Seminars (Webinars)

Webinar on Preparing and Presenting Webinars

Contacting James A Robertson and Associates Limited