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Civ 001 Creating wealth in the new South Africa - an engineering approach
Created by James on 6/18/2013 5:33:25 AM

In considering the question of how to create wealth in a country, engineering training immediately directs us to seek precedents from which we can learn.

Consideration of those countries in the world where there are high standards of living and limited or no poverty immediately shows that there is a single common thread, namely effective and efficient use of productive technology to gear the capabilities of the people of the country. Switzerland, Germany and Japan are examples that spring to mind. It is very evident from visits to these countries that their technology is well designed, well implemented, well maintained and well operated. Things “just work”.

So, one finds that the effective application of technology is the cornerstone of creating wealth in ANY country – it is the only proven recipe.

Random social experiments that jeopardise the reliability and sustainability of technology are fundamentally at odds with any prospect of a vibrant economy, particularly when those policies involve diverting the money that should be going to infrastructure development and maintenance to rewarding people on the basis of criteria that cannot be linked in any way to wealth creation.

Reflection on this principle immediately indicates that South Africa is going in the wrong direction as far as technology is concerned. It does not matter what technology or methodology one considers, be it roads, sewerage, water supply, electricity supply, electricity distribution, health care, education, justice, etc., in all cases once-reliable and sustainable infrastructure and capability is progressively degrading as a consequence of failed experiments such as outcomes-based education, the abolition of the death penalty, lack of maintenance as in the case of roads, water supply, electricity distribution, etc.

Irrespective of where the money and manpower have gone that have resulted in this widespread degradation of technical capability and assets, it has been inappropriately applied.

If South Africa truly aspires to create sustainable wealth, we need to cease redirecting funds from infrastructure, whether it be hard infrastructure such as roads or soft infrastructure such as health care professionals, teachers, engineers, etc. More critically, we urgently need to stop driving experienced personnel at all levels of economic activity out of the country on the basis of their skin colour. Reverse apartheid coupled with a lack of recognition of the vital role of knowledge and experience in creating wealth is rapidly crippling the capacity of South Africa to create sustainable wealth.

We stand at a watershed – can government refocus to retain and grow technical capability and infrastructure or will it persist with a policy of endowment at the expense of sustainable wealth creation? Redistribution does NOT create wealth, it redistributes wealth away from those with the proven ability to create wealth. If remuneration does not relate directly to productive input that creates more value than it consumes, then the economy will progressively degenerate. Arguably, there was indeed a need to level the playing field, but the problem now is that the playing field is no longer level: it is tipping in the opposite direction, towards national impoverishment.

Spending money on elaborate infrastructure, such as prestigious soccer stadiums, does NOT create wealth. Instead it simply creates an illusion of wealth but does not sustain productive activities which create material value that significantly exceeds the cost of inputs.



In the light of what I have written above and what follows, I would like to position myself. I am first and foremost an engineer – my passion is engineering and solutions that work. I first started designing and making things when I was about six years old and I have been doing this ever since.

When I was three my father was erecting a trellis. A steel pole slipped from his hand and split my skull, leaving me with a deep-seated abhorrence of failure and a love of solutions that are elegant and work reliably and dependably. This grounding has been pivotal in shaping my career.

Having graduated at Wits in 1976 as a civil engineer, I went on to do a PhD in construction materials and then found myself having to learn how to use computers in order to process my laboratory test results.

I soon discovered an aptitude for the strategic value-adding application of computers in business and in 1989 set out on my own to bring the “disciplines of engineering” to the information technology industry.

I rapidly became aware that I placed strong emphasis on preventing failure, but it took me about ten years to realise that as engineers we are not trained to design bridges to stand up, we are trained to design bridges not to fall down. This is a fundamental difference in approach that I have applied to all aspects of my work as a management consultant and strategist.

“Engineer systems and solutions NOT to fail” has become the cornerstone of my approach and is as fundamental to the design of business strategies and national policies as it is to businesses.

Until we formulate strategic business plans and national policies not to fail, we will continue to find that failure is rampant as is evident in many areas of South African wealth-producing and maintaining economic activity today.

This worldview leads me to the conclusions presented above – as a nation we are going in the wrong direction – we are doing things that are destroying the sustainability of wealth creation wholesale, instead of doing all that is required to preserve and grow our capacity to create wealth.

As a nation, we are not talking about failure and how to prevent it, and so it is rampant, whether in the form of a blowout after hitting a pothole, a rundown hospital with doubtful hygiene, children who leave school ill equipped to compete on the global playing field or electrical transformers silently decaying as a consequence of an invisible lack of maintenance. Just below the surface of our apparent prosperity lies a mountain of technical neglect that is destined to dramatically damage our economy in the near future.

I am passionate about success through implementing exceptionally high-value strategic concepts cost-effectively and timeously to achieve success by preventing failure. This is missing from the current South African economic and technology arena.



What is strategy? Strategy is the essence of why an organisation (or nation) exists and how it thrives – the right things as determined by the customers (or voters). Tactics is doing things right.

Our focus should be on determining the right things to do, using technology and methodology to support exceptionally high-value outcomes and then doing them right. We must prevent failure at all costs – failure is always more costly than doing it right first time, provided that there is a valid and valuable value proposition to start with. Spending millions on number plates with microchips consumes value.

If we do the right things well, the organisation or nation will thrive, if we do them not so well we will survive, but if we do the wrong things, the organisation will die and it is only a matter of how quickly. If we do the wrong things well, our organisation or nation will die fast, or else it will die slowly.

South Africa is approaching a tipping point where our failure to maintain core infrastructure and invest in core technologies and methodologies is almost certainly going to slip into the die-fast quadrant – we are getting very good at spending money in ways that do not create sustainable value, and even better at driving out experienced people and making those who remain feel unwelcome.

The implementation of strategy has a time dimension. A strategic plan is not a forecast or a goal, it is a trajectory of change, the path to success or failure. It always follows an exponential curve; this is directly comparable to the trajectory of change of direction of a motor vehicle, aircraft, ship, etc. It starts out tangential to the current direction and slowly changes direction IF the hands on the steering wheel are constant. Inconsistent steering leading to constant changes in direction will prevent change from occurring, and change that takes place too rapidly will become unstable. The car will roll, the ship capsize or the aeroplane stall.

South Africa is in a situation where it is seeking to change too much too fast and instability is now rapidly approaching. Instability in policy in various areas is also crippling the capacity to plan effectively and to execute plans that deliver lasting sustainable value and wealth creation.

In my journey of discovery into the factors that cause failure in information technology investment, concentrating particularly on the implementation of large business information systems (enterprise resource planning –ERP – systems), I have come to understand the critical factors.

More recently I have come to understand that the same factors cause failure of all technology investments, including electricity supply failure, failure of road maintenance, etc. and that these factors are in fact an indication of failure in strategic capability – the ability to visualise a future state and achieve it.


These factors are (percentages indicate relative contribution to failed projects):

  1. Technology mythology (30%). We do not need to resurface the roads, they will just keep working; we can set any policy we like and it will work, etc. There is lack of understanding, inadequate knowledge and experience, etc.


  1. Lack of executive custody and inappropriate policies (20%). “This is MY project and I accept full responsibility for the outcome” = “I have abolished the death penalty and you can hold me accountable if your loved one is murdered.”


  1. Lack of strategic alignment (15%). This means lack of a clear definition of the essence of why the organisation exists and how it thrives.


  1. Lack of an engineering approach (12%). This means lack of a systematic, thorough approach designed to prevent failure and thereby achieve success.


  1. Poor information management (10%). “We do not really know how to measure the results of what we are doing and even if we have the measurements, we do not know what to do with them.”


  1. People/soft issues (8%). Here we are dealing with human adaptability versus wisdom and competence, which equates to the synthesis between relevant knowledge and relevant experience. Each person is a complex composite of knowledge and experience.

There is an exponential trajectory of value-creating knowledge and experience. It takes about 40 to 50 years from birth to form an engineer or other high-level professional who can conceptualise and execute projects that create high-value sustainable wealth and even then very few are able to do this. It will take more than 80 years of appropriate activity to achieve demographic parity with regard to high-level engineers, medical specialists, educators, etc. in this country IF we plan and execute to prevent failure. This is not happening; we are driving out the very people who are the only ones who know how to do this.

There are three worldviews according to Marco Blankenburgh:

i.        Guilt and innocence – the North American and European culture

ii.            Honour and shame – Asia, the Middle East, some of South America

iii.           Power and fear – some of Africa, Asia, some of South America

Understanding the differences and tensions between these worldviews is vital to understanding South African politics and thereby to understanding how to prevent failure within the South African context.


  1. Technology and methodology issues (5%). Outcomes-based education (OBE) is a technology or methodology. It has failed to deliver because of the huge human-change impact associated with transforming an entire education system. It will probably take another 20 to 50 years for outcomes-based education to deliver on expectations, simply because of the magnitude of the human-change impact.

However, the worst thing South Africa could do now would be to scrap outcomes-based education and start another social experiment. We are committed to OBE, now we must MAKE IT WORK!


In order to achieve success we must first prevent failure, then we must manage towards success. The critical factors for success are:

  1. Executive custody and policy (25%). Leaders at all levels MUST be held accountable. If the leaders of major US banks had faced 20 years on a chain gang for their actions, they would have conducted themselves differently.


  1. Strategic architecture (18%). There must be a clear description of the desired future state of the organisation that is practical and achievable and is designed not to fail.


  1. Strategic alignment (16%). A clear and detailed specification of the journey is needed.


  1. Business integration and optimisation (14%). This is the aspect of how human beings integrate with the technology and methodology to create sustainable value, i.e. the management of the change process.


  1. Classic project management (12%)


  1. Information management (10%)


  1. Technology/methodology (5%). The technology or methodology is almost irrelevant until all the other issues have been dealt with. Yes, there must be reliable technology or methodology, but that in and of itself does not create value. People using technology create value.

When one reaches a point where technology is starting to become a visible issue, such as potholes in roads, power supply failures and other technical manifestations of problems, then it is time to realise that the first six factors are NOT being adequately addressed.

The ‘load shedding’ of 2007–2008 was first and foremost a failure of executive custody and no national executive even offered to resign as a consequence of inappropriate policy decisions. The blackouts were also a failure in terms of strategic architecture, failure to have a clear view of the future state of the country and also a failure of strategic alignment: there was no clear plan of the journey towards the future state.

On the basis of this analysis, the fact that technology and methodology failure has reached epidemic proportions in every sector of the South African economy indicates that dramatic collapse is imminent.

Drastic measures are needed to alert government and business to these harsh realities and to mobilise initiatives which need to be every bit as bold as those that tore down the walls of apartheid in the years preceding the elections in 1994.



The application of these principles within a context that places appropriately high value on knowledge and experience, irrespective of skin colour, is vital if South Africa is to avoid slipping catastrophically into the abyss of technology and methodology failure that looms large before us.

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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.

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.

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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