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Strategically Enriching your ERP and other Business Information Systems

A detailed discussion of advanced methods of developing content for master data tables and validation lists including the General Ledger Chart of Accounts, Item Type, Product Group and other classification lists that unlock the full potential of business information system software

To the best of my knowledge these methods are well ahead of any other thinking

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Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems: Introduction

Links to previous articles at the end of this article

This article introduces critical principles that every executive and manager should know in order to be able to derive full value from their business information systems investments.  These principles apply to your ERP and other financial systems, your business intelligence systems and your general operational software systems.

These principles, correctly applied, will enable most organizations to substantially improve the strategic and operational decision support information yield of their business information systems facilitating better decision making and more effective and more profitable enterprise operation.

They are equally applicable to non-profit and governmental organizations.

This article discusses actions you can take immediately and other actions that will require careful planning and whose implementation will take some time.  It headlines a number of typical problem areas and steps to correct them.  Further articles are planned that will define the fundamental principles that underpin the application of these recommendations and provide recommendations with regard to implementation.

Factors which will indicate whether it is worthwhile to read this article include:

Ten steps you can take to strategically enrich your business information systems

These notes apply to differing degrees to every module of every business information system from every software vendor on the planet.  They do not relate to technology, they relate to how information is organized to make maximum sense to human beings and in order to facilitate maximum ease of electronic processing.

They relate to principles that are well understood in certain quarters but hardly understood, or if understood, imprecisely applied in the majority of business information system installations.  These factors are the most significant factors behind Gartner's finding that "most organizations are not making better decisions now than they did five years ago".

These suggestions apply whether we are speaking of financial transactions or product records, whether we are dealing with the General Ledger Chart of Accounts, the Product Class, the Item Master, the Materials Group, Personnel Class or any other database table large or small in any system.

I will primarily use examples from the Chart of Accounts as this is more universally applicable than any other information list and any other Master Data.

Many technologists will look at what is presented here and tell you "but FRED (the name of your system), is so powerful it can handle this!"  Do not listen to them, this is not about technology it is about organizing information in meaningful ways that accurately model the real world so that the full potential of the technology can be unlocked and the data is easily and quickly interpreted by managers and executives.

If you follow the steps set out below and systematically and progressively apply them to your systems you will find in a few years' time that you are getting much more information faster and easier and that your business is running smoother and better.  You may even find that some of your mid-level administrative personnel are much more gainfully employed or that somehow the headcount has reduced without you really planning it.

The principal requirements of executives

In considering what follows I suggest that the principal requirements of executives for any business information system include:

  •  The answers to questions I have not yet thought to ask;
  •  Enable me to run the business MY way;
  •  Accurately model every aspect of my business;
  •  Totally integrated solution;
  •  Entirely reliable and dependable;
  •  Fundamentally support the essence of the business and how it thrives (strategy);
  •  Fully support my day to day operational functions

What is presented here is designed to assist you to reach the above goals.

All that follows relates to the classification lists, attribute lists, Chart of Accounts and other classification and grouping lists that exist in all software to varying degrees.  These are the classifications that are used to order, group and analyze data.  If they are well structured, well designed and well maintained the software is a pleasure to use, if not ...!

I stress that this information is relevant at the executive and senior manager level -- once you understand the real issues then you can manage the problems referred to above out of your systems.

1. Ambiguous item names

Account or item names are ambiguous resulting in different personnel posting differently e.g. "Smelting and refining" -- Asset or Expense?  Clean up the lists and make names unambiguous "Smelting and refining operating expenses".

2. "Clumping" of transactions

A single item or account covers substantial numbers of diverse transactions monthly e.g. the "Smelting and refining operating expenses" example above is a £100 million asset with hundreds if not thousands of expense transactions monthly.  Break this down into five to ten major categories and, in this particular case, break each of those down into between five and ten categories.  Assemble this into a very carefully designed hierarchical list (taxonomy), code it using structured codes and immediately you will be able to analyze your expenses much more exactly.

The level of detail should model the real world at the finest level of detail that you will ever ask questions on.  The computer can only drill down automatically to the finest level of detail that you capture and maintain and it can only group automatically to the extent that there is logic in your code scheme.  Well-designed lists and codes = easy to post accurately, easy to analyze, electronic drill down and summarization.  The opposite = lots of manual work in Excel or complex reports or both.

Consider the following real world example:

Typical Credit Note Reason Codes


They look reasonable ... don't they?

Versus Strategically and Systematically Designed Reason Codes

With the first list you will struggle to answer most management questions, with the second you will answer almost any conceivable management question -- same software, same business, different classification data.

3. Cannot get answers to simple questions easily

The example above gives you the answer.  Survey your staff, find out where they are struggling to get answers, examine the classification lists, make changes in line with the example above.  I intend to give more guidance on how to do this in subsequent articles.

4. The information you need is not there

You are asking questions that are important, for example with regard to market trends, and you cannot get the answers without putting a fairly senior person onto spending days with Excel and direct research to arrive at an answer that no-one has confidence in.

Add the relevant characteristics to the master data e.g. buying patterns for golf clubs are influenced by the sound they make relative to the sound of the clubs used by the top players on the circuit.  Fashions change and it is desirable to monitor trends.  Add "Golf Club Sound" as an attribute on your Product Master record -- an hour or two to add the attribute to the database, some days to classify all the products and immediately you have real time tracking of trends for ever at almost no extra cost.  Just make sure you do the job properly first time -- the Engineering Approach!

You can quickly and easily add any number of attribute lists to your master files in this way and with a bit of effort you can classify all your products and capture the extra data.  This applies to personnel data, to production data, to equipment spares, you name it you can add attributes and it costs almost nothing to do this relative to what you have spent in total on your systems thus far.  And the return on investment is very substantial!

Vital to do this to a high standard or rigour and precision in order to experience the full return.

The key question to executives and senior managers should be "what are ALL the possible attributes that you can possibly think of to describe a ... (e.g. golf club)" -- brainstorm, classify and, if in doubt, add it anyway.

5. Duplicate items

Quite frequently different departments define their own sets of classification codes to suit their purposes.  For example I once found an Item Master where exactly the same earth moving machine tyre occurred in three different places.

Evaluate the logic of the list, select a single instance of the item and close the others down.  If you keep getting incomplete reports or reports from different departments do not agree this is frequently the answer.

6. Lots of spreadsheets with manual manipulation

You have a significant number of mid-level and even senior staff with spreadsheets producing the monthly Board Pack and other management reports.  When you question the numbers the query has to cascade down through the ranks until the operator at the bottom extracts required data and the hierarchy of managers and accountants process the data back up through their spreadsheets.  Expensive, frustrating and a total waste of time.

Look at the data that is giving the problems and develop overarching logical code schemes from first principles that accurately model the real world.  Introduce these into the Transform layer of a new instance of your data warehouse and transform the data into logically structured hierarchical classifications that you can roll up electronically.  A significant project but will give substantial benefits and probably reduce administrative costs.  I plan to discuss how to do this in more detail in future articles.

7. Different departments have different definitions

I once came across a large multi-national organization where operations, finance and human resources had three different systems -- SAP in the finance domain, another instance of SAP in the human resource domain and a completely different operational system used by those who actually produced the output of the business.  The employee classification and grouping in the three systems did not agree at all to the extent that even the most elementary employee category related analysis was to all intents and purposes impossible.  It is vital to have a single harmonized standard across the enterprise, this standard needs to be driven from the office of the Chief Executive as the custodian of the integrated view of the business and must be extremely well engineered to the highest standards of what I am advocating here.  Once in place huge benefits will result.

8. Cannot correlate measures of customer satisfaction with the hard data

Soft measures like customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, etc are seldom correlated with actual production and sales data for all of the reasons given above and others.

Modify your customer satisfaction instrument (questionnaire post card, etc) so that it is issued in such a way that it has a unique bar code or other identifying code discreetly printed or in some other way linked back to the specific transaction associated with the issue of the questionnaire.  Scan the results back into your system and use the unique code to join the customer satisfaction data with your operational data.  You will immediately be able to monitor performance of a wide range of matters electronically in ways you previously might only have dreamed of.

9. Your major lists are badly structured and a nightmare to navigate

Point 6 above will start pointing you in this direction.  Critically examine your Item Class, Product Class, Material Group, Employee Group, Chart of Accounts and other major lists in the light of what you read here and what I plan to share with you in the months ahead.  My experience tells me that you will almost certainly discover that they are extremely badly organized with little or no logic, innumerable haphazard groupings, if there are any groupings at all.

If you dig further you may well find that it takes ages for new staff to learn how to post accurately, that new staff may even give up and leave, that posting errors are prevalent, that supervisors and even managers expend significant time working around the badly ordered data, that no one actually trusts the data and that the people who get the job done rely on their own pieces of software and spreadsheets outside of your core systems.

The extract from a Chart of Accounts shown here is an example of an extremely badly designed Chart of Accounts, so much so that the client was running their business almost entirely with Excel.

Interestingly the software vendor told me that his software, call it FRED, "is so powerful it can handle this data".  The client failed to take my advice and is now in Business Rescue.

The answer is not to buy new software, it is to build new classification lists -- by doing this you will dramatically raise the quality of management information and realize the true value of your systems.   This is a classic example of the underlying fundamental behind "most organizations are not making better decisions now than they did five years ago."

10. Allocation of overheads to production business units is approximate and highly manual and financial reporting generally is cumbersome

Finally you may find that the allocation of overheads is a source of contention and uncertainty.  You may find that your managers are managing off Excel spreadsheets with little or no regard to the financial system.  In extreme cases you may find that from an operational point of view only the Accounts Department and the Auditors really make use of the Financial Suite.  You may also find that the audit costs much more than you would like it to and takes much longer than you think it should.  Look no further than a badly designed Chart of Accounts that does not accurately model the real world with numerous management journals that have no place in the core financial records.

A Chart of Accounts should accurately model the business in a sophisticated compound code scheme that incorporates every element of the business in distinct code segments comprising Divisions, Locations, Functions and Accounts.  These are fundamental logical entities with information management rules as hard as concrete that must be rigorously and precisely defined in highly structured hierarchies and coded to engineering standards of precision.  I use custom developed software to ensure the consistency of the code scheme when I build such Charts of Accounts.  Be aware that people will tell you that their Chart of Accounts complies with what I have just said.  In my experience they almost never approximate the level of engineering rigour that I regard as non-negotiable.

This model then forms the basis of how the entire business is represented to the diverse computer systems that form the administrative backbone of every organization.  Application of this approach can take place in the Transformation layer into the Data Warehouse and, in time, the operational Financial Suite can be reimplemented.

To follow

I aim to follow this article with further articles discussing in detail the principles to be applied in this field of Strategic Information Architecture.

I also aim to provide guidance on the approach to be used in implementing these recommendations.


If you recognize that there is NOTHING more important than the configuration data that we have been talking about and that, correctly addressed, remediation of all the above items can make a huge difference.  And your recognize that this should be undertaken to high standards of precision, as you would in any engineering endeavor, you will open the door to add very substantial value to your organization and unlock huge value from your existing business information investment. 

A hundred fold increase in information value is entirely achievable and, coupled to this, greatly improved management efficiency and business competitiveness leading to increase profitability and growth.

I offer advisory services with regard to the application of these principles and would be delighted to discuss how I might be of assistance.  I also offer a light touch diagnostic service to evaluate the state of your information tables and advise how to remediate them.

Yours faithfully

Dr James Robertson PrEng

Previous articles:

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems: Part 2: Principles of Data Engineering

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems: Part 2: Principles of Data Engineering

Links to previous articles at the end of this article

In the previous article I outlined the extent of the problem associated with poor information content and offered a number of simple examples that pointed to measures you could take immediately.

These issues hinder executives and managers from obtaining reliable answers to their questions when they need them, generate substantial manpower overheads and generally impede the strategic essence and therefore competitiveness and profitability of the business.

I also touched on some more complex problems that would take longer to address but which would produce substantial lasting value IF undertaken correctly.  If you have not yet read the previous article it is available on my website.

Today's article discusses some principles associated with this field that I call "Data Engineering" or "Strategic Information Architecture".

In reading this article you may think that you have a full understanding of what I am writing about.  You might even think that you have what I am referring to.  Please consider the possibility that I am describing a level of excellence with regard to precision and method that goes well beyond what almost every organization on the planet achieves in their business information systems.  Please also consider the possibility that IF you can really get a handle on what I am writing about you will add considerable value to your organization.


Following are some principles that apply to this field:

1. Strategic

Determine the strategic essence of the business. 

Remember, when you engage with a document or a list most people read in detail at the start and skim progressively as they run out of time.

In building the hierarchies of your lists place the most fundamentally strategic categories at the top of the list, the things that matter most.  A powerful way of getting the entire organization to focus on the strategic essence of the business, even when processing mundane transactions.

This also ensures that, at the executive level, when you skim the lists and resulting reports the information that is most important to you is at the top of the list, where you first look.

2. Engineered

A high level of rigour and precision, finely granular, down to the "last nut and bolt".

Carefully thought out.

Facilitated by a person with considerable information classification and cataloguing experience who demonstrates intuitive understanding of your organization and the subject matter being modelled.

Put considerable time and effort into the design -- a well thought out design can last for ten to twenty years if it is based on the essential elements of the business, see video on my website.

There is a huge spectrum of quality in this field, this is NOT the place to start experimenting.  One can do material damage with a weak design and deliver huge value with a strong design.

3. Precision

Attention to detail, careful wording, logical grouping, accuracy of hierarchy and coding, respects and works with strategic essence and cognitive span.

The opposite of "sloppy" which applies to just about every configuration I have ever seen.

4. Taxonomy -- hierarchy

Hierarchy as in:

        Domestic Short Hair

A logically structured semantic (word) hierarchy that accurately reflects the real world.

For a practical example click here

5. Conventions

I apply a diversity of conventions in building these lists.  The indents above coupled with capital letters for heading level items and proper case for posting level items makes the lists easy to scan and interpret.

Where the software permits, the indents should be mirrored in the code scheme with trailing periods or, as a compromise, zeroes, making the code easier to scan and analyze.

6. Structured codes

People only understand meaningful text, computers only understand binary digital patterns.  The hierarchy is for the people and the code scheme is for the computer to manipulate.  The code must mirror the hierarchy, I use trailing periods "." wherever possible.

One digit in the code for every level of hierarchy.

Depending on the list -- mnemonic alpha codes where these make sense or numeric where mnemonic is impractical or hybrid alpha-numeric codes.

7. Cognitive span

The average human being can almost instantly grasp the content of a list of seven plus or minus two items.  A person with a limited education will typically grasp no more than five items, someone with considerable education and intellect may be able to grasp a list of nine or at most ten items.  Seven is the optimum.

Every hierarchy should be structured with between five and nine items at every level of the list with ten or more items accepted only in extreme circumstances.  If necessary restructure the hierarchy in order to comply with this rule.

Respecting cognitive span makes it easy to scan large volumes of data and easy to navigate -- vital for effective decision support.

Provided the levels are well thought out and correlate closely with the strategic essence the list will be easy and effective to use, to post to and to roll up from a reporting perspective.

At all times the strategic essence is the highest priority to focus on.

8. Answers to questions not previously asked

Always remember that you do NOT know the questions that will be asked tomorrow, let alone the questions that will be asked in five or ten years' time.

The defining complexity is the real world.  Any form of "clumping" -- lumping items together because it is too much trouble to think things through to the full level of detail simply guarantees work for mid-level staff with Excel in perpetuity.  The detail is always there at the time of posting, yes it may take a bit more time to train operational staff, but they actually work with the detail anyway so it is really NOT that much of an issue provided the hierarchy is well thought out and makes sense.  Posting actually becomes faster!

Once you have the transactions analyzed accurately and in detail then you can ask new questions with confidence that you will find the answers.

9. Model the REAL world

In all of this it is vital to accurately model the real world.

The real world IS complex and detailed.  Accurately reflect complexity in your hierarchies and your code schemes and the software will be easy to use and the databases will become easy to query.  Complex reports will become straightforward.

10. Electronic drill down all the way from the Board summary

A fundamental principle relating to this approach is to be able to roll up the operational data to a single dashboard on the screen of the Executive Boardroom with drill down all the way to the finest detail electronically with a series of intuitive mouse clicks.

With high level strategic executive input and associated facilitation it is possible to configure your systems so that this becomes achievable on a consistent basis -- provided you make the data engineering investment required.

11. Clever software that leverages the clever data

Once you have done the above it is then possible to easily conceptualize and build pieces of software that are finely tuned to your business in ways that can provide dramatic competitive advantage and greatly improved profitability refer to the case study on my website.

Application of these principles will give rise to a high value solution that will last for years.  This will be coupled to improved operational and strategic efficiency and leveraged growth.  This growth will be achieved with the current staff complement or staff complement will be reduced if your organization remains at current size of operation.  These principles will also greatly extend the life of your existing systems.

To follow

I aim to follow this article with further articles discussing in detail the implementation of this approach.


There is NOTHING more important in your systems than the configuration and master data that we have been talking about and, correctly addressed, remediation of these items can make a significant difference.  This should be undertaken to high standards of precision, as you would undertake in any other form of engineering endeavor.  This will open the door to add very substantial value to your organization and unlock significant value from your existing business information investment. 

A hundred fold increase in information value is entirely achievable and, coupled to this, greatly improved management efficiency and business competitiveness, leading to increased profitability and growth.

I offer advisory services with regard to the application of these principles and would be delighted to discuss how I might be of assistance.  I also offer a light touch diagnostic service to evaluate the state of your information tables and advise how to remediate them.

If you have found value in this article please forward to colleagues and associates.

Yours faithfully,


Dr James Robertson PrEng

James A Robertson and Associates Limited
Assisting clients to thrive through effective and efficient application of Business Information Systems

Seeking to serve the Almighty Creator in all things

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems: Part 3: Steps in applying these recommendations

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems: Part 3: Steps in applying these recommendations

Links to previous articles at the end of this article

In the first article in this series  I outlined the extent of the problems associated with poor information content and offered a number of simple examples that pointed to measures you could take immediately.

In the second article I outlined some important principles which, if effectively applied, will make a considerable difference to the quality of information in most organizations.  This will include being able to get answers to far more management questions directly from your operational systems and the ability to undertake more effective executive level analysis with considerably less manual effort in spreadsheets.  You should also expect general improvements in system operating efficiency at the business level including the possibility of reskilling staff for higher value roles or reducing headcount with regard to low level tasks and reducing dependence on external consultants.

This article discusses steps in applying the recommendations made in the first two articles.

1. Strategic Discovery

The first stage of any project to raise standards with regard to the quality of corporate information should always be to accurately define the Strategic Essence of the organization.  That is to define the Essence of why the organization exists and how it thrives.  See the previous articles on Strategic Essence for a discussion of the principles that apply.  See the article on -- "Determining Strategic Essence"  for an easy to apply approach to defining the strategic essence.

Once this is understood by the people involved in the project, (both those facilitating the development of the content and those in the organization who are being consulted), they will be able to focus on what really matters.  Understanding the strategic essence enables the facilitator to focus the attention of both themselves and the group on those areas of information delivery that will yield the highest return on investment and make the biggest difference.

2. Investigation

Then, depending on the scale of what you are currently envisioning, undertake an investigation which might comprise the following:

  • Critical concerns process with executives in a group, or in one-on-one interviews, to determine all information areas of concern;
  • Survey staff with regard to information issues at all levels.  The questionnaire might start with "please list all areas of the organization in which you are experiencing difficulty obtaining the information you need to carry out your work effectively" or words to that effect;
  • Survey of all software applications, spreadsheets and manual calculations to evaluate what information is being added to the data from outside the main operational systems;
  • Inspect all key master files for gaps in information recorded in those files.  Look particularly at gaps with regard to structured validated lists relating to master data such as products, customers, suppliers, etc;
  • Document all potential gaps that have been identified, then review and refine these with executives and managers.

3. Plan

Develop an overall plan for enriching your systems taking account of the scale and complexity of measures required to address the different points raised -- do this within a well-structured classification of issues in terms of scale, benefits, etc.

4. Awareness with regard to Precision

Start developing awareness in all staff with regard to Data Precision with particular emphasis on data entry -- the enrichment will ONLY be as good as the quality of the data capture skills of the operators -- greater precision is required for automated reporting at the strategic executive level.

5. Identify the small things that will make the greatest difference

Identify those small things that will make the biggest difference, for example the Credit Note Reason Codes or Golf Club sound discussed in the first article in this thread.

Some of these items can be fully defined in a short session with key executives, managers and operational personnel, then refined, circulated for comment and review, added as user defined fields and populated in a very short space of time with significant beneficial impact.  Others will take more time and effort.

Always start with a -- clean sheet of paper (empty spreadsheet) together with a facilitator with well-developed classification skills working with executives and senior managers.

6. Streamline operations

Once you have added the key attributes to your master files and accurately populated them you will start to find that some analysis that is presently being undertaken in spreadsheets can be moved into your formal information systems environment.  It will then be possible to generate this analysis directly off your transaction data or in your data warehouse.

You will also start to see opportunities to undertake analyses that previously seemed impractical in terms of complexity.  You may also identify ways in which small pieces of "strategically clever" software can make use of this new data to build more intelligence into your operations going forward.

You may be able to offer new services, deliver existing products or services faster and more intelligently, generate new management capability -- there are all sorts of opportunities that arise once one has this type of quality thrive (doing the right things well) attribute data.  See the case study on my website .

7. Master Classification Lists

The next step up from this is to look at your major classification lists:

  • Item class / item group / product class / product group / ...;
  • Customer class /  customer group / ...;
  • Personnel class / personnel category / personnel group / ...;
  • The General Ledger Master Chart of Accounts frequently represents a major opportunity;
  • Whatever other major classifications your main business systems use.

In your initial investigation assess the extent to which there is intelligent use being made of the existing list -- I have encountered major multi-national organizations, including a major London based multi-national, where these lists are so badly designed that almost nothing of value is being undertaken using them.

In other cases organizations are using the data but it is so badly designed that there is a mass of add-on spreadsheets and custom software trying to unscramble the data.

In such cases you might directly implement the new lists in the operational software but I generally advise that you first set up your new table in the data warehouse, map the existing classification onto the new classification and analyze your existing data with the new classification.  On an 80:20 basis this will require 20% of the disruption that will be required to replace the list in your operational software and give you 80% of the benefit.  You can cascade the new list into your operational software later, once you have built up a body of experience with the new list in the data warehouse.

The content of these lists should be designed using all the principles set out in the previous articles in this thread.

The following is an example of the design of a taxonomy for major components of mining equipment for a plant maintenance application.  Note that the taxonomy is filtered to permit summarization based on the trailing periods "." in the code.

A highly structured taxonomy and corresponding code scheme, such as presented here, enables all sorts of structured analysis of the data.  These same principles can be applied to classifying any data set.

8. Comprehensive Cubic Business Model

One of the major challenges faced by most businesses is the accurate attribution / allocation of costs and revenue to different operational centers in such a way that there is a high level of ownership of all performance metrics including costs.  This should be accomplished in such a way that the consolidation of financial and other performance data can take place electronically in the reports off the primary operational software systems and General Ledger with elaboration in the data warehouse.

Central to this is a coding scheme that I refer to as "The Cubic Business Model ".  This is a highly structured method of coding the Full Chart of Accounts and, from that, other systems.  This is done in order to accurately model the full complexity of the business.  This code scheme is coupled to a highly structured Master Chart of Accounts designed using the principles outlined previously.  This approach is the culmination of over 1,000 hours of Research and Development and is coupled with custom software to fully implement.

An example of such a coding model is presented below:

9. Capture soft issue measurements

An additional refinement is to add soft issue measurements to your data, for example based on market Critical Success Factors(McDonald ) , worker satisfaction surveys, etc.  Ideally the survey should have around seven carefully determined Critical Factors (not a quick and dirty brainstorm list).  Then survey your customers as appropriate with postcards, on-line forms, whatever suites your organization and your customers.  If possible do this in such a way that the survey form / card / on-line form can be linked to a particular transaction, for example through bar codes on postcards handed out at paypoints.  Provide some incentive for people to respond and then capture the data in such a way that you can link it to your transactional data in your data warehouse and analyze it.


I hope that this article has given you new insights into how you can gain considerable additional value from your existing information systems.

I offer advisory services with regard to the application of these principles and would be delighted to discuss how I might be of assistance.  Please see the special offer at the end of this email or reply to this email with your contact details and I will connect with you to discuss how I can be of assistance.

Yours faithfully,


Dr James Robertson PrEng

James A Robertson and Associates Limited
Assisting clients to thrive through effective and efficient application of Business Information Systems

Mobile: +44 (0) 776-862-2875
Landline: +44 (0) 207-059-0007


Articles published so far in the article series to which this email refers:

Strategic Essence -- The Missing Link in Business Information Systems

A discussion of how strategic essence should inform all business improvement projects and particularly business information system projects.  This thread is intended to discuss the analysis of strategy, the planning of strategy and feeding strategy through into business system specifications and the management of projects.  Articles to date include:

1: Strategy Defined
2: Differentiation
3: The Essence IS Different
4: Essence is the Point of Departure
Determining Strategic Essence

The Real Issues in Business Information Systems

A discussion as to why business information system (and other business improvement projects) fail to deliver on expectations or fail outright, together with discussion of the critical factors that must be taken into account in order to achieve successful outcomes.  This thread is intended to progressively discuss more hands-on specifics of achieving high value outcomes and builds on the Strategic Essence series.  Articles to date include:

1: Introduction
2: Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody
3: Lack of Strategic Alignment and Lack of Precision Configuration

Strategically Enriching your Business Information Systems

Discussion of practical specific measures that can be taken in order to greatly improve the information yield of business information systems at both the operational and executive strategic level.  A number of simple steps that can be taken immediately and more complex measures that can be taken over time.  This thread is intended to discuss increasing business system and data warehouse value yield using techniques that lead to significantly improved business intelligence capability, including support for the ability to " obtain answers to questions we had not previously thought to ask".  This builds on the content in the Strategic Essence and Real Issues threads.  Articles to date include:

1: Introduction
2: Principles of Data Engineering

Robust Business Information Systems Procurement

In order to fully apply the methods and principles discussed in the threads above with regard to new systems it is vital that a robust and effective approach to procurement is applied.  This requires a tough procurement approach directed at achieving a tough business outcomes orientated project that ensures a high value outcome.  This thread is intended to discuss the components of such a procurement approach, including the individual documents and processes that make up the approach.  Thereafter the components will be discussed in more detail.  Articles to date include:

1: Introduction
2: Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc


To inquire about purchasing any of the above services simply click on the link below each item, enter your details in the resulting email and send it to me.  If for some reason the email does not open please just hit reply to this email and enter your contact details.  I will revert to you in the manner you request to answer your questions and make arrangements.

Should you require further information please email me and I will be delighted to connect by email, phone or Skype to answer all your questions.

I look forward to being of service to you.

Yours faithfully,

James Robertson

Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Cnf 078 The New South Africa -- Why Engineering Fails

Technology failures are the consequence of human error or negligence, the presentation discusses the fundamental reasons why technology projects fail in the context of the requirements of engineering in the New South Africa
SNw 045 Strategic Essence: The Missing Link: Part 3 -- The Essence IS Different

The strategic essence of the organization IS different, it is unusual, the competitors have different strategic essence or manage it differently, IF the organization is of any size and has been moderately successful then there are some KEY things it is doing that are unique and different
Std 026 Old Software IS Viable

Many business information system projects are motivated on the basis that the existing systems are obsolete.  This article challenges that argument with regard to a significant number of systems and presents information that will enable executives and managers to take a pragmatic view of this debate
Cnf 063 Information Technology -- The Harshest Judge of Governance

Information Technology projects fail frequently and one of the key aspects of failure is a failure of governance with particular emphasis on executive custody, this presentation discusses the importance of executive custody and associated governance in achieving high value business information system project outcomes and also discusses a number of other related factors including strategic alignment
SNw 053 Strategic Essence: The Missing Link: Part 5 -- Discovering Strategic Essence

Overview of a simple and reliable process that you can apply to determine the strategic essence of your organization
CSt 07 Catalogue of Major Business Information System Failures

Failure of Business Information Systems, which incorporates the loose and generally inaccurate term "ERP", is at epidemic levels but many executives are NOT aware of this

This catalogue provides a LIMITED selection of examples, there are many more and many failed projects are just quietly aborted with little or NO public announcement

Many more projects deliver shockingly sub-optimal outcomes

This website presents a diversity of principles, methods and standards and supporting background information to enable you to take control of your systems

We also offer a range of executive level services to help you review your existing systems, course correct and turnaround your sub-optimal projects

Dr James A Robertson PrEng The Business Information Systems Doctor

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

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:

Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

SNw 047 Strategically Enriching your BIS: Part 2 -- Principles of Data Engineering

A discussion of the fundamental principles of data engineering which are vital to unlocking the full potential of your business information systems investment
Web 01 Simple steps to increase the strategic value from your ERP investment

Video discussing simple techniques that can be applied to drastically improve the strategic decision support information yield from your existing Business Information Systems
SNw 050 The Real Issues in BIS: Part 3 – Strategic Alignment and Precision Configuration

Strategic alignment, the alignment of system concept and solution architecture with the strategic essence of the organization, why it exists and how it thrives, such that the systems enable management and staff to do the right things well as determined by the customers of the organization together with the need for Precision Configuration the very exact development of data content to model the business, are discussed in this section
Cnf 083 Strategic Analysis and Design -- An Engineering Approach to Strategic Planning

A rigorous (engineering approach) to strategic planning using critical issues based analysis techniques and structured gap analysis techniques to develop a comprehensive and rigorous multi-year plan that is measurable and actionable and traceable back to the original analysis in order to produced high value outcomes, requires effective strategic facilitation

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Connect with 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.

Contact Us

You can contact us on

Email: James@James-A-Robertson-and-Associates.com

LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/drjamesarobertsonerpdoctor

Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/james.a.robertson.393

Mobile: +44 (0) 776-862-2875

Landline: +44 (0) 207-059-0007

Fax: +44 (0) 844 774 4580

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