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Showcase of Conference Presentations

The following presentations best represent my conference speaking experience and technique.

Each presentation is tailored to the subject matter of the conference -- all follow the same broad theme of the importance of strategy, the factors that cause failure and the critical factors for success

Most relate to the Business Information Systems / ERP / IT field although some branch out into related topics and particularly business strategy drawing on relevant parallels

As a former member of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa and former Toastmaster presentation technique, animation, etc are reasonably well developed and refined

I specialize in talks that at some level challenge the status quo and raise the bar in the subject under discussion -- I aim to get people thinking

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092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2

BPM Summit 2013

1.   Overview of the business – marketing and brand management

African Sales Company is a moderate sized family owned business that imports and distributes fragrances, perfumes and related products.  They also provide a brand management service to their suppliers and distribute fine fragrances and luxury cosmetic brands like Dior, Givenchy, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Paco Rabanne, Carolina Herrera, Prada, Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss and others to retail vendors like Edgars, Foschini, Truworths, Stuttafords, Woolworths, Dis-Chem and others.  ASCO does this with prescribed service levels aiming at 98% fill rates and three day delivery times from receipt of EDI orders to goods being available at retail points.



In order to understand the business it is vital to understand the close juxtaposition of brand management and distribution.


2.   The challenge – overview of the situation before the investment

The challenge that gave rise to this project was an old customized software suite that had grown with the business on a tight budget.  The accounting with regard to brand related costs was handled by more than 20,000 accounts in the General Ledger.  Other aspects of Brand Management were manual.  Tracking costs and reporting on many brands to multiple Suppliers was a major challenge.


3.   The opportunity – implementing a new ERP and Warehouse System taking a strategic view

A point was reached where a new system was required and an integrated suite of ERP and Warehouse Management System was purchased.  Initially a comprehensive workflow (process) analysis was undertaken but the project stalled.  The project was then restarted with a strong strategic and precision configuration focus with tight project management and successfully brought to completion – the process maps were left on the shelf.

During the project it was identified that areas of the business that would benefit from a new approach – particularly relating to brand management expense allocation and a custom solution was conceptualized, designed, built and implemented in order to maximize the effectiveness of brand management.


4.   The solution – highly structured Product Class, integration with Projects Module, custom software

The total strategic solution comprised:

a. The Brand Hierarchy – a highly structured Product Classification of all products linking from Suppliers down to individual Brand Lines – this created a high value logical information platform that underpins every aspect of brand and business management;

b. A selection of fundamental highly structured custom product attributes that have opened up diverse strategic intelligence and analytical opportunities;

c. Intelligent Product Master maintenance that draws on the intelligence in the Brand Hierarchy and attribute lists to ensure that default values are cascaded down the hierarchy so that new product take-on generates high quality intelligent data that impacts every aspect of system operation and management information;

d. Rule based automated creation of Marketing projects linked directly to the brand hierarchy coupled to a highly structured cost taxonomy provided a comprehensive framework for Brand Management information.  This custom functionality, based on knowledge of the codes, opens the door for convenient and powerful marketing planning, cost analysis and reporting;

e. All of these components taken together have created a holistic and integrated intelligent information platform that has resulted in the business now having a much stronger analytical focus, capability and culture.


5.   The outcome – greatly improved brand management and other capabilities supporting profitable growth and competitiveness

Taken together this capability improved expense allocation accuracy, allowed detailed ROI analyses, increased competitiveness through informed allocation of resources, facilitated growth and stimulated profitability in significant measure through the investment in strategic precision configuration and associated custom development.  This capability assisted ASCO to grow significantly, take on new accounts and reach a point where a new distribution centre became a business necessity such that a new warehouse is currently in the design phase.

Associated with this capability has been the development of a highly analytical culture which has positioned ASCO as an industry leader in the management of information and therefore Brand Management in its specialized category.

It should be noted that as a consequence of the development of these capabilities there have been further changes to practices and ways of working (processes) which have flowed organically from the original analysis and decision making capabilities.


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091 - Business Process -- Over Rated and Over Stated

IT Web BPM Summit 2012 -- April 2012

Discussion of why the current focus on Business Process Mapping is seriously misplaced and is leading to major inefficiencies and negative project outcomes in the business information systems industry -- concludes that "Business Process Obsession is killing ERP"



Business Process – over rated and over stated NOT the real opportunity



Dr James Robertson PrEng




In recent years we have been barraged with talk about "business process" and business process is touted in ways that suggest that it is the most important thing in ERP implementations


Many years ago the systems we now call "ERP" were called "Management Information Systems" yet today that is not a frequently used term




Well firstly, because Management Information frequently does not happen, a survey by Gartner a few years ago suggested that "most organizations are not making better decisions than they did five years ago".  In my own experience executives are frustrated because they cannot get the management information they need from their massively costly investments in ERP, BI, etc.  Recently the CEO of a very large corporation in Johannesburg rated his executive information systems at 3 out of 10 (0 = non-existent) and told me he would rate them at 1 out of 10 if it were not for the fact that he had excellent staff who provided him with the information he needed.


Examination of his big brand ERP revealed that it was configured in such a way that electronic summarization of key measurements was technically impossible and that human intervention was unavoidable.  His dilemma is widespread and was summed up by the Financial Mail some years ago when they reported "19 out of 20 ERP implementations do NOT deliver what was promised".


Then, of course, there is the dilemma of other surveys that report high levels of satisfaction with ERP – why?


The bottom line is simple – if you put in an ERP expecting it to improve management and executive information and decision support you have almost certainly been frustrated and disappointed BUT, if  you put it in to manage workflows you may well be reasonably satisfied, even if it has cost much more than expected.


BUT there is a challenge here


Some years ago I was taken to task by a client who insisted on putting process before executive information and who insisted on speaking about "the strategic process" – when I tried to point out the points above it was to no avail.


If we take the word "process" to be synonymous with "workflow" then there is NO such thing as the "strategic process" – unless discussions and decisions are to be classed as workflow.


The REAL problem facing business today is to get value out of their massive ERP and BI investments in a way that supports high value decision making.


This is entirely achievable, a method that I term "Strategic Engineered Precision Taxonomies" (SEPT) leading to "Precision Configuration" opens the door to major overhauls of your ERP, Data Warehouse or Business Intelligence investment in order to support high value decision support information delivery.


This is by far the biggest opportunity facing business today in the information technology space and I will be talking more about this in my presentation to the BPM Summit with examples of what causes the problem and what is required to fix it.



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088 - A Strategic ERP Investment -- African Sales Company Case Study

Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa -- August 2010

A case study of an ERP system implemented with a strong strategic focus, precision configuration and custom software in order to create a significant competitive resource that resulted in significant long term business advantage


Download A Strategic ERP Investment -- African Sales Company Case Study -- Presentation in Power Point pptx format


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087 - Critical factors for strategic business improvement success

Maintenance, Engineering Services and Technology Management Conference -- 2 June 2010

A discussion of the factors that give rise to general business improvement success drawing on my experience with business information system and ERP projects


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085 - Precision configuration -- Information Technologies' orphan child

Improve IT 2010

The single biggest "hard" factor in the under performance of business information systems relates to what I call "sloppy configuration", this presentation outlines a concept that I call "precision configuration" and explains how it can make a huge difference to business information system value delivery

085 Precision Configuration IT's Orphan Child -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


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083 - Strategic Analysis and Design -- An Engineering Approach to Strategic Planning

Strategic Management Conference -- 28 September 2010

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


083 Strategic Analysis and Design -- An Engineering Approach to Strategic Planning -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download Strategic Analysis and Design -- An Engineering Approach to Strategic Planning -- pdf Slides in Adobe pdf format


080 - Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX it

Information and Communication Technology Conference February 2010


Why your ERP is NOT delivering and HOW to FIX IT

Videos and presentation below

Part 1

Discussion of basic principles including:

-- Engineers do NOT design bridges to stand up

-- Vision

-- Strategy is the essence of the business and how it thrives

-- What is NOT an engineering approach

Part 2

-- Passionate about ERP and IT success

-- Talk about failure in order to PREVENT failure

-- Importance of Taxonomies and Precision Configuration can raise the bar from traditional 10/10 to 23/10 or more

-- Strategic Customization can raise the bar to 33/10 -- drops a typical ERP implementation to 1/10 on the new scale

-- Well implemented ERP should serve for 20 years or more

-- Substandard (sloppy) configuration is a major cause of ERP investment under performance

Part 3

-- IT and ERP are NOT moving so fast you cannot keep up

-- Mundane technology used strategically can be used to create GREAT value

-- 70% of IT and ERP projects fail outright

-- 19 out of 20 ERP implementations do NOT deliver what was promised

-- The factors causing IT and ERP failure
    -- Mythology 30%;
    -- Lack of executive custody 19%;
    -- Lack of strategic architecture and strategic alignment 15%;
    -- Sloppy configuration, lack of data engineering and taxonomies 14%;
    -- Soft issues and change impacts 12%;
    -- Lack of an engineering approach and lack of precision 6%;
    -- Technology Issues 3%

Part 4

-- Chart of accounts -- spaghetti codes

-- Maintenance nightmare

-- Business at risk


-- Logical hierarchical code structures (taxonomies)

-- Examples of failed companies and lost customers

Part 5

-- When a business loses customers as a consequence of a weak ERP implementation the ERP has become more expensive than the organization can afford

-- The Critical Factors for success
    -- Executive custody 22%
    -- Effective change facilitation 20%
    -- Strategic architecture and alignment 19%
    -- Data engineering and precision configuration 17%
    -- Engineering approach 14%
    -- Business integration, training, process optimization 6%
    -- Technology 2%

-- Simulate the REAL world

-- Formal and rigorous laboratory

-- Executive custody is 50% leadership


Why your erp is not delivering and how to fix it - by dr james a robertson -- the erp doctor -- v 039 003-004

079 -- Diamonds in the dust -- Crafting your future landscape

Diamond Group Conference - May 2009

Presentation to the Diamonds in the Dust Seminar


A layman's overview of why Information Technology projects are so difficult and what is required to achieve successful results



079 Diamonds in the Dust of IT by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


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076 - The Problem of IT Mythology and Mystique - Bringing IT Audit Down to Earth

2nd Annual IT Audit Challenge Forum 2008 -- 1st to 3rd December 2008

The real issues in IT Audit, cutting through mythology and mystique to examine the factors that should really be examined in IT Audits, ranging from strategic alignment and governance through to effective IT staff alignment with the business through boots in the mud socialization 


076 The Problem of IT Mythology and Mystique - Bringing IT Audit Down to Earth -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download The Problem of IT Mythology and Mystique - Bringing IT Audit Down to Earth -- Slides in Adobe pdf format




077 - A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting

Africa Financial Controllers Conference -- 25th and 26th May 2009

Strategic change focuses on the essence of the business and how it thrives and undertakes activities directed at achieving lasting competitive advantage, an approach to budgeting is presented that seeks to bring the fundamentals of strategic analysis and design into the budgeting process 


077 A strategy focused planning system beyond traditional budgeting -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download A Strategy Focused Planning System beyond Traditional Budgeting -- Slides in Adobe pdf format




074 - A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail

Improve IT Conference -- 18 September 2008

The prevalence of IT project failure, the factors that cause failure, the Critical Factors for Success, the problem of IT people who lie, issues of integrity, morals and ethics, the need for a regulatory body and legislation 


074 A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


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Download A Moral and Ethical Dilemma -- Systems that Fail -- White Paper in Adobe pdf format




073 - Critical Factors for I.T. Success in a Declining Economy

PSASA Success Factor Conference -- October 2008

Ways of managing Information Technology to obtain longer investment life and greater benefit and return on investment from existing systems and infrastructure


073 Critical Factors for I.T. Success in a Declining Economy -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download Critical Factors for I.T. Success in a Declining Economy -- Slides in Adobe pdf format




072 - The essence of managing I.T. Projects on time that meet expectation

IT Project Management Conference -- September 2008

The management of IT projects generally focuses on the wrong factors, it is vital to focus on the Critical Factors for Success and the Factors causing Failure and manage these effectively using multi-disciplinary teams that effectively balance the tension between cost, quality and time 


072 The essence of managing I.T. Projects on time that meet expectation -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download The essence of managing I.T. Projects on time that meet expectation -- Slides in Adobe pdf format




071 - SA Engineering to Thrive SAICE Railways and Harbours

SAICE Railways and Harbours Division

The application of the principles that I have developed and successfully applied in the business information systems and IT arena to the broader technology arena in South Africa with regard to the challenges being faced in the South African economy with a view to developing an initiative to turn the economy around from a technical perspective 


071 SA Engineering to Thrive SAICE Railways and Harbours -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download SA Engineering to Thrive SAICE Railways and Harbours -- Slides in Adobe pdf format




068 - Discovery -- An Essential Element of SOA Implementation

Service Orientated Architecture Conference  -- June 2008

The importance of effective discovery and the issues that arise from inaccurate discovery including understanding the importance of communication in the first hour of engagement






As I work with clients seeking to achieve maximum value from their investment in business information systems I regularly encounter situations where considerable dedicated work has been done, yet is producing a sub-optimal or entirely inappropriate solution.  I have come to realize that the essence of discovery -- the process of understanding the business and its requirement -- is a fundamental art that is little understood and frequently incorrectly conducted -- this article discusses this aspect of achieving successful project outcomes.






As discussed in a previous newsletter Strategy is "the essence of why the organization exists and how it thrives".


The essence of why an organization exists and how it thrives (strategy) is fundamental in undertaking ANY project that is intended to add value to the organization.


If the essence of why an organization exists is NOT understood, any number of actions may be taken which will at best not add value to the organization and at worst will damage or even destroy the organization.


If a project is to create real, sustainable value the project team must understand how the organization thrives and how to support the organization to thrive.  An organization that is thriving will be delivering exceptional value to its customers and will be delivering bottom line return.


In order for a project to contribute to an organization thriving, that project must be conceptualized with a clear understanding of what is required for the organization to thrive, that is, the essence of the strategy of the organization.


Strategy, the essence of how an organization thrives, is generally defined intuitively by the people who give birth to an organization and is frequently imbibed by like minded individuals who join the organization as it grows.


Many "strategic planning" processes fail to accurately identify and document the strategy of the organization in the manner defined above and many processes undertake an intellectual process rather than unlocking the essence of the strategy which is an intuitive, cognitive understanding.


Most I.T. projects are undertaken without the strategy being explicitly or even implicitly defined and therefore frequently end up cutting across the objectives of the organization.  The worst case scenario is typified by the lead consultant on a project that was going nowhere and giving rise to great client frustration who, when asked for the essence of why the business existed and how it thrived replied "that is an unfair question".


While this may be an extreme response, it is my regular experience that consultants and implementers have NOT accurately determined the essence of the business and how the project they are engaged in is intended to help the business to thrive and as a consequence they undertake all sorts of activities which are at best NOT essential and at worst highly destructive.


When a consultant or implementer understands the essence of the business and how it thrives they are able to formulate solutions that support the business in its endeavours.


In order to do this they need to DISCOVER this information at the outset of their engagement in order to chart a course that will create real sustainable value.


In doing this they may well discover that the project in question is NOT really necessary.  70% of I.T. projects fail outright and one of the major reasons for this is that many should never have been started in the first place!


In the sections that follow I will outline some points that are vital to understanding the importance of discovery -- discovery of the business by the external service providers AND discovery of the technical / methodological approach of the service provider by the business -- both are critical.


I hope that you will find this information useful.




1. Client: "I told you!  This is ridiculous!  How can you tell me this is NOT in your quote?!"


I regularly encounter situations where the client is intensely frustrated because the consultant or implementer tables a "Variation Order" for something that the client considers fundamental.


The client holds that the item is an essential part of the business and that the implementer should have realized that the item concerned was a requirement.


The implementer, on the other hand, considers the item to be a change in scope.


Frequently the dispute relates to something that the client holds they expressly stated at the first meeting with the implementer or the principals of the implementer.  Generally these people are no longer actively involved in the project.


In other cases the client did not think to mention the item because it was so obvious to them that it did not seem necessary to mention it, let alone to state it explicitly in writing.


The bottom line is that the service provider did NOT adequately DISCOVER the business and its requirement.


Frequently this means that they did not ask the right questions of the right person at the right time AND then communicate an accurate rendition of the answers to all members of their team.


Frequently external service providers allocate executives with excellent strategic insight to the marketing phase of the project.  These people demonstrate intuitive insight into the client's business and requirement and it is on the strength of this insight that the contract is awarded.


However, in many cases, these same executives seem to miss the point that their insight is critical.  Often they seem not to realize that their more junior staff do not have the knowledge, experience and intuition to gain the insight themselves and therefore they do NOT capture this insight in formal project documentation.


In a similar manner, frequently client executives participate in the initial discussions leading to the decision to appoint a particular service provider and they, in turn, fail to document what they understand as critical.


The result is an initial "meeting of minds" at an executive level that is NOT communicated to the operational staff on either side with the result that the project team heads off on the basis of a technical understanding that is disconnected from understanding why the client organization exists and how the project is intended to support it to thrive.


Sometimes the situation is compounded by hungry service providers in an intensely competitive environment where some would argue that somewhere there are competitors who are "less ethical than we are" and thus it is "not practical" to do the job properly.  The reality is that it is ALWAYS cheaper to do the job properly first time round.


I have increasingly come to conclude that while this situation results to some degree from a lack of ethics it primarily results from a lack of appreciation for the criticality of effective discovery and the impact that such discovery has on project outcomes.  This, in turn, is a reflection of a lack of maturity of the software industry.


By lack of maturity I am NOT suggesting lack of experience, I AM suggesting a need for an approach which results in higher levels of accountability.


My frame of reference for this is the engineering related industry as a whole and the construction of architect designed buildings in particular.  In the business of architect designed buildings there are typically four distinct groups of players -- the client, the architects, the engineers and the contractors.


Generally the three external roles are played by at least three distinct organizations and, in practice, each of these three distinct functions may be performed by a number of specialist firms within each area.


This results in a large architect designed building, such as an office tower, being executed by a project team in which there are distinct roles AND distinct tensions.


a. The client concentrates on obtaining the best possible, most aesthetic and most functional building for the best price.


b. The architect concentrates on aesthetics and usability.


c. The engineer concentrates on structural safety and reliability.


d. The construction contractor focuses on getting the job done to the agreed standards at the agreed price in the agreed timeframe and relies on a very detailed estimating and costing approach, frequently arbitrated by independent third party "quantity surveyors" to ensure that they get paid for what they do in a manner that enables them to work profitably.


The business software industry at this stage lacks these distinct roles or anything approximating them and relies frequently on a single firm to perform all functions ranging from the discovery and documentation of the strategic requirement through to the execution of the project to successful business outcome.


This situation is compounded by the reality that the client is, in fact, the prime contractor on an I.T. or strategy project -- such projects are about the business changing itself -- accordingly the ownership of the change process rests with the client.


All of these factors have a significant bearing, however, in the remainder of this document I will concentrate on "discovery", the first step in the journey for each of the role players -- ensuring that all role players are on the same road headed in the same direction.




2. Service Provider: "The client keeps changing the requirement!"  They 'signed off' on this!"


The flip side of the above situation is frustration on the part of the implementer / developer / consultant because there were documents tabled and agreed to that defined the scope of the project and now, as the project proceeds, they are told that there are requirements which they consider to be "out of scope" and which the client insists they should have known.


The reality in many of these situation is that BOTH parties are, to a point, correct.  Key issues were omitted from documents because the client did not explicitly think about them, they "just know" that these things are important.


On the other hand the external service provider did NOT ask about the subject because they were NOT aware of it.  The net result is that the two parties talk about the business with drastically different understanding.


This is often compounded by either or both parties allocating staff to the overall management of the project who are not senior enough to have the full picture of what is really important.


The CEO's on both sides hold that their people are competent and that the project can be delegated and do not recognize the importance of a meeting of minds at a strategic level.


In reality the executives on both sides need to invest time in ensuring that they see the same picture of the business AND the technology -- the service provider needs to devote time to discovering and documenting the essence of the business and how the business proposes to use the investment to thrive.  In the process it needs to be sober about the capabilities of its product and services to deliver the expected "thrive" outcome.


30% of I.T. projects fail because of mythology, the tendency of human beings to ascribe superhuman or human characteristics to computer systems or to expect computer systems to do things that only human beings can do.


Part of discovery on the part of the service provider is to ensure that there REALLY is a business case for the proposed investment AND that they can clearly see how this will be achieved AND that the role of the client in achieving this outcome IS explicitly documented.


The reality is that this is seldom done and thus the changing requirement is generally a reflection of the service provider's staff better understanding the business OR the client's staff better understanding the technology and proposed solution OR both.


A vital part of this ongoing discovery process is to prototype the solution with the software as soon as possible so that the business can start to get an understanding of what the service provider THINKS they have understood.


At a more fundamental level, the absence of an understanding of the essence of the business AND what it is that the client expects the investment to do in order to assist the organization to thrive results in the service provider's personnel doing things which are entirely inappropriate and often counter productive.


This is compounded by lack of understanding on the part of the client which results in the client stipulating requirements that they think they need based on a generally incomplete understanding of the technology.  The net effect is that both parties talk past each other.




3. The tension of talking past each other


In previous newsletters I have written about techniques of strategic analysis that translate unstructured thoughts into structured lists comprising a limited number (preferably about seven) of concise headline points which are then weighted in terms of relative importance.


I have also written about the extent to which a group of people who have been in the organization for years will see the problem and the solution differently.


I find the metaphor of climbing a mountain to be useful -- the same mountain looks completely different depending on which point of the compass one approaches it from and the experience of climbing the same mountain can range from a comfortable stroll to a vertical ascent that requires special equipment and special techniques by highly trained athletes or which may require a helicopter.


This diversity of view increases dramatically when one introduces two or more teams of people who have never previously worked together developing a solution for a business that one or more of the parties have never experienced before.


In considering this statement, one of the critical things that I have observed is the trap of "same industry" -- implementer and client alike hold that because the implementer has experience with the same software in the same industry that they "know" how to implement the software in the client business.


While at one level this IS correct, at another level it is entirely incorrect.


Two client organizations can deliver essentially the same product or service to apparently the same clients using apparently the same methods and yet be fundamentally different.


For example, I once did work for a bulk chemical manufacturer whose key differentiator was that they produced their product on a custom recipe basis to order and on credit.  Their order takers were technical specialists who used proprietary technology and method to analyse the client requirement and determine the exact mixture of components to produce an optimal outcome.  Their competitors produced standard recipes to stock.


Thus, while the mundane day to day content looked the same there were essential elements of content that were unique and the nature of the processes was different.  It is a fundamentally different thing to produce a custom recipe (that no other customer will use) on credit compared with producing a limited number of standard recipes to stock.  In the first case the credit granting process is a bottleneck process in the entire manufacturing process, in the second case credit granting is incidental to manufacture, there are a number of other critical differences.


The implementers of this solution failed to take account of the "manufacture to recipe on credit" essential driver of the business with the result that after three years the client found themselves loaded with a hugely inefficient and very expensive solution that they were seriously considering scrapping.  Diagnosing the gap together with the actions necessary to close the gap averted a very expensive abandonment of a system that was basically sound.


I regularly encounter situations like this, fundamental strategic misfit between the solution that is being implemented and the business.  In extreme cases this has resulted in projects being abandoned and in other cases diagnosing these factors has resulted in a rapid turnaround of the project to achieve the desired project outcome.


In all cases the situations have been characterized by significant to high levels of tension between the parties as they constantly talk past each other with regard to the critical issues.




4. The FIRST HOUR -- the things that seem obvious and are therefore NOT documented


Over the years I have come to conclude that in any engagement the first hour is the most important.


In the first hour of interaction the client will state things which seem so obvious to them that they may never mention them again unless expressly asked to comment.


The service provider may likewise make statements about their product or solution that seem so obvious that they never mention them again.


Many of the problems that I encounter could have been avoided if both parties had communicated more precisely during the first hour of their interaction AND documented the essence of what they said.


This requires particularly that the service provider listens attentively and asks questions directed at gaining concise insight into the essential issues AND takes notes which are converted to a reference document for use by members of the project team going forward.


Asking the question "what is the essential reason the organization exists and how does it thrive?" may well be the most important part of the whole project.  Answering the question clearly and concisely follows a close second.


Having for many years sought to understand the essence of the strategy of client organizations I have used various methods to seek to understand the core strategic drivers of the business.


At one stage I directly asked the executives I interviewed what the strategy of their organization was and, to my surprise, repeatedly found that I could NOT obtain a concise and consistent answer and in some cases even got a considered "don't really know" type of response.


In time this lead me to the question "what is the essence of why the organization exists and how does it thrive" which I have found to be more useful.


Nevertheless it is STILL vital to probe AND to listen attentively.




5. Are You (Service Provider) listening?


I have found that asking a few key questions, such as the "essence and thrive" question, saying very little and taking copious handwritten notes is a fundamental prerequisite for gaining insight into the real reasons for a project and whether the project is potentially viable.


I have heard it said that verbal communication is 80% listening and I was recently told that verbal communication was about 5% talking and the rest listening and non-verbal communication (body language, tone of voice, etc).


Frequently the client has NOT specifically thought about these key issues and it takes time for them to unpack the intuitive reasoning behind the project.  Attentive listening is vital.


In the process the listener should be analysing the information presented by the client and seeking to identify the things that the client is NOT saying because they seem so obvious as not to need saying.


As mentioned above, strategy in the early years of an organization is intuitive, as are the reasons for undertaking the project.


In the book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" Dale Carnegie cites an example of someone listening "intently" and being "genuinely interested" and states that this is one of the highest compliments it is possible to pay anyone.


Many times service providers need to move from sales mode to listening mode AND record what they hear.  A sales person who listens and accurately reflects back what they have heard and then FAILS to record that information and pass it on to their operational colleagues is doing their organization a huge disservice and could potentially result in a situation that costs their organization or their client a huge amount.


The service provider should constantly test the assumptions they are making and ask themselves what they do NOT know that they do NOT know -- because, if you don't know what you don't know then you don't know what you don't know and when you don't know what you don't know then you don't know what you don't know and then you CANNOT provide a relevant and valuable solution.


Then again, is the client listening?


Clients are also guilty of NOT listening or not taking notes -- service providers also provide information which client representatives do NOT fully understand and do NOT seek clarification of, making the assumption that what they think they heard is in fact what the service provider intended to communicate.


In this context one of the roles that I find myself playing is as a translator between the two parties, listening carefully and feeding back where I think that they have missed one another thereby facilitating greater clarity.


There is a great need for this role as a standard component of any significant I.T. project.




6. Are You (Client) accurately stating the essentials of your business and your requirement?


For the client it is critical to accurately state the essentials of the business and the essentials of the requirement.


In order to do this the client must think carefully and critically about what these are AND document them in a concise and easy to understand manner that facilitates the service provider accurately assessing the requirement and specifying the solution.


In doing this it is important for the client to realize that the solution is a BUSINESS outcome and NOT a technology outcome.  Clients who focus on the technology as being the solution are likely to miss the point and thereby contribute to a failed or sub-optimal business outcome.


The client should concentrate on the business outcome, what the business is going to do differently that will create new sustainable value and how the business will use the proposed new technology to assist the PEOPLE in the business to unlock this value.


In considering this question the business should ask what assumptions it is making and what they do not know and then seek to clarify these issues with the service provider.


As long as the business specification is technical, then it is NOT a business specification -- requirements like "easy to use" or "user friendly" are NOT business requirements, they are what Professor Malcolm McDonald refers to as "motherhood and apple pie".  The most user friendly software is the software that operators have been using for the last few years and are thoroughly conversant with and have mastery of.


What IS relevant is the essence of why the business exists, how it thrives and how it expects to use the software investment to support it in thriving.


If this is concisely documented then the possibility of the service provider producing an outcome that adds real business value is significantly enhanced.




7. Only PEOPLE effectively using technology deliver value


In previous articles I have made the point that technology and methodology do NOT deliver value, it is PEOPLE effectively using technology and methodology that deliver value.


A pen is inert and without value, except as an ornament, until it is held by a person who knows how to write.  If that person has wisdom and insight to share then the writing can be of great value and, by extension, the pen gains value.  Yet, if the wisdom shared is truly valuable it matters not whether the pen used was a cheap pencil or the most expensive hand crafted gold pen available.


Computer systems are just like pens, a simple system effectively used by well trained craftsmen (operators) is far more valuable than the most expensive system used by poorly trained and poorly motivated users.


Accordingly, discovery must focus on what people do in the business and what they will do differently to create sustainable value in the organization.




Conclusion -- Effective Discovery is Essential


Discovery is the essence of a successful I.T. project.


Discover the essence of why the organization exists and how it thrives AND the essence of how it will PRACTICALLY apply the proposed investment to deliver sustainable value and that will enable you to start the journey down the right road and stay on the right road.


Discover the essence of what the technology can do and how to apply it effectively and this will support the business outcome.


However, the essence of the solution lies with strategic insight and interpretation of that insight and business actions by business people effectively applying technology with quality content also designed with strategic insight and interpretation.


If you would like to discuss your I.T. issues and obtain advisory input on how to manage them please do not hesitate to contact me.


I would welcome the opportunity to advise any organization that is in pain or dissatisfied with regard to information technology as to the steps necessary to overcome failure and achieve success.


I offer a concise I.T. diagnostic "pulse measurement" investigation to establish the causes of sub-optimal I.T. performance and recommend specific actions to achieve success and also offer advisory services with regard to the implementation of these recommendations.


The essence of all advisory and other services is on assisting clients to achieve high value sustainable outcomes that assist the organization to thrive.



068a Discovery -- An Essential Element of SOA Implementation -- by Dr James A Robertson PrEng from James Robertson


Download Discovery -- An Essential Element of SOA Implementation -- Slides in Adobe pdf format


Download Companion Article -- Effective Discovery is Essential in Adobe pdf format




Random Selection of Articles by Dr James Robertson

Cnf 093 Adopting a focused approach to strategic business improvement

A strategic design focused approach to strategic business improvement using a critical issues approach that addresses the weaknesses of conventional methods and brings engineering rigour to the field of strategic business improvement
Cnf 073 Critical Factors for I.T. Success in a Declining Economy

Ways of managing Information Technology to obtain longer investment life and greater benefit and return on investment from existing systems and infrastructure
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
Cnf 068 Discovery -- An Essential Element of SOA Implementation

The importance of effective discovery and the issues that arise from inaccurate discovery including understanding the importance of communication in the first hour of engagement
Std 022 Procurement: 13 Skeleton Agreement

This is a broad framework for a contract.  The exact contract will need to be drafted by your organization's legal advisors based on the legal jurisdiction in which your organization operates

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

SNw 046 The Real Issues in BIS: Part 2 -- Mythology and Lack of Executive Custody

Information Technology Mythology, the wide spread of marketing hype driving misrepresentation of the business information systems environment coupled with lack of integrity and other factors that result in the industry generally failing to deliver on its promises, together with Executive Custody, the ownership of integrated Business Information Systems by the CEO of the business are discussed
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
SNw 048 Robust Procurement: Part 2 -- Bill of Services, Laboratory, Go-live Certificate, etc

The importance of a formal bill of services, a business simulation laboratory, the issue of formal certificates including a formal go-live certificate and related matters

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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Click here to send us an email subscribing to our free newsletter -- all articles posted by James Robertson will be emailed to you

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.

Contact Us

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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