Keep the vendors and tech geeks away from business automation

Vendors sell technology (hardware and software) as silver bullets for business problems. Take a look at this fabulous case study from McKinsey Quarterly. Reading between the lines it seems to me the vendor's pitch was cobblers. The fancy aspects of the technology delivered nothing. The real gains came from process and culture change. When will IT folk ever lose our fixation on technical answers to non-technical problems? And when will the vendors ever step up and start delivering true solutions instead of boxes of crap?

I take the liberty of quoting the whole opening paragraph as it paints the picture so nicely:

The scene at the field operations control center of a large company that sells high-tech equipment troubled its COO. His company had spent millions on a new automated scheduling and dispatching system that promised to optimize the deployment of 3,000 field service engineers. The results, however, were disappointing. The company had spent more than a year implementing the software and installing the hardware for the new system, equipped all of its engineers with GPS-enabled handheld devices, and spent months training engineers and dispatchers to use these new systems. New data finally flowed into the control center, yet response times had not improved, and the number of jobs each engineer could handle in a day had not increased. Feedback from the frontline workers was mixed as well. Some field service engineers were happy that the new system reduced their administrative burdens, while others complained that it wasn’t compatible with the way they did their jobs and that even more software customization was necessary.


These initiatives are often hobbled by the problems that nag many IT projects: they take years to complete and frequently fail to deliver the promised results. When IT-enablement projects in service operations go awry, it’s often because these systems require processes and work practices different from those used in non-IT-enabled situations.

Yes technology did play a part when they tried again

the COO and the CIO set up a task force...
the task force selected a set of modified processes and requirements that, combined with automation, improved service levels by 10 percent and increased the number of jobs a day per engineer by 15 percent.

But not the fancy technology the vendors had saddled them with

The pilots [as in trials, not as in guys flying planes] were critical, since they helped identify the IT functionality with the greatest impact on productivity...
they didn’t need the GPS navigation and fleet telematics the vendors had recommended. Similarly, the handheld bar code scanners that allowed engineers to order spare parts remotely turned out to be a productivity drag; the pilots showed that dispatchers could enter orders more easily and quickly than field engineers could, even with the scanners. Advanced forecasting and planning modules were eliminated thanks to the pilots because these systems provided little extra value and added complexity and expense...
The subsequent company-wide implementation took half as long as the original one. Productivity increased by 20 percent...
The additional capacity allowed management to reduce overtime substantially and to bring outsourced work back in-house, which yielded tens of millions of dollars in annual cost savings. Surveys showed that customer satisfaction improved

... by ELIMINATING unnecessary technology and taking a process and culture approach. I bet all those gizmos looked good on PowerPoint.

Go light on IT. In the move to full implementation, more features and functions are not automatically desirable. Use only those that have demonstrated benefits in your pilot...
Embed the new work processes and policies through robust training. Make sure employees understand that the system is meant to optimize results across the entire organization. Once the changes are accepted in the workplace, roll out the IT implementation.



this is news?

Selling the Cloud

Skep - i'm surprised you've not sharpened your spear w/ the whole vendor-hype gorilla called Cloud. Check this out to get some inspiration - easily one of the funniest parodies i've seen. Now that's useful Technology!

Peering through the clouds

You're right, the Cloud is ripe pickings for the skeptical.

Readers are encouraged to click on the "Topics" button at the top of this page, where one of the topics in the tag cloud is cloud. I will continue to blog more on the cloud

personally, I'm too old to listen to robots - I ran out of patience on the video. But keep it up!

Sliver Bullets

Silver bullets kill only werewolfs. IT is a zombie. Silver bullets don't work on the UNDEAD. You need to take off the HEAD of a zombie to kill it. So aim for the CIO.

Rules of Zombieland

Don't forget the rules of Zombieland, especially the Double Tap;

2."Double tap"
3."Beware of bathrooms"
4."Wear seatbelts"
6."Cast iron skillet"
7."Travel light"
8."Get a kickass partner"
12."Bounty paper towels"
15."Bowling Ball"
17."(Don't) be a hero"
18."Limber up"
21."Avoid strip clubs"
22."When in doubt, know your way out"
29."The buddy system"
31."Check the back seat"
32."Enjoy the little things"
33."Swiss army knife"


I wish I had the faintest idea what that is about. The price of being a popular-culture-hermit. I've broken all those rules except the last 2

Skep, that's from the movie

Skep, that's from the movie Zombieland (, which is quite nice and funny.

Targeting The Goal

All insights consistent with Lean and Theory of Constraints. They didn't understand their constraint to value sufficiently. They only knew the neighborhood, not the address, let alone the room of the house.

Just like a military operation gone awry... looks a lot like "collateral damage" to me. With the resulting local unrest. Thought for the day: "Targeting errors in large scale IT initiatives and military operations: a comparison and contrast."

Charles T. Betz

The tech geeks are in control

I agree in principle, but I'm targeting a more specific issue. The tech geeks are in control, instead of in the back room where they belong (Stevie). They bought technology because it was fashionable, and because they believed more technology is better, and they believed it would deliver productivity improvements without testing that premise.

Tech Geeks, or management?

In my experience (as a "tech geek") it's been upper management that want to use the latest, shiny gadgets ('non-tech geeks'?) - because it looks and sounds good to their management, and if it costs lots it must be good - and it's been us that point the problems could be solved just by a bit of adjusting of the processes.

we're all at it

You're not wrong.

the non-tech geeks in the business read it in an airplane magazine or see it at a conference. They lust after the cool toys, and IT has to deliver.

Sometimes it is IT management who are complicit, equally prone to tech lust.

And sometimes it is the techs themselves.

We're all at it: business, IT management and IT staff.

Tech geeks come in all flavors...

...and overengineering is not unique to computing and IT. And at its root always lies the fallacy that one optimizes the whole by optimizing one or more parts, without examining where the constraints are on the whole.

You can say that "process and culture should take precedence over technology" but I think even that formulation is too limiting. If technology is the constraint, attack it! Just be sure that it *is* the constraint.

What matters is 1) do we have a holistic sense of value and 2) can we use that understanding to pinpoint its constraints?

It's all in Goldratt.

Charles T. Betz

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