As Published In

Oracle Magazine
July/August 2010

COMMENT: In The Field

Who Drives the Decision?

By David Ferguson

Changes in business processes need management.

Everyone has opinions about the timing and execution of enterprise technology decisions. The IT department has an opinion. All your solution providers have opinions. The competition may be using your indecision to form opinions about your company’s capabilities in the marketplace. Your customers may express their opinions on how easy it is to do business with you. Regulatory agencies publish opinions on how compliance changes will impact your reporting systems. Your employees may have opinions and may be pressuring you to provide more features and functionality to help them be more productive.

Each of these perspectives is important and demands understanding. Each one is a source of input for the decision-maker, but should not be mistaken for the decision-maker. The responsibility for making the decision lies squarely with those who set the company’s strategic direction.

From my many years of process improvement work, I offer four time-tested observations in support of making functional-side leadership both responsible and accountable for key technology decisions.

Technology implemented correctly is a process enabler. Technology can accelerate your process throughput. If your processes are well thought out and mirror best practices, the results can be an order of magnitude above previous performance levels.

However, the opposite is also true. If you have poorly constructed processes, automation will expose the inherent problems more quickly. Do you have the time and resources to work through each issue as it surfaces? Nothing will kill the execution of a key strategy faster than improper planning for what is perceived to be an indispensable improvement.

Off-the-shelf technology will, by default, establish operational boundaries for the business. One size rarely fits all. Yes, even integrated software packages specifically designed for industry verticals will fall short of the mark at times. When that happens, do you change the software or the process? At times, the choice is between a shorter-term project with broader impact and one that is much longer with diminishing returns.

What about functions missing from the predefined package that differentiate you from your competition? Are you willing to forgo these changes until the software provider catches up? These decisions come at a price and are never easy or without risk to the business.

Technology decisions at the enterprise level are all about strategic priorities. The leadership team needs to be aligned and demonstrating its support for the projects it has approved in the portfolio. What management makes important, associates make important.

The prospective project list itself requires constant care and feeding. What are the most important projects? What projects promote the company’s strategic plan? Where do the investment dollars bring the greatest return to the organization? As we have experienced over the past year, the dollars available to invest are not limitless.

Not every project will make the cut. The leadership team needs to provide the proper context and focus around those that do make it. Each project proposal should be supported by a business case and, if approved, measured against the business case as the project unfolds. 

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Technology and change will come at you in waves. When multiple projects are undertaken in parallel, or when projects are introduced coincidentally with other systemic changes taking place, a different dynamic occurs. The organization’s capacity for change is challenged.

If associates are overwhelmed with change, productivity can grind to a halt. Is your new system upgrade occurring at the same time a new product release is scheduled to occur? Are there too many system changes occurring back-to-back with little time for assimilation into the organization? How radical is the change for those in the line of fire? Without careful consideration for the human behavioral aspects of change and a counterbalancing management approach, you can end up with a systemic mess on your hands.

For these four reasons and many others not mentioned, the people on the functional side of the house are both responsible and accountable for getting to the right answer on technology. The decisions are ultimately theirs to make. Don’t let them off the hook! 

David Ferguson ( ) is president of Oracle Applications Users Group (OAUG). Ferguson is a business process manager with more than 25 years of experience working with enterprise technologies and applications within customer service and sales operations.

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