4 Steps for ERP Success 4 Steps for ERP Success

the IT department as order takers rather than strategic partners for change. This was evidenced by the "fix-it-now" expectation that surrounded the supply management system, the citywide procurement and payables program. Whenever a problem arose, rather than resolving the fundamental issue via the purchased software, the IT department was expected to create an immediate resolution with software patches and database corrections. But fix upon fix created a maze of system tweaks and changes that only a select few could decipher. This led to information chokepoints across the organization and imbalanced power in the hands of only a few employees. The problem was more than software: Culture, process and organization all played a role in what, on the surface, looked like software problems.

Buying software in hopes of fixing fundamental organizational issues is a mistake. Unless leaders at the top (i.e., the CIO, chief financial officer, commissioner, CEO, mayor or director) are willing to turn over rocks and deal with the problems underneath, they shouldn't bother with a large software investment.

Governments are often years behind the commercial sector in areas like business process and procedure, and organizational management. Political will -- and often, political capital -- is required to take on established cultural and procedural roadblocks to change.

Nothing exempts civic leaders from leadership. Software helps implement change, but it shouldn't be the vanguard of change -- that's the role of executive leadership.

2. The corporate sales model doesn't work for government.

L.A. ran into serious issues beginning in 2005 with an upgrade from PeopleSoft 7.5 to 8.8. The city proved vulnerable to the corporate sales model -- a soothing corporate message that a software solution would make all problems go away. The city's leadership wisely decided to resolve issues with the current software rather than something new. Had it opted for a change in software, the same problems would have inevitably occurred.

It's important to understand that government enterprises have fundamental issues that don't align with the corporate sales model.

Corporations are structured to produce financial and operational results on a short time frame. Consultants need revenue, and software vendors need sales to achieve quarterly results. Consequently there's an ongoing corporate push for quick sales and implementation cycles.

On the other hand, governments have strategic, fundamental issues that limit their ability to achieve short-term returns on investment (ROI), although they're also pressured to deliver short-term results. For example, many governments are willing to accept large, discounted deals today and worry tomorrow about how to get the greatest productivity and ROI from the purchase.

Developing a plan to address these issues before purchasing a high-powered enterprise solution is critical. In government, every significant IT-related decision should focus on long-term results. However, short-term needs, including political considerations, often drive decisions. When it comes to enterprise solutions, this is usually where the problems start. By and large, governments should reject the "we can help you in the short term" response from the corporate world and instead focus on long-term strategic change.

When government leaders think only in the short term, they feed the corporate sales model. Looking in the mirror and telling yourself that you're the problem isn't an easy task -- you only do it if there's a long-term benefit. It's the job of the CIO and other government executives to see, as the bigger picture, a vision for change. They should avoid the pitfalls of the corporate sales cycle that's misaligned with government. They should spend wisely, but not necessarily cheaply, in pursuit of that vision.

3. Know your limits.

L.A. had several issues with its supply management system, beginning with the organization's culture. The city's leaders could have chosen to make sweeping changes, but in this case, executives saw that a smaller but successful effort

Randi Levin  |  Contributing Writer
Randi Levin is chief technology officer for the city of Los Angeles
Ed Bouryng  | 
Ed Bouryng is the president of Metaformers Inc.