4 Steps for ERP Success 4 Steps for ERP Success

with the supply management system would build momentum toward broader challenges.

Government executives need to understand the limitations within their organizations. There may be a political will to change, and even the financial and human resources to support it -- but these are not limitless. It's important to set reasonable expectations for change before allocating funds. Executives should take on manageable, achievable chunks and spend resources with the government's limitations in mind.

Meeting a change initiative if a government is unprepared is a recipe for disaster. It will not account for the ROI, nor will it subsequently achieve it. What's more, it will inevitably lose ground and waste the investment. The risks associated with cramming through change initiatives are broad and many: overloading resources, creating single points of failure and knowledge bottlenecks, creating or exacerbating cultural problems, demoralizing personnel and losing momentum on the change initiatives.

It's important to be up front with your vendors about how you do business, and expect and demand support for that model. You will suffer to some degree on the discounts you can get, but in a highly competitive industry, vendors can't afford to be too pricey -- they'll follow your model.

4. Get out of the software business.

During the failed upgrade from version 7.5 to 8.8, L.A. and the original contractor created invasive customizations. This seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. After all, it's tempting to opt for your own code rather than the code provided by the software vendor. But in this case, it was a failure that caused system glitches and conflicts. The customizations were removed in the upgrade to version 9.0 because it was the correct long-term decision.

Understand that you likely won't be able to maintain the slick solution that's presented on the PowerPoint sales slides. Although the grand vision is politically appealing, the true cost is easily dismissed or overlooked as the contractor, software vendor and project leadership all desperately want it to succeed. In the end, even if the grand vision comes together, few government enterprises can afford to maintain such systems for long.

In a similar vein, many organizations are caught in the trap of meeting their demands by letting contractors overly customize out-of-box software packages. In addition to opening the door for out-of-the-ordinary software and system conflicts, this sort of coding can lock an organization into the need for significant long-term contracts with contractors. This "deadly embrace" can dilute the long-term ROI and autonomy that a system is designed to achieve. Based on these customizations, the deadly embrace gives a contractor a knowledge contractor, which leaves the government no choice but to continue a long-term contracted service arrangement for specialized support, in addition to the government's own support staff.

Software vendors maintain their code and have thousands of customers using it and reporting issues to them. The software vendor's code is constantly improved with millions of dollars of investment. Cities don't have the technical expertise or support structure to maintain customization. A customization should be simple and noninvasive, if it's done at all.

Going Forward

Government executives must not shut down IT investments because they fear failure or a challenging economy. Government leaders have an unprecedented opportunity today to implement change. Software can be used as a catalyst, but not at the expense of sound strategic fundamentals. Leadership is crucial.

Define your vision for change; understand the strategic, fundamental roadblocks to achieving that change; make plans to address each of those roadblocks and incorporate software tools that can enable them. Be bold in your strategy and vision, and be wise spending your resources.

This is rarely the sort of activity that makes for sensational headlines, but it will position your organization for the significant, positive change that is badly needed in today's government.

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.