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Of Christmas Trees & ERPs

Selection holds the key




My family got our Christmas tree the other day. During the process, it occurred to me that the way in which people order up ERP features and functions is a bit like choosing and decorating a Christmas tree.

Some people want to do the same tree every year. They like how it looks and see no reason to change. They may even simply leave it up - forever. It may wither and become a huge fire risk, but they seem to hold onto the vision of the tree as they always have, feeling happy and comfortable. If this group was selecting an ERP solution, they would list exactly what their old system does and exactly how it does it. You do not have to step very far back to see, they want a new ERP that looks and works exactly like their old ERP. This approach raises the question of “why invest in a new ERP solution if you like the old one so much?” Heck, save the time and money, leave the old one in place - but buy a really good fire extinguisher.

At the other extreme is the case where people hire a tree consultant who decides what kind of tree the family wants, arranges for tree delivery, and hires people to decorate the tree. The resulting tree will likely sparkle with brilliant beauty. Depending on how much or little, time the tree consultant took to interview and understand the family, the tree may reflect the tastes of the consultant more than the family. This is reflected in companies that hire ERP consultants to help them with system selection. Good selection consultants, those that take the time to listen and learn the unique challenges of a business, can help focus on what is important. Beware those consultants with a quick answer, masking a high level of system bias. They will typically recommend the same trees from the same tree farms, cut this same way, again and again. Unless you have money to burn, you need to analyze how much tree you are giving up for the cost of the consulting time to select it.

Other people let their kids go at it. Hey, kids pick a nice tree. They essentially go shopping for ornaments. If something is shiny it goes in the shopping basket. The kids string all the lights, and hang all the ornaments. Every available decoration needs a place on the tree making sure each kid is happy. No organized thought is given to how the tree looks overall, because each kid only focuses on his or her own little section of the tree. This is the same group that wants an ERP that makes everyone happy by adding each and every function for each and every department. Everyone wants everything on their list in the way they want it. This is the most expensive way to buy software – all the bells and whistles but beware your finished product may look very much like the Christmas tree the kids decorated. It is even more likely that without adult intervention the tree won’t be finished in time for Christmas, or worse the risk that the tree will topple over under the weight of all the ornaments.

Then there is the tree decorated by a family, one that sits down and decides what they wanted their tree to look like. They discuss and agree on the tree type. They agree on a budget for new ornaments to replace the old. They agree on a theme. They even take the time measure how much room they have floor to the ceiling being careful to allow room for a stand. There is some disagreement over the color of lights, who got to pick how to top the tree, and whether or not to add tinsel. Eventually, they agreed on how to proceed. They did some research on tree types, ornaments, and even the stands. They all went to the tree lot and selected the tree. They then all helped decorate the tree, passing the lights and the ornaments and low and behold ended up with a predictable result. It took more work though the result was something they all agreed met their needs. They had all worked on it so they had ownership and it was beautiful in their own eyes.

Reality is never this neat and clear. In my house we long ago agreed on the ornament for the top of our tree, but my kids still fight over who’s turn it is to put it there. However, I would recommend you take the last approach. Consultants certainly provide value, especially when they do ‘RFI’ type engagements to help educate the business on the process, and the KEY features that drive the business (beware the 3,500 row overly detailed excel sheet, which decorates the tree with a lot of shiny, often expensive, and confusing ornaments).

How do you choose and decorate your "tree" (ERP)?


Richard Haugen

As the a long-time business professional Richard helps Navigator’s customers and prospects select the best SAP solution for their organization by acting as a single source of broad, in-depth industry, and product knowledge.


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