Execution of an ERP Project in the Food Industry

Last year I started exercising. For people who know me, this is somewhat of an unbelievable thought. My wife started about 6 month earlier than me, and I am still catching up. We both would like to participate at some point in the Rock-n-Roll Marathon in San Diego, but we are still ways away from getting there. It will take at least another year until we can be more seriously looking at participating, arriving without a heart attack but still within the 6-hour limit. It will take a lot of energy, dedication to get there. Part of the reason is that we are in for a late start, since we never really improved our fitness, we are laggards and running a marathon is quite a lofty goal. A goal that we may or may not reach.

I don’t know how many companies I have encountered in the food industry that have failed to execute ERP implementations. A lot of times that blame “Crappy Software” for the failure of execution. A few month ago I clarified in this blog why people would state this fact and how they got there, but watching Watson on Jeopardy a couple of weeks ago made me think.

I don’t know if you watched the game, but it was very interesting and funny. It was the first time, that a computer could analyze human language towards its meaning and ‘understand’, retrieve related knowledge from a huge database faster than humans do, and provide the answer in form of a question as the rules of the game require. More interesting to watch was when and where the computer failed. One of the question was related to the flow direction of beer, and the computer was not able to find the answer. The reason was, that there was probably no article on this to be found on Wikipedia and the computer was unable to understand and apply the concept of gravity. You could tell that ‘understanding’ was somewhat limited, it was able to tie words in the answer to the information in its huge database, and reply frequently with a likelihood of more than 90% with the right answer from existing knowledge, but it was not able to apply concepts or laws of nature towards derived knowledge that was not existent in its database. Time magazine wrote in a recent issue, that computer will be outperforming human intelligence by 2030, but I think we are further away from that if we ever get there.

Watching this I thought about the users that I encountered working in the food industry, people that I either sold software to or taught them how to use it. Not only users, but also “advanced” IT People were among them, and you may be surprised how many of them do not understand the concept of the software they are using. Users that understand concepts don’t make very detailed notes on screenshots and key stroke sequences to execute a certain task, they think in concepts, in drawings and flow charts. If user’s desks, their drawers, white boards, pin-boards and notebooks are filled with keystroke sequences, you can assume that they do not really understand what the computer system does for them. They do not connect the dots, they do not understand the concepts of the software. These users will fail for the same reasons Watson failed, for a lack of understanding concepts.

If you are about to endeavor on a journey taking your company from an older system to a current, state-of-the-art computer system it is important to build the right foundation in your user community to ensure that they will succeed. They need to be trained on the basics, they need to learn about technology and they need to frequently practice. They also need to understand how fit they really are and what they will be realistically able to do.

They are in for a marathon. Catching up with today’s technology is for a lot of companies a long road requiring a lot of practice and dedication. I encounter quite some laggards in the food industry when it comes to technology adaptation and for some of them a successful ERP implementation is a lofty goal, a goal that some may or may not reach.

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