Thanks to fellow blogger Mike for pointing me in the direction of one of the best SAP pieces I’ve ever read, yes even including mine. The author begins by trying to understand a particular peculiarity of squirrels.
You are driving down a street in your car and up ahead there is a
squirrel at the side of the road eating a nut. You aren’t on an
intercept course, there is no way you are going to hit that squirrel.
So what does the squirrel do? At the very last possible moment, rather
than watching you drive by, THE SQUIRREL DARTS STRAIGHT FOR YOUR CAR,
passing inches in front of or behind the front tires.
Why does he do that?
After considerable consternation and testing of hypotheses, he comes to a conclusion.
Sure, my car is bigger and faster, but the squirrel is smaller and
quicker, with a heart that beats up to 700 times per minute. To the
squirrel I seem to be driving by in slow motion, and whether he goes in
front of the tires or behind or in front of one and behind anotheris
strictly a matter of style: once the squirrel has my vector, Victor,
he’s in command.
The squirrel doesn’t trust me. Sure, it looks like I’m not even
chasing him, but he’s a tasty squirrel and I’m a saber-toothed tiger.
By waiting until the last possible moment then running TOWARD me, the
squirrel is rushing the net, moving the confrontation effectively
forward in time in such a way that the squirrel is pushing his tactical
As a predator, I’m simply not supposed to expect this squirrel to be
running toward me, rather than away. He’s using the element of surprise
to confuse me. And it works, because I’ve never hit a squirrel with my
I know I know, what the heck does this have to do with anything, let alone SAP?
SAP and companies like it do something similar by making powerful
software that is quite deliberately difficult to use. They could make
it easier. Heck, the capability to make it easier is shipped right with
the software, though never pointed out to the customer. I used to think
this was a matter of geek machismo, where higher value was placed on
processes that were more difficult to command simply because it could
be used to maintain for the techies an upper hand against management.
But now I think it’s much simpler than that and SAP just wants its
software to be more difficult to use because that maximizes revenue. It
is more nuts for the squirrel.
But of course. He then takes an enlightened view of ERP systems in general, one those of us who have dumped ERP shop floor controls for a white board understand all too well.
Sometimes ERP systems come about as a response to inadequate IT, but
more often it is just a very expensive alternative to walking around
and talking to employees. Putting in an ERP system isn’t going to
improve the business by itself: you still have to figure out what the
data means and make decisions.
Implementing a big ERP system — any ERP system — is expensive. The
problem is there is not enough return on investment from the ERP system
itself to justify the cost. You need more. The real savings must come
from improving your firm’s business processes.
Which of course drives the need for wizards.
That’s why there are so many SAP consultants. And that’s why SAP,
itself, makes 40 percent of its revenue from providing consulting
services — revenue that would be significantly less if the software
was easier to customize and easier to use.
If SAP software was easier to customize and use, SAP the company
might get a few more customers but would have significantly less
revenue. Or that’s the fear.
Robert goes on to describe some of the technical nuances of SAP that make that possible, including embedded capability that the customer isn’t told about. Pretty ingenious… I guess.
Scott Sorheim says
Interesting article. Thanks for the post.
You might also be interested in this Mike Vizard article if you haven’t seen it.
…a great article about companies bending their best processes to match the ERP, because the ERP can’t support their best process.
Dan Markovitz says
A former colleague of mine tells me that the parent company of our old firm decided (unilaterally, and against the advice of the US subsidiary) to purchase SAP to manage inventory and shipping of product. The software botched everything so badly for so many months that the company decided to send engraved “thank you for your patience; we’re sorry” notes to all their customers.
Talk about muda!