Do-it-yourself IT

Given the opportunity, most of us would opt to let someone else take responsibility for difficult and uncertain endeavours. It’s human nature to avoid risk it’s been engineered into us since cavemen ran away from big scary beasts. There’s also a certain amount of insecurity at play: we feel, deep down, that we’re really just not that qualified for the job.

These inclinations are not reserved for pessimists or followers. I’ve been a “leader” all my life (class speaker in high school, captain of this, editor of that). But I still fight the impulse to defer to others when things get dicey. The impulse tells me not to put myself at risk (caveman instinct) and not to risk the success of the project (in the misguided belief that someone else will do it better).

So when someone with clout (say, the CEO) comes along with a hugely risky undertaking (for example, a multimillion-dollar ERP project) and brings along someone with a convincing story and his or her own methodology to make it happen (like the Big Five partner that person golfed with over the weekend), it would be an unnatural act for a CIO to step forward and assert ownership for that project. But that’s just what CIOs are doing today.

This is leadership at its most fundamental level: realizing that someone else isn’t going to do it better; that while you can and must draw on the expertise of your vendors and integrators, you can’t turn over the helm.

That’s the lesson of “Take Control.” The learning has been rough, with 40 per cent of ERP projects failing to achieve their business case, according to a Conference Board survey last year, and more than 20 per cent abandoned altogether. Costs have been on average 25 per cent over budget, and annual support costs went up by 20 per cent over the supposedly inefficient legacy systems the new technology replaced.

This isn’t just a problem of ERP. Show me any three-letter technology solution (ERP, CRM, SCM, PDM…), and I’ll show you a black hole waiting to suck in your company’s resources.

What consultants do best is to understand how a technology works, learn from the multiple experiences of others and roll that up into something (a methodology) that can help guide you on your way. They can advise and transfer knowledge. They don’t and never will understand the intricacies of your business model and processes. And despite what their marketing materials might say, their mission is not primarily to ensure the success of your business.

That’s your job.