Putting the Enterprise Into the Enterprise System

Topics: Management, Sales, Harvard Business School Pages: 20 (6642 words) Published: April 5, 2011
If you're not careful, the dream of information integration can turn into a nightmare.

Putting the Enterprise into the Enterprise System
by Thomas H. Davenport


NTERPRISE SYSTEMS appear to be a dream come true. These commercial software packages promise the seamless integration of all the information flowing through a company - flnancial and accounting information, human resource information, supply chain information, customer information. For managers who have struggled, at great expense and with great frustration, with incompatible information systems and inconsistent operating practices, the promise of an off-the-shelf solution to the problem of business integration is enticing. It comes as no surprise, then, that companies have been beating paths to the doors of enterprise-system developers. The sales of the largest 121



vendor, Germany's SAP, have soared from less than $500 million in 1992 to approximately $3.3 billion in 1997, making it the fastest-growing software company in the world. SAP's competitors, including such companies as Baan, Oracle, and PeopleSoft, have also seen rapid growth in demand for their packages. It is estimated that businesses around the world are now spending $10 billion per year on enterprise systems-also commonly referred to as enterprise resouree planning, or ERP, systems-and that figure probably doubles when you add in associated consulting expenditures. While the rise of the Internet has received most of the media attention in recent years, the business world's embraee of enterprise systems may in fact be the most important development in the eorporate use of information technology in the 1990s. But are enterprise systems living up to companies' expectations? The growing numher of horror stories about failed or out-of-eontrol projects should certainly give managers pause. FoxMeyer Drug argues that its system helped drive it into bankruptcy. Mobil Europe spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its system only to abandon it when its merger partner objected. Dell Computer found that its system would notfitits new, decentralized management model. Applied Materials gave up on its system when it found itself overwhelmed by the organizational changes involved. Dow Chemical spent seven years and close to half a billion dollars implementing a mainframe-based enterprise system; now it has decided to start over again on a client-server version. Some of the blame for such debacles lies with the enormous technical challenges of rolling out enterprise systems - these systems are profoundly complex pieces of software, and installing them requires large investments of money, time, and expertise. But the technical challenges, however great, are not the main reason enterprise systems fail. The biggest problems are business problems. Companies fail to reconcile the technological imperatives of the enterprise system with the business needs of the enterprise itself. An enterprise system, by its very nature, imposes its own logic on a company's strategy, organization, and culture. (See the table "The Scope of an Enterprise System.") It pushes a company toward full integration even when a certain degree of businessThomas H. Davenport is a professor at the Boston University School of Management in Boston, Massachusetts. His most recent book, Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know, was published in by the Harvard Business School Press. 122

An enterprise system enables a company to integrate the data used throughout its entire organization. This list shows some of the many functions supported by SAP's R/3 package.

Financiáis Accounts receivable and payable Asset accounting Cash management and forecasting Cost-element and cost-center accounting Executive information system Financial consolidation General ledger Product-cost accounting Profitability analysis Profit-center accounting Standard...
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