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December 20, 2010

When Enterprise Software Implementations Feel Like a Holiday on the Titanic

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor

Chances are, if you're worked for a large company at any point in your career, you've seen an enterprise software project go off the rails: as in, over-budget, over-scope, poorly chosen, poorly implemented and a giant waste of everyone's time. Whether it was a new database system, a new customer relationship management (CRM) project, a new payroll project or a new piece of contact center software, these “vampire” projects have a way of sucking the money out of a company's budget and sucking the life out of its employees' souls. (Sometimes it even sucks the career prospects out of the individuals who researched and authorized the project.)

A new article in PC Magazine recounts the story of CityTime, one of the most infamous examples of a project gone bad. It was an effort by New York City to modernize its payroll system back in 1998. What had been budgeted as a $60 million project turned into a $700 million project, according to the New York Daily News, complete with accusations of massive corruption, waste and employees actually skimming funds out of the coffer designated for the project. In recent weeks, the axes have begun to fall on those responsible for the fraud.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (News - Alert) has called the project a “disaster,” according to PC Magazine. This week, federal authorities finally charged a number of workers on the project with being the ringleaders of a fraud scheme that skimmed about $80 million from taxpayers' pockets, reports said.

The problem with large enterprise software implementations, notes PC Mag, is that they require cooperation between three teams. First, customers must plan well, budget enough money for training and be willing to learn and adapt to a new system. Vendors must deliver software that functions properly and matches up well with a customer's business processes. Finally, implementation teams such as systems integrators must set the right expectations, meet schedules and milestones and avoid waste. If one or more of these three “legs” doesn't hold up, according to the article, things can get ugly.

Michael Krigsman, president and CEO of Asuret, a consulting firm focused on helping companies improve the outcome of IT projects, told PC Magazine that he prefers to use the more ominous metaphor of “the Devil's Triangle” to describe the three-fold factors in large, problematic implementations. He also told that magazine he sees no quick and easy answers. “There is no magic bullet,” noted Krigsman. “The magic bullet is to change human nature, to make us wise and all-seeing.”

In the absence of that, said Krigsman, cloud-based enterprise software applications can go a long way toward mitigating the business risk, the wasted and cash and the wasted time. And perhaps save a few careers in the meantime.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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