Anyone who has been around in business for a few years knows that there is nothing more nerve-wracking, tense and challenging then implementing a new technology solution in a mission-critical area for the business. When I was researching my Bad Buying book, I found enough case studies on that topic to have pretty much filled the book with that alone.
I did include a few examples, from different sectors and countries, from an Australian government payroll system disaster to the US drugs firm FoxMeyer, who went bankrupt after major problems with a project that included two software providers plus a systems integrator.
But despite the challenges, digitisation is essential. A recent article quoted Malcom Harrison, CEO of the esteemed Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, as saying this. “Whatever your corporate goal might be, a digital platform is critical to making more informed decisions”.
Unfortunately, CIPS itself has run into difficulties related to its own set of new digital platforms which it has been implementing over the last year or so, including its website, customer and membership systems. In an email to CIPS members recently, CEO Malcolm Harrison apologised for the inconvenience members and students have experienced over recent months in using the platforms. I had seen some comments which were critical of the new platform around social media, and even a comment sent to the Spend Matters website. Several mentioned exam booking as a particularly problematical area. But clearly the problems are wider than that.
In the email, Harrison explained that CIPS chose tech giant Oracle as the software provider, after a thorough procurement process. But Oracle don’t do implementation themselves – which is true of many major software providers. (Company valuations are generally higher for pure-play software firms than for combined software / services businesses). Instead, an Oracle approved systems integration partner, Enigen, has worked on that task.
In the email, a joint statement from CIPS and Oracle said this: CIPS, Oracle and Enigen are committed to modernizing the CIPS member and customer experience. Oracle has stepped in to ensure the project delivers on its full potential.”
The cynical might wonder how Oracle will “ensure” that delivery, given they don’t do implementation, and some might feel there is an implication there that Enigen are at fault, that Oracle having to “step in” to sort things out.
A spokesperson for Enigen gave us this short statement: “This has been a complex project with many evolving and additional requirements. We are working collaboratively with CIPS and Oracle to create an exceptional digital experience for their members.”
We will come back to that statement in part 2 of this commentary – it is interesting to see that mention of “evolving and additional requirements”. That will no doubt set off alarm bells with readers who have experience of large software programmes! And of course, if Oracle has now “stepped in” to sort out the problems, it does beg the question as to why this level of integrated involvement from the firm was not already planned and present in the implementation programme.
I don’t want to be too critical here. To be honest, I managed to get through my lengthy procurement leadership career avoiding responsibility for many significant systems programmes. That was partly deliberate and partly luck (thanks to RBS for buying NatWest just as we were starting the mega-SAP programme … which RBS canned, incidentally). This is intrinsically difficult work – when I talked to a good friend of mine, one of the best complex programme managers I have ever met, he simply said, “it can happen to the best of us”.
But these events are not a great advert for the procurement profession, or for the firms involved, so hopefully the issues can be resolved quickly. I would also hope that CIPS will be open with members as to what has gone wrong. That could represent a learning opportunity that might help thousands of other CIPS members and their organisations, and CIPS has plenty of opportunities to feature this programme and all the experience gathered from it through its own channels. In that spirit, in Part 2 we will suggest some general good practice points (not necessarily linked to the CIPS case) when it comes to major systems implementation programmes.