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SAP…Not So Bad

When I’m wrong, I need to say I was wrong.  For years I have been staunch supporter of eliminating SAP.

SAP bad.  Lean Good.  That was my stance.

A few weeks ago, I went to an SAP conference to learn more about their Customer Relations Management (CRM) module.  My company is implementing this module in the next year and a half.

I learned a lot at the conference.  The most important learning I had was SAP has a lot of functionality that can be very helpful even in lean companies.

Don’t mistake this with supporting ERP/MRP systems.  I still believe that ERP/MRP systems are the opposite of lean and should not be used.  The mistake I made was equating SAP with ERP.

SAP has an ERP/MRP module that is a large part of their business, but SAP also has so much to offer.  SAP has ways to get data out and digestible.  It can give directionally correct data so you can go and see what is actually happening in order to solve the issues as an example.

I equated SAP to ERP/MRP and it isn’t.  SAP has benefits to even lean companies.  Understand what SAP has to offer and what your process needs are and try to match those needs up.  This is just true for SAP, but for any technology.

Technology can be a great thing, but only when it supports your process, not defines the process.

Technology Supporting a Process

Have you ever bought technology because it’s cool, whether it be for home or work?  You look at it and think, “Wow!  Cool!  Look at all the features it has and the things it can do.  This will be great!”  Six weeks, six months, six years later you look back and realize you didn’t even use half of it’s capabilities.  I would be a rich man right now if I just paid for the part of the technology that I did use.  Maybe sitting on a beach somewhere warm.

Truth is we get enamored with the neat stuff.  Myself included.  What we end up doing is trying to fit our life (or process) into the technology.  We go out of way to use it and then over time we realize it is more hassle than it is worth and we stop using it.  Instead we should be looking at our life and seeing how the technology can support or enhance it.  The technology is something that fits right into our life so well that it almost seems seamless.

This happens a lot at work too.  The most common example is software.  The IT department buys a software package with 100 different functions that could possibly help with work that is getting done.  The found the software package because 10 of the functions fill a need that was asked by someone to go and fill.  Then they find this wonderful product and the other 90 functions will save the rest of your world too.  The department likes it too and so the software is bought.  One year later, an audit is done.  It shows only the 10 functions that were originally needed are being used, while the other 90 just sit. The company has wasted the money they spent on all these added features.  Eight years later, someone needs to have a new feature.  Everyone has forgotten about the extra 90 features the current software has, so IT goes out and finds another software package to add the new feature but it also, comes with all kinds of wonderful add-ons and so the cycle starts again.  While all along, the original software had the feature and the company just needed to use it.

This is all waste.  Waste of time, money, resources, and on and on.  The technology we use should be Just-In-Time just like our material.  Get what we need, when we need and at the time we need it.  No more, no less.  When the technology is bought, we need to ask how this technology will help support and enhance what we are doing AND make it easier for us to do.  In other words, the technology needs to support our process and work.  Don’t buy technology and then build the process or work to fit it’s capabilities.  If the technology does not support what you are doing, then it probably isn’t something you want for your process.

ERP systems can be a great example of buying technology and then fitting your process to support the buying of the ERP system.  Most companies doing lean well are taking the decisions an ERP system is making and make it visual out on the floor so anyone on the floor can make the same decision.  Why?  Because the ERP system does not support the process the lean company is trying to implement.  (Side note: Who is going to be the first ERP system to go away from ERP and build a great lean software tool to replace ERP?  Or does a software tool even need to be built?).

I’m not against technology.  That is a bad rap that lean can get.  I am against buying technology that does not support the process or the future state of the process.  It must be proven and it must enhance and make easier what we are already doing.

Why do you think people still technology for the sake of buying technology?  Have you seen this where you work?