Friday, December 17, 2010

PCs & 63s - Part 7

I’ve struggled a bit with how to wind this little series up and get on to more interesting things.  However, it’s probably been worthwhile to create a reasonably brief summary record of computer technology’s march through some of our lives, at least from one ’63 Highlander’s point of view.  Many of us struggled with this stuff for decades before we started retiring.

With the introduction of additional complexities brought to us when Internet connections started replacing our old familiar phones and fax machines, it sometimes seemed that all the new stuff was just a new way to add layers of complexity to an already complex working environment without really solving any of the lingering problems.  Indeed, it seemed that despite copious lip service given to the benefits of the newer technologies, lots of things that were relatively simple were made more complex.

For about 30-40 years MIS initiatives have been trying to find ways to automate more and more of the business environments.  The simple reason MIS proponents keep finding support is their promise of eventual labor and cost savings.  Automation of simple financial functions has found reasonable success; however, more recent initiatives have been pointed at automating more complex portions of a business.  People in operations and marketing seem to be more difficult to fit into CRM, ERP, and other such MIS schemes.  While I’m no expert in the subject of automation, I’ve been fortunate to have spent most of my working life in smaller, entrepreneurial enterprises where individual capabilities are valued and indispensable. 

After selling our last enterprise to a much larger multi-national, during the earn-out period, we had the experience of observing a new management team institute a state of the art CRM software program.  They promptly took a profitable enterprise to zero EBIT and then to a series of solid losses.  Although not lacking in hubris and arrogance, it seemed perfectly clear that their CRM approach was not producing what they expected.  If you Google “CRM failures” you will find a number of articles on the topic; and if you Google “CRM successes” you find fewer positive stories in the list.

Suffice it to say that this part of the computer revolution is a work in progress.  If all this has left you wondering what I’m talking about…good for you…you must not have had to deal with it in your former professions.  If you recall the FBI story of scrapping a $150,000,000 data automation project a few years back; or the Denver airport baggage fiasco when that facility opened; or even further back, the People Mover at DFW that was pretty much an expensive failure; or any number of other failures of a similar nature, then you have some knowledge of the CRM activities I’m dealing with here.  Finding specific knowledge of large failures can be difficult because those responsible for those failures will generally be pretty good at covering things up. 

One writer succinctly said it:  computer programmers know nothing of business and businessmen know nothing of computer programming and they don’t talk to one another.  Of course it’s not that easy.  Business schools all over the nation are trying to rectify that now by sending out legions of newly minted MBAs to serve as “coaches” for the implementation of current versions of CRM programs.  It seems to me that the problem is still in the businessmen finding the time away from conducting business to play around with the programs.  For most people in their day-to-day work life I think it’s just a nuisance.  I’ve about blown myself out on this…it’s not a favorite topic, but it is one that has been sucking up billions of dollars for a couple of decades now and for the most part it seems that the leadership has been supplied by a legion of clones resembling Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss.

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