Yet, if we replace "phone system" with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), the response likely would be quite different.
Someone around these parts must have remembered when I made my lonely prediction that stand-alone EAM would get largely supplanted by ERP-based maintenance modules because I've been asked for another "far out" prediction.
Let's start with a date: 2020. About a decade from now when companies buy enterprise software, it won't be through RFPs, demos, or site visits. A small group of specialists-probably like the telco engineer who actually had an opinion on *5 versus #5-will survey a couple of options and make a recommendation. Like phones, they won't spend a lot of time looking at the "plumbing" (middleware, database, or hardware for EAM; routers, switches and hubs for phones), rather they'll focus on cost and what others like them use. They'll look at the output (reports) and dive deep with the service specialists whom they'll spend more time with than the original equipment manufacturer (OEM).
"Over my dead body!" (or downed equipment) screams the maintenance department in hearty unison. "There ain't no way I'm letting IT pick my EAM system. If they wanna do that, they can take the heat for the [insert critical equipment description here] going down."
While that approach often worked as we were all getting used to software, the days of departments enforcing their will on the enterprise are just about over. Enterprises have learned-some the hard way-that they can't run the business when each department maintains their own IT fiefdom. Further, the cost of redundant IT systems waste precious margin points few can afford. While it was important that users owned the selection when technology was novel, an enterprise information management system needs to be acquired by, well, the enterprise, not departments or disciplines viewing the business through their own functional lens. The most successful companies in the global economy will be lean, seamless and agile. Not siloed, impenetrable and resistant to change.
Many of us have anxiously awaited the "next release" that would magically solve all our problems. The reality of enterprise software in 2010-whether it's financials, supply chain, EAM, or many others-is we've analyzed, built and delivered pretty much everything that can be accomplished with these products. We can always find the next (not so) new thing to get excited about-mobile, scheduling and hosting software have made multiple debuts in EAM over the years-but the basics are in place. And, it's not like we're dealing with national security secrets. Heck, you can buy books on Amazon that describe EAM products in excruciating detail. How much secret sauce can there possibly be?
With enterprise applications - including EAM - at mature levels of functionality, the drive to lower IT costs, improve reliability, and enhance service has moved to delivering integrated technology solutions
What happens when functional innovation is no longer a differentiator? Issues like service and cost become a project's critical success factors. Imagine buying a custom-built car. Because there's no other one like it, you have to fly in the mechanic for repairs instead of taking it to your local mechanic or dealer. Wait until you sign for that bill! But that exactly describes where enterprise software is headed-towards a rational number of platforms that a competitive body of service specialists can support. Without that ecosystem, reliability and cost limit both adoption and value.
And in that environment-perhaps not even 10 years from now-companies will no longer evaluate enterprise "platforms" through demos and evaluation teams, but will deploy proven components through a "black box" of hardware, software, database and middleware. Will there be "plug and play" components through which you can enhance the solution? Sure, but they won't be the major applications or business processes. (There's no such thing as application-level industry standards and besides, who needs ‘em when the applications are 40 years old and interchangeable from a process perspective?) Making sure enterprise applications "talk" and deliver actionable business intelligence at an affordable cost are what matters. The only way to deliver that is through an integrated information platform that avoids the "finger pointing" of "best in class" software deployments.
It's always hard when the rules changes. Many of us embraced EAM because we loved maintenance and thought technology provided a vehicle for continuous improvement. While that held true for the first decade or so-and through a few dozen software releases!-enterprise software today is more like car manufacturing than gene research. Is it still a source of innovation? Sure. Do suppliers pour billions of dollars into R&D? You bet. But, do customers want their enterprise providers vacillating between the competing interests of departments or business units? No more than they want sales using a different phone system than finance. Enterprises need information platforms-like phone systems-that are affordable, reliable, functional and serviceable. That happens through the acquisition, integration and testing of all components before entering your first work order, which, if you take a look at Figure 1, is the solution strategy of virtually all major technology vendors. Customers are tired of "it's a database problem" or a "middleware problem," or whatever component is conveniently blamed. They just want affordable systems that work. While it made sense to let departments pick their software to get them used to software as part of their jobs, the break-in period is over and it's time to ensure technology benefits the entire enterprise.
As committed professionals, it can be hard to admit our interests aren't paramount. While maintenance efficiency may be our prime interest, it's not the enterprise's only concern. Every EAM user is part of an enterprise team that needs affordable, integrated and actionable software supporting the organization. Companies can't allow departments to buy their own phones, and enterprise software is no different. We all know the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. And it will take a single, integrated system of hardware and software to get the whole out of an enterprise in the 21st century.
Dave Loesch has been building and installing EAM systems for about as long as the space shuttle program. Fortunately, to this point, he avoided being de-funded. www.oracle.com