Along with “my hard drive ate my homework”, the digital age has spawned a countless number of ways in which personal responsibility — or any responsibility at all — can be dumped on someone or something else. One of the more common excuses to emerge from the garbage pit of blame is the perennial “my software vendor ate my profitability and killed my market cap.” This scapegoating is one of the more pitiful exercises in corporate malfeasance, and that’s saying a lot these days.
So you can imagine my perspective on a report by Bloomberg that jewelry retailer Shane Co. is telling a bankruptcy court that a failed SAP implementation had a hand in the company’s need for bankruptcy protection — despite the softness in the jewelry market, the economic downturn, and, don’t forget, the fact that someone other than SAP actually had responsibility for ensuring the success of the project.
The number one responsible party was, of course, the management of Shane. This isn’t 1992, when management could pretend that they didn’t have the skills or knowledge to manage an ERP implementation, or at least hire someone with those skills. Sorry, the buck stops at the executive floor of Shane, not SAP. The other responsible party was systems integrator Ciber, whose name is strangely missing from the Bloomberg report. Shame on Bloomberg too, but I don’t expect reporters who don’t understand enterprise software to understand why the systems integrator is the one who screws up the implementation.
So, let’s set the record straight: large enterprise systems, that have been installed in thousands of companies, don’t cause customers to lose money due to implementation failure (This is true for SAP, Oracle, and everyone else). It takes the customer’s managers, usually aided and abetted by a company like Ciber, to get it really wrong. So when you read the Bloomberg article that repeats a claim by Shane that SAP’s software caused inventory problems, sales problems, and profitability problems, take out the words “SAP software” and replace it with “senior Shane management and their systems integrator.” These are the real saps in this story. I hope the bankruptcy judge isn’t fooled by this ploy — because if Shane’s managers are stupid enough to blame SAP for their problems, they’re too stupid to be given a second chance in bankruptcy court either.