Thanks to fellow blogger Mike for pointing me in the direction of one of the best SAP pieces I've ever read, yes even including mine. The author begins by trying to understand a particular peculiarity of squirrels.
You are driving down a street in your car and up ahead there is a squirrel at the side of the road eating a nut. You aren't on an intercept course, there is no way you are going to hit that squirrel. So what does the squirrel do? At the very last possible moment, rather than watching you drive by, THE SQUIRREL DARTS STRAIGHT FOR YOUR CAR, passing inches in front of or behind the front tires.
Why does he do that?
After considerable consternation and testing of hypotheses, he comes to a conclusion.
Sure, my car is bigger and faster, but the squirrel is smaller and quicker, with a heart that beats up to 700 times per minute. To the squirrel I seem to be driving by in slow motion, and whether he goes in front of the tires or behind or in front of one and behind anotheris strictly a matter of style: once the squirrel has my vector, Victor, he's in command.
The squirrel doesn't trust me. Sure, it looks like I'm not even chasing him, but he's a tasty squirrel and I'm a saber-toothed tiger. By waiting until the last possible moment then running TOWARD me, the squirrel is rushing the net, moving the confrontation effectively forward in time in such a way that the squirrel is pushing his tactical advantage.
As a predator, I'm simply not supposed to expect this squirrel to be running toward me, rather than away. He's using the element of surprise to confuse me. And it works, because I've never hit a squirrel with my car.
I know I know, what the heck does this have to do with anything, let alone SAP?
SAP and companies like it do something similar by making powerful software that is quite deliberately difficult to use. They could make it easier. Heck, the capability to make it easier is shipped right with the software, though never pointed out to the customer. I used to think this was a matter of geek machismo, where higher value was placed on processes that were more difficult to command simply because it could be used to maintain for the techies an upper hand against management. But now I think it's much simpler than that and SAP just wants its software to be more difficult to use because that maximizes revenue. It is more nuts for the squirrel.
But of course. He then takes an enlightened view of ERP systems in general, one those of us who have dumped ERP shop floor controls for a white board understand all too well.
Sometimes ERP systems come about as a response to inadequate IT, but more often it is just a very expensive alternative to walking around and talking to employees. Putting in an ERP system isn't going to improve the business by itself: you still have to figure out what the data means and make decisions.
Implementing a big ERP system -- any ERP system -- is expensive. The problem is there is not enough return on investment from the ERP system itself to justify the cost. You need more. The real savings must come from improving your firm's business processes.
Which of course drives the need for wizards.
That's why there are so many SAP consultants. And that's why SAP, itself, makes 40 percent of its revenue from providing consulting services -- revenue that would be significantly less if the software was easier to customize and easier to use.
If SAP software was easier to customize and use, SAP the company might get a few more customers but would have significantly less revenue. Or that's the fear.
Robert goes on to describe some of the technical nuances of SAP that make that possible, including embedded capability that the customer isn't told about. Pretty ingenious... I guess.