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How is Tier 1 ERP Like a 1971 Volvo 144?


September 21, 2013

Doug Hadden, VP Products
No question that Canadians know about snow and ice. And, rust.
‘Rust’ has become a theme in information technology renewal in many governments. Eliminate legacy and obsolete software running on ancient and inefficient computers. Where experts who know these systems have long since retired.
Perhaps to be replaced by ‘modern’ Tier 1 ERP.
This reminded me of my father, who bought a Volvo many years ago. The Volvo promise of safety (including the ability to stack cars on top of each other) and the premise that owners, on average, own these automobiles for 11 years was very compelling.
My father committed to keeping the car operational for at least 11 years. Not unlike how ERP owners commit to keeping systems functional for many years.
There must be ERP implementations in which customers took as great care as my father took with the Volvo. Yes, you could eat off the floor, and the car sparkled. (‘Best practices’ maintenance, not dissimilar to what many ERP clients experience.)
That’s a bit like how ERP vendors are quick to show shiny new things even though the engine and architecture is dated. (I can’t count the times that my father re-adjusted the points.)
8 years later, my father, on his way to work, put his hand through the door. A large chunk of the door disintegrated before his eyes.
The car had but a few small rust spots. 2 years in a relatively northern location where many roads were gravel had resulted in piercing the body in a few spots. Volvo had innovated with rust proofing in the paint. But, small holes followed by 4 winters in Ottawa, with so much salt to melt so much snow resulted in eating out the door from the inside. While the paint shone thanks to frequent cleaning, buffing, waxing. (The cleaning ritual was amazing to watch.)

Tier 1 ERP is very much like this unfortunate Volvo. The core is old. Old as in: if the code was a person, it could vote. But, shiny on the outside.

One of the Tier 1 vendors wrote a proprietary programming language because of the deficiencies of COBOL. It’s like creating a better distributor cap many years ago, but today everyone uses electronic fuel injection. (Most ERP code, as the research shows, uses legacy code.)

Not to put too fine a point on it, all of the ERP marketing noise these days hides the fact that the core is rusty. With monolithic integration. With client-server to web translation layers. With ancient proprietary languages. With unneeded tables. Where the core software developers have long since retired.

But, shiny exteriors.

What’s the lesson here?

  • No amount of effort turns legacy to modern
  • System stress breaks legacy
  • Don’t let yourself be fooled by hype

The Volvo did last more than 11 years. With a door from an otherwise wrecked Volvo. But, it was a second car, a Tier 2 car.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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