Rubenstein Justman Management Consultants

Shifting Functional Expertise for Enterprise Systems from IT to Business Users

By Gary Rubenstein

Rubenstein / Justman Management Consultants

June 10, 2010

Functional business users and the Information Technology department often find themselves in a love / hate relationship.  Over the past several years, as we have guided a variety of mid-market companies in assessing or changing their current systems, we see that this relationship between users and IT is changing for the better.  Today, management teams that once found themselves reliant upon a few key IT professionals to support day to day operations are beginning to regain a refreshing level of systems independence.

Similarly, business users who verbally expressed their frustration in having to work with their IT departments to enhance system functionality or to access their data are gaining control over their own destiny because they are becoming more involved in taking steps to satisfy their own system needs with less and less IT involvement.  Is your company ready for this revolution?

What has contributed to this change and wave of boldness by system users?  In days gone by, users would often be intimidated to approach staff members who had the word “Information Technology” or “Information Systems” linked to their name.  Many of the functional business users of today are beginning to step forward.  What has contributed to their willingness to take on the IT establishment?  Here are a few reasons.

1. Much of the Mystery is Gone

The ever expanding use of smart phones, netbooks, and iThings has given many business users a level of confidence that they did not have even 5 years ago.  And although this comfort level with technology is more predominant with the under 30 crowd, even those of us that grew up in the MIS era are using smart phones and feeling more comfortable using digital devices and pivot tables.  So today, there is a growing reluctance and intolerance to wait months for a software change or a custom report.  Just give them the tools, and many functional business users will find a way to satisfy their own system needs.

2. Employee Turnover Raises Expectations

Much of our consulting time is spent analyzing a company’s legacy system for the purpose of identifying and recommending opportunities for change.  These organizations are often characterized by “Lifers” that have grown-up with the existing legacy system and the extent of their system knowledge goes no further.  As a company experiences employee turnover, either naturally or as the result of layoffs, it is highly probable that the next wave of employees will arrive with a new set of expectations that will go beyond “green screens” and “function keys”.  Companies need to be prepared to provide improved tools for these new employees.

3. Newer ERP System Speak in terms of System Functionality not Bits and Bytes

Today, state-of-the-art enterprise systems speak to users through easy to navigate web browsers that provide for user personalization, click-of-a-button data exports to Excel, real-time business intelligence, and user-friendly report writers.  Even during the implementation of a new ERP solution, the focus is on the functional users to define, with the assistance of a system integrator, the new system design that will support business operations.  This is often not a comfortable role for internal IT.  They remain important to the success of the implementation, but primarily by providing a reliable technology platform and assisting with data conversion activities.  Successful ERP implementations are typically an 80% functional and 20% technical effort.

4. Analytics is Providing a New View

ERP systems of yesteryear were highly oriented to taking an order and recording historical events.  Standard reports typically consisted of static views of data that would have to be re-keyed into a spreadsheet to expose the meaning of the data or to make it presentable.  The role of IT in this environment involved programming a custom report and staging or refreshing the data as of a point in time.

Today, off-the-shelf business intelligence solutions and most of the leading ERP software packages provide functional users with real-time access to their data so that it can be visually presented to support a decision-making process.   The role of IT in this environment is frequently limited to the initial process of building the appropriate data relationships so that the functional users can view and analyze the data that best addresses the needs of their decision-making process.

So what does this mean in the world of business users and information technology?  It means that the role of IT is becoming more directed to such matters as building reliable infrastructure, optimizing network communications and ensuring database security and integrity – all critical responsibilities within the organization.  As companies continue to introduce new, full-featured, integrated solutions, IT staff may no longer retain the level of functional knowledge that they have today.  That knowledge will instead reside where it best belongs, with management and the key functional business users who will once again become captains of their own ship.

Rubenstein / Justman Management Consultants (RJMC) is a management consulting firm that prides it on the strong relationships it has established with its many clients over the past 24 years.  RJMC is vendor and solution independent and does not sell hardware or software or perform system implementations.  Visit www.RJMC.net to better understand the scope of RJMC services.