Scale Up Skeletons #6 – Keeping IT simple

Last month’s Halloween season got me thinking… I’ve pulled together a few short lessons from skeletons that have jumped out at me over the years to disrupt the growth journey in companies that I’ve been involved with together with reflections on what I would do differently next time around.

This one chewed up several months of time…

The story:

Our board was keen for us to act like a “grown-up” company and one recommendation was to get professional IT systems in place to manage the business – an enterprise resource management (ERM) system was proposed that could track everything from stock levels and process conditions to employee holidays.  We spent some time looking at systems offered by a range of big software providers, but all seemed somewhat inflexible and none of them worked in the same way as our business.

We eventually found a system that was highly customisable; in fact, this was one of their selling points as they offered a team of engineers who could come into the business and help get it set-up to match our business processes – it seemed perfect for us.

As an ambitious production engineer, I volunteered to work on the programme and was soon working nearly full time with the software engineers to get the system set-up.  Predictably, we had some push back from other members of staff who didn’t see the need to change from their paper notebooks or Excel sheets, which we overcame with some training and further tweaks to the system to make it match the existing spreadsheets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the system didn’t bring any increase in product quality, output, or profitability.  In fact, it became a burden to maintain as any changes to process needed a corresponding change to be programmed into the ERM system, which often entailed the expense of bringing in a software engineer.  The system was quietly dropped from production and used only in a few (more stable) areas of the business such as purchasing and finance.

The impact:

The system almost certainly reduced innovation within the production team, since any changes would require a further chunk of work (and expense) to customise the ERM system, which was a disincentive.

We also consumed many hours of valuable engineering time getting the system set-up without any perceivable benefit.  Time that could have been spent making improvements that would benefit our customers.


With the benefit of hindsight, we should have asked ourselves more carefully why we were implementing the system.  We could then have assessed every decision against that goal.

Another company that I worked for took exactly the opposite approach and delayed the implementation of a system until as late as possible; their logic was that we would probably get acquired at some point and our new owners would then want us to integrate to their existing systems.

At the end of the day, you need systems in place to monitor and control your business – they provide the evidence for action.  The systems don’t need to be complicated and for many situations, a well-designed Excel spreadsheet in a shared location will do the job perfectly well.  Utilising established software applications such as Excel and OneNote also reduce the barriers to adoption as minimal training will be required for people to figure out how to use it.

The most important thing to understand is why you are implementing a system…  focus on the data you want to get out of the system before deciding how you will get the data in.

In the next instalment of this blog, I’ll consider the importance of the technical specification in the contract.

Telegraph Materials offers advisory services and practical support to fast-growth businesses bringing new materials-science based technologies and processes to international B2B markets.  For more information, see, where you can also find the previous editions of this blog series.

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