The mythical universal enterprise connector

Last week, a group of toy tinkerers released a connector kit that connects all 10 major children's construction tool sets. http://fffff.at/free-universal-construction-kit/ Obviously, this was a tongue in cheek affair, as is evident from the "cute" acronym they gave the project. (you can look that up yourself). But as I looked at it and thought: "there's a lesson here for enterprise IT". So what's the lesson?

There is a huge market for selling connectors for the building blocks of modern day enterprise IT systems. Everything from SAP to the Oracle e-business suite to Peoplesoft to Salesforce, there is a vendor that sells a connector from it to whatever your organisation uses and feels it cannot get rid off.

The cost and benefits of these solutions are more often than not strangely out of whack. I have an example. A client analysed its invoicing process and found out that a particular type of invoice fell through the cracks and was routinely not collected. The business case was simple, as the total number was an astronomical amount of lost revenue. Fortunately, there was a vedor available with a standard solution for collecting the money owed on these invoices!

It was only a matter of building a connector between the standard solution and the existing system the organisation had. But, not to worry, the vendor salesman said, this would only require a slight modification of the existing connector. So what happened? At this point, you may start guessing...

What started out as a routine package implementation with a budget of €10million ended up as a more than €50million "successful" project that delivered only a tiny bit of the functionality originally envisioned.

The project set out to attain a grand goal of not only fixing the invoice collection but also streamlining workflows, and optimizing processes, because the vendor sales guys had convinced the client that they could do so much more with hardly any extra work.

Related:

During the project, as it invariably does, every connector didn't work as advertised, and every time they needed to limit functionality in order to get something working. So the CIO ended up with a system that looked through databases for non-collected invoices, made a list of those, and passed that along to a collecting agency. For €50 million. A software engineer for the client company told me that were it not for the standard software connectors, they could have done this with three people in four months without any license fees. Or sales people. And he's right. But he only said it when everything was done.

So, what lessons can we learn here:
You need the sales people! Were it not for the sales people, nobody had even bothered to go after the uncollected invoices. These "sales" people don't necessarily have to be external. But they do, because in some organisations, you need a BMW 5 series to be heard by upper management.

You don't need the standard software interface connector. This you can learn from your children: they do not ever need a universal connector to connect their Lego to their K'nex. To their dragons and their jet planes.

Allow some room for the creative people in your organisation to be heard, and to create cheap and quick solutions that can have large business benefits. And then manage it so that it doesn't run away. It's not easy, but it is extremely frugal.

About the author:

Tobias Kuipers is CTO at the Software Improvement Group
@tobiaskuipers

Image from Free Art & Technology