May 1 1999 by Michael Winkleman
When you think about moving toward some kind of global, enterprise-wide, seamless, software-based computing solution to all of your business and technology problems-known by an emerging and confusing array of acronyms and initialisms (ERP, EBS, ES, etc.)-there are probably a host of cliched metaphors that come to mind. Think of carts before horses. Chickens before eggs. Lemmings on a cliff.
If those metaphors don’t ring true, it’s probably because you’ve entered the fray rather recently and have benefited from the revolution occurring on this frontier: The technology’s more powerful. The systems integrators are more inventive. And, most importantly, the corporate attitude toward the use and utility of these enterprise business solutions is shifting, quickly and decisively. Business is playing horse to technology’s cart. Strategy and software are both chicken and egg. And companies, while embracing the concept of enterprise business solutions, are doing it carefully and proactively business case in hand.
This revolution was clearly on the minds of the nearly 200 CE readers who responded to a recent Chief Executive/ Andersen Consulting survey on enterprise business solutions, or EBS. An overwhelming majority-85 percent-said they view EBS as a business initiative, not a technology initiative. And these words were supported by action: Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they’d developed business cases for their EBS activities, and 62 percent said they have found EBS to be essential in implementing business strategies.
Perhaps most telling, however, was the evolution in thinking demonstrated by survey respondents. Not surprisingly, familiarity bred comfort and practice made perfect. As the charts below detail, companies that had already implemented EBS were more comfortable with the technology. CEOs who saw EBS as a business initiative were more likely to be concerned with business benefits and less likely to be obsessed with such diversions as the fear of obsolescence.
Respondents who were themselves their companies’ primary EBS sponsor were more interested in building management teams and in defining the goals their EBS programs would accomplish. Companies that had built a business case for their EBS program were far more likely to be satisfied with the results of that program-and to see it as a means for gaining competitive advantage. Interestingly, however, the attitudes that fostered these reactions seem to be of very recent vintage. The percentage of respondents viewing EBS as a business initiative, for example, moved from 71 percent among those with EBS pro? grams in place for more than four years to 86 percent among those whose programs are brand new (see “Generation Gap,” below). Four years ago, only 29 percent of responding CEOs were the primary sponsors of their companies’ EBS programs; today that figure has topped 40 percent. (Conversely, it clearly takes time to build both comfort and a sense of accomplishment: the percentage of respondents who said they were extremely comfortable with EBS jumped from 20 percent among those with new programs to 33 percent among those whose programs are more than four years old; the sense of competitive advantage doubled, from 21 percent to 43 percent.)
Where’s the road headed? According to these respondents, the course has already been set. Two-thirds of respondents predict that within three years EBS will be a key part of their companies’ business plans. And 28 percent say the key EBS decision maker in three years will be-the CEO.