Skip to content
Stuart Browne26-Jan-2023 12:49:329 min read

What's the The Cure for ERP Disintegration?

Ed lives and works in London.  Alex is at Uni in Edinburgh.

My kids couldn’t really have chosen to live further away from each other in the UK. I’m in the middle - in the North West just outside Manchester.

Rachel and I separated around 10 years ago. It was tough. Tough on Ed and Alex, tough for Rachel and an all-round hard period.

I cried a lot. 

Untangling a family unit isn’t pleasant and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.

But 7-8 years on, on the other side of that darkness, I think we’re all in a better place. The kids tell me the process, while tough, made them who they are today. It gave them elements of resolve and resulted in different traits that they otherwise wouldn't have developed. This isn't a justification, but a positive byproduct I can find if I go looking for one.

Now they’re happy young adults - which means I’m happy too.

Because we’re spread across the UK and they have lives of their own, I like to find excuses to see them and, when I can, get the two of them together. They’re close emotionally, so it’s nice to create close in proximity for them.

Music and comedy gigs are a great excuse and recently I’ve taken them individually to gigs in London and Edinburgh.  It’s a big expense for a night out - tickets, trains, hotels, food and drink, I’ll leave you to do the maths - but well worth the investment.

In December we met at a convenient half way point in Leeds and went to see The Cure.

I’ve always had a soft spot for The Cure and the kids grew up with them on in the house, blaring on the car stereo, or badly strummed and howled to by their Dad who’s ambition fell (and still falls) a long way short of his ability.

In recurring Pub chats on top 3 albums, mine tend to shuffle slightly - Desire by Dylan, Making Movies or Communique by Dire Straits, Meds by Placebo, Outbursts by Turin Brakes, and To All New Arrivals by Faithless have all been in the mix over the years. 

But, since 1998, Disintegration by The Cure has always been in my top 3.

I used to fall asleep with it on repeat on my CD player at Uni - it was my drunken stupor soundtrack.

I fucking love it.

And since that gig in Leeds last week with my kids, I’ve listened to it incessantly - with the irony of re-integrating my disintegrated kids through my love for it making me smile inside.

Music is an anchor - it pulls in memories and moments, and we collapse new thoughts, places and moments into songs as we re-listen to them.

So, on a late hot train ride back from London on a December evening, during a momentary timetable slot of respite between train strikes and ‘inclement weather’ after a 3 hour delay at Euston, I placated mental state with more Disintegration via headphones as I mulled over some Resulting strategy stuff for 2023.

For once, my laptop was closed on the train.

I could think without distraction of emails or documents.

Back in the 90s when this album was in the charts and touring, every large organisation was investing heavily In business process engineering and implementing integrated ERP. 

Integration was the big prize.

The business case and payoff was obvious and huge.

Reduce double entry effort and errors. Near real-time information across departments. Better planning and reporting. Reduced (or redeployed) headcount. Better customer service, slicker supply chains, procurement economises of scale through central visibility, visibility of profit by product, geography, division.

Integration was great.

Things should be together. Connected. 

But the future for business applications is Disintegration.

Gartner calls it Composable ERP.  Luddites call it best-of-breed - which is such a crap term when a Frankenstein’s monster made up of off-the-shelf body parts is sometimes the system of compromise. 

Sometimes shadow IT means that each department brings their own body part along like some macabre Build-a-Bear workshop.

We used to have a really cute teddy bear but we’ve now got a mermaid with claws and a giraffe’s head. It’s best of breed though.

So, why is Disintegration the future?

Allow me to ramble...

First, integrated ERP systems that span every department are large and cumbersome. Because they do everything and everything is integrated, changing one part impacts the others. This means that fast paced change in certain departments is held back by other departments that want to move at a more leisurely pace.

Gartner called this Pace Layering. Different functions move at difference paces depending on the need to provide robust structure (e.g. finance) or innovation (e.g. marketing). Gartner assert that different pace layers should be in different systems so that projects can move freely at their own pace. The drive towards agile is often added as a cherry on the cake - or straw hat on the giraffe / bear / mermaid.

The move to cloud and SaaS figures too. Software vendors have invested heavily in refactoring 20 year old code bases to be more cloud friendly - and doing this en masse is too hard. But atomising different functions into separate solutions for HR, Procurement and so on is much more doable. So that’s what they’ve done.

People like SAP have even atomised their own product suites. Replacing ECC for some customers isn’t simply a move to S/4HANA but requires Ariba, Success Factors and IBP. The masters of integration have disintegrated.

The aforementioned shadow IT has played a part from the wings. Departmental and even divisional or regional leads are wooed by sexy software that solves all of their problems and works out-of-the-box without IT needing to be invoked or even told.

So, what’s the fall out?

Somebody has to design, build and manage integrations. Sure, they’ll be more real-time API based making them slicker and faster than old-school interfaces. But they’ll also fail in real-time too. And the responsibility for managing them is likely to span different groups or even partners. Who’s going to manage your invisible real-time spaghetti?

Data won’t be mastered in the traditional integrated ERP sense. It will co-exist in different solutions with a need to sync at record, field and departmental level, in multiple directions depending on the convoluted master / slave integrated scenario. Who’ll plan, manage and control this? Data quality is the problem child of integrated ERP. Disintegration isn’t going to simplify things. Plus, it’ll end up in lakes, automations and terrifying AI algorithms.

How will security be managed? Segregation of duties spanning business process that run on disintegrated systems. How will that all work? Can you even unify users? Is Robert Smith in SAP the same as R Smith in Coupa and Bob Smith in Workday? Who knows? Maybe just check his lipstick shade*.

*Mary Quant's Crimson Scorcher

What about analytics? Who’ll stitch all of this together to give you accurate unified reports? Sure, Power BI can make data look great, but only if taxonomies are consistent across systems, and as long as it can be aggregated without a rats nest of ETL tools and routines.

What about UX - will some business people have to jump into different systems to do their jobs? I’m sure some architect or geek will tell you that composite apps or low-code/no-code is the answer. Is it though? Do you buy packaged apps so that you can then spend time building your own UI or UIs?

What about adoption (or what luddites call change management). How are you going to get business people to embrace new, hybrid ways of working. How will you educate them to run processes that are no longer integrated transparently but are instead discombobulated (the Cure's challenging follow-up album)?

What’s the cure for disintegration?

The eponymous and now ironically named System Integrators won't manage disintegration for you. The industry’s track record of successfully implementing single-system integrated ERP is pretty dire, with flip-a-coin odds of success or failure. The disintegration challenges above will either fall between the slats or be firmly in your 'customer' column on the RACI.

The software vendors won’t cure it either. They want a licence sale and increasingly, annuity cloud revenues. While they might take the ‘customer success’ game, they don’t walk it. 

Some don’t even limp it.

SAP are busy trying to sell customers all-you-can-eat licensing deals that include all of the software, forcing customers to consider whether their future world even involves SAP's software. Given that they’re also asking customers to flip from already capitalised Capex to Opex too, it’s a pretty self-referential stance to take. It’s geared towards their share price and not customer outcomes.

My advice, slow down and think. 

Don’t rush into an ERP led transformation programme just because there are quota hungry hyenas at the door. Let them starve for a while, until you decide it's feeding time and bang the fence for Pavlov's hounds of hell.

Start with your business strategy and business process needs, not with some shiny new product that Accenture, SAP or Gartner have said is the next big thing. 

This is too big of a decision to tolerate whimsy.

Be wary of people - consultants, contractors, new hires - driving an agenda for their own self interest. The value of an S/4HANA or RISE notch on their filthy bed-post is worth a lot to their careers and day rates. Don’t simply turn down the linen and ask them to jump.

Open your eyes. 

My list above is a started for 10. There are some seriously big and different implications of a disintegrated world. Not least of which making sure you don’t accidentally create the same non-pace layer environment that monolithic ERP exhibits - but by accident due to invisible spaghetti and complexity. Impact assessment in this future world will be hellish, trust me.

Your future IT and business operating model will have to be different. Better. With different skills and top-class knowledge management.  You’ll need to build a Centre of Excellence that is actually Excellent. 

And, you won’t survive by doing what most big businesses did in the last recession and outsourcing everything like you did last time things got hard.

Fascinating times.

"Oh, it's opening time down on Fascination Street, so let's cut the conversation and get out for a bit..."

Oh, and if you want to talk SAP or S/4HANA challenges with the UK's leading Indie SAP Consultancy, give me a shout.


Download "Fifty shades of blue: the secrets to taking control of your S/4HANA journey" for everything you need to know about S/4HANA migration. 


Stuart Browne

Stuart has held leadership roles in the SAP ecosystem over an 25 year period, spanning consultancy, delivery management, practice development, sales, marketing and analyst relations. He writes regularly on Linkedin and for ERP Today magazine. With an eclectic mix of skills and one of the largest SAP networks in the UK, Stuart has established a formidable reputation that has enabled Resulting to guide SAP customers through complex challenges.