Systems, Support Process

September 29, 2010

In the technology part of our businesses, words – and I mean simple words can be be confusing.

How about the word system?

First there are the definitions that we know from a standard dictionary.

Then there is the word System in the context  of  Systems Theory, which states that while individual parts may be independent, they also are interacting, therefor problems in one input can affect other outputs further down the value chain. (Which is a lot of the basis behind Theory of Constraints process modeling)

And finally, a common usage in business technology; a System being the computer server, storage, and/or software that provides a particular resource. As an example we talk of an E-Mail System, or ERP System.

All of these uses of the word are completely in line with the definitions that we have in our trusty dictionary, but what will get your technology projects, investments and communications into trouble is the over use of the word system in relation to the business process that your system is trying to help.

I found an excellent article by Bob Lewis titled; Business change methodology gaps. The article is written about business change, but one quote demonstrates how often we abuse the word system when used in relation to technology supported business process changes;

Most organizations are still stuck thinking in terms of system deployments rather than process changes. Don’t believe me? How many companies title their projects something like <System Name> Implementation? When the project title misses the point, how likely is it the organizational change will be on target?

Do your sales staff give a damn about a CRM System?

No – they don’t.

Your sales staff have issues ranging from managing communications to effectively managing the pipeline. They need a business process that alleviates the pain points in managing their communications and improve that pipeline management.

Managing those communications or pipeline issues requires looking at the business process. And asking how that process can be improved. And then leading the change for that process.

Once the process is looked at and understood, and a new process designed, can technology help? Certainly.

Technology can then help you standardize or automate parts of that business process.

The SMB Takeaway

I believe it is time that we seriously reduce our use of the word System when it comes to any corporate IT enabled project, change or initiative.

As Mr. Lewis states, lets call it what it is. It is business process. It may be process changes. But calling it a System just confuses the issue.


I have been reading Michael Gerbers E-Myth Revisited and wanted to make a comment. MR. Gerber points out that to be successful, businesses must ensure that they make themselves “Systems Dependent” not “People Dependent”.

It is not to state that the people are not necessary, because people are the ones that apply the system, and use the system to provide more effective service, knowledge, and efficiency.

Systems theory is a behavioral model that demonstrates that nothing proceeds in a vacuum. Inputs must be processed across multiple disciplines that may depend on each other for outputs, or may contribute to a common output.

As an example, you sell widgets, your marketing team does a great advertising campaign – unfortunately your system did not let manufacturing know – or distribution for that matter. So shelves were left without stock.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, this is the same concept that I have been writing about for IT in the SMB space. Your technology choices (and IT Systems) are parts of your own internal corporate systems. Your IT staff or suppliers can keep the IT systems maintained, but the documentation and processes should be such that;

People can utilize, improve upon, and learn the system

But that people can be replaced and new ones brought in to maintain the IT part of the system

That the system is greater than the knowledge of one single person. (We have all heard stories about wishing that some toxic employee could be terminated – but they were the “only” one who knew how “everything” works.)

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