Information technology is only meaningful when accompanied by appropriate business process re-engineering (BPR) - an understanding or revaluation of the current business processes - to ensure that all the business processes and functions are clearly defined, concise and effective.

In the UK many IT projects become 'runaway projects' in terms of cost or because of the ever-changing business needs or requirements.

Companies have spent millions of pounds in such failed projects because of the lack of understanding of their management team, because a full, concise and clear requirements' analysis is not carried out at the beginning of the project and BPR was required but the need was not identified.

Furthermore because the system users begin to demand far more functionality when the project is well underway - called 'creeping functionality' or 'scope creep'- it is almost impossible to deliver a suitable IT solution.

Methodologies such as RAD (rapid application design as regulated by DSDM) are proposed to ensure that applications to support business functions are designed in a rather quick but effective manner with the full involvement of the system users community to tackle the existing business problem.

Automation of business processes and functions is certainly advocated especially with the vast amount of cutting edge technology available today. From systems or applications that are deployed on the internet - such as intranets or extranets - to Local Area Networks (wireless or cabled), all can serve as the basis of automation.

For customer relations management applications (CRM) or enterprise-wide resource planning systems (ERP) to be effective when deployed or implemented, a clear interpretation of the processes, functions and legacy data within the business is needed.

In some instances a need for reverse engineering of the existing legacy systems should be carried out to clearly identify the business functions or processes. 

More recent developments in the area of software development highlight ERP as revolutionising the automation of modern business processes.

So-called off the shelf ERP applications aim to integrate all departments and functions across the whole organisation onto a single computer that can serve all the different department's unique needs and requirements, ensuring accountability, and maintaining accurate and easily retrievable information to assist in overall planning and budgeting.

Most large organisations have deployed ERP applications such as SAP, Peoplesoft and Oracle products in a bid to automate their business processes. In deploying ERP applications, an organisation attempts to ensure that there is no need for so many miniature applications all interfacing with each other in a rather complicated, laborious or spaghetti fashion.

But do ERP applications clearly satisfy the business requirements of a corporate or modern organisation - or are they a fashion statement?

Can any one application cater exhaustively and extensively for the business requirements of the various departments within an organisation such as personnel management, procurement, payroll services, human resources, storage or warehouse, finance and administration, works and logistics and so on?

Are the enormous costs and large number of personnel required to implement an ERP justifiable in a cost-benefit analysis? Are there any alternatives?

The answer lies in the need for an extensive requirements analysis before deploying any software applications, clearly involving the user community in the development and implementation cycle either by adopting an incremental prototype approach or other methods.

Gaining a clear understanding of the business processes and developing customised or bespoke solutions could in some instances provide a more suitable, robust and scalable solution.

Perhaps ERP applications are able to cater for certain departmental business processes and not others, because there could be unique or peculiar business processes that are best captured by customised software applications developed from scratch.

Also a concise and definitive data migration plan has to be in place to ensure that the data in the existing systems (to include all legacy systems if any) is migrated to the new ERP application.

Valentine Waturuocha MBCS, CITP is managing consultant at TPinnacle.