The Future of Cities: ERP Transformation – Prepare to Play the Long Game
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It is an incredible time of change for the city and regional governments where every strategic activity – especially in these globally challenging times – presents a significant opportunity for transformation. To continue to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve, every modern city government’s technology story is a work in progress. While this is the mantra for successful continuous improvement it also describes the best strategic approach for how municipalities should manage their corporate application replacement programs.

Unfortunately, significant systems upgrade and replacement programs are regularly approached as complex, multi-tasking activities that have a hard start, a defined program, and a date-stamped end. In taking this traditional project implementation approach, intuitively, many organisations believe that doing as much as possible, in as quick a time as possible, ultimately helps to achieve twice as much within the same time. The result is more likely to be half as much, and at lower levels of quality and enjoyment for all involved. This manifests as project scope creep and budget overruns.

Aside from these big bang approaches, thanks to large implementation costs and stringent regulatory oversight, local governments are also forced to think upfront about the potential future value created by a significant core system technology change. The pressure of moving at high speed, and with a dominant technology focus, can obscure both the true organisational cost and ultimate value of the program. This mentality prevails even when it is acknowledged that activities associated with a transformation program will eventually usher in a period of significant change – that is not limited to the changing core corporate applications environment itself.

The 4-Part ERP Transformation Trap is All Too Common in City Government

An over-reliance on technology to deliver business transformation outcomes. Local governments everywhere continue to pursue strategic plans that are either wholly defined or implicitly reliant on world-class customer experience (CX), employee experience (EX), and digital transformation (DX) capabilities. Despite these being business-oriented strategies, organisations then pursue an over-reliance on technology – usually winner-take-all ERP led procurements – to achieve them.

Choosing an industry solution focused on the wrong business model. The chance of achieving these digital transformation outcomes is further obscured when the customer is not central to the data model. The core corporate application technology underpinning the sector’s leading ERP programs is largely based on a property-centric model – where the customer is a subordinate attribute of a property, and the property asset defines the business process and individual.  It is a challenge for any council to deliver contemporary customer-first digital transformation with a property-centric approach. To realise customer and employee-centric outcomes, councils must therefore rethink their project’s business methodology and ask themselves, “what is our primary focus here?”. This is never more important than when replacing legacy systems.

Inability to realise that a winner-take-all ERP solution is not an architectural choice. ERP is important but it is not everything. The traditional council ERP is just one important part of an overall capability that allows authorities to longitudinally manage the impacts and opportunities of change across their organisation, communities, and stakeholder ecosystems. Having chosen a sector specific ERP solution, city governments realise too late that no single technology vendor has a best-of-breed solution to achieve the desired DX outcomes. That requires a more sophisticated architectural approach.

Failure to acknowledge there is no finish line to transformation. Like many worthwhile activities, the prize in DX is in the journey, not in the cup. While there can be an end to “project scope”, there should be no “end point” for an ERP transformation program. Only once these challenges are acknowledged and accepted, can transformation be assimilated into the organisation to ensure the council is technically capable of delivering the implicit outcome for the organisation. This could simply be defined as ‘a contemporary business approach to managing the money, the assets, the community, the customers, and the staff of regional government.’

A Better Way: Re-Architecting for Project Success

Where opportunities to meet increasing CX and EX demands arise, especially through ERP and corporate application renewal programs, successful projects in contemporary councils require a service-oriented architecture not found in contemporary or legacy ERP systems alone.

Beyond the property-centric challenges already outlined, even contemporary systems and suppliers can be among the least flexible to the changing data management requirements of many organisations which call for significantly more robust data, integration and application friendly infrastructure management environments. 

Customer centricity, data management, integration and software infrastructure capabilities must take precedent over an aging view of single-vendor dominance in the city government sector, especially in middle- and back-office functions, which are typically void of true differentiation opportunities and prone to confining organisations to technology-led and locked projects.

Rather than tendering for a single software provider or platform, contemporary city governments must ditch the old approach to procuring a winning ERP vendor and take steps to establish the following Big 5 platform capabilities (Figure 1). And then foster the contemporary workforce to support them.

The big 5 platform capabilities

For several decades now many organisations have attempted to short-circuit the city government ERP challenge. Fundamentally, technology transformation is not possible without technology change. A non-negotiable part of that change is a shift away from the psychology of brand-based procurement towards a new architectural approach which, like all businesses, is adaptable to change over a long period of time.

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Peter is an award winning and team-focused executive with a proven record of accomplishment in technology leadership, transformation, and innovation. He has a deep knowledge of systems and process thinking, the technology industry, the government sector, and their national and international ecosystems. He has extensive experience developing and implementing organisational change and technology strategies. Peter was part of the international tech analyst and management consulting communities, including periods at Gartner and Forrester from 1999-2017. Most recently he was the Director of City Innovation at one of Australia's six state capital cities. For four years he led the IT, geospatial, data and information management teams as well as the smart and sustainable city portfolios covering energy, lighting, smart transport and micro-mobility, smart parking, climate infrastructure and the industrial IOT technologies programs. During this time, he was also Chair of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors Innovation and Connectivity Working Group, and the Australian Federal Government's Hobart City Deal Smart Cities Working Group. Peter has an inherent capacity for solving difficult problems, especially through the development of growth-based and collaborative partnerships, leveraging new and emerging technologies, and rebuilding high-performing teams. His many commercial, industry development and start-up experiences coupled with extensive cross-industry knowledge, and lived international experience, all add up to an extensive background of strategic vision setting and operational delivery capabilities. Outside of the office, Peter loves a good adventure in the outdoors. He will read anything, loses hours in the garden, spends more time cleaning his bike than riding it, dabbles in creative writing, religiously follows any sports, and is mostly stuck in the 80’s when it comes to music. He currently lives in Tasmania with his wife and two children.


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