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Part 2 of the 5 part series on Simplification of B2B Commerce

The new mandate is (Warning: Buzzword Alert!) ‘SIMPLIFY’. As a CIO in complex businesses and now as CEO of a company driving B2B commerce simplification, I’ve gotten up close and personal with complexity. I mean, I’ve gotten to see the gory details of complexity in about 100 companies! You’d think that by now someone (me?) would have simplification down to a science? Beware of the over-simplifier! It’s not that easy or more organizations, staffed with smart, dedicated, hard-working people intent on simplification would be more successful at it. Here’s my list of sayings from projects that didn’t work due to failure to fully address complexity:

Top five things over-simplifiers say… and what it usually means:

  1. “We don’t need to boil the ocean.”  This is one of the most common phrases we hear from leaders who aren’t ready to face the fact that their organization has a major challenge OR they know it but aren’t ready to fully commit to the long, hard road to true simplification. Instead they fall for ‘salami tactics’ of slicing off only the first piece… the incrementalist model of change. Often the first slice is inadequate and the project makes no impact… and is abandoned (see point number 5). Starting too small is a mistake… nothing changes, energy fizzles out, and projects die.
  2. “Let’s implement the manual process first and then we’ll put in the systems.”  Technophobia (fear of systems). This one is most common in companies that are afraid of technology (many with good reason based on past failures). Despite poor success in the past, most of today’s major complexities DO require better application of technology and data. Manual processes CANNOT do it anymore. Invariably they fail to make the needed changes and the projects are killed. Master systems implementations (future post).
  3. “Tell THEM to stop making it so hard.” – The ubiquitous ‘them’… if we could only find the true over-complicators! I hear a lot of accusations against others INCLUDING CUSTOMERS as the culprits of complexity. Most often it’s applied to channel partners, or internal organizational functions. In reality it’s often true that everyone in the value chain is suffering from the same ills – an outdated way of doing business in an increasingly complex world.
  4. “Why can’t we be like “XYZ” (refer to someone who has done it right).”  Simplification Envy. The short answer to this one is ‘because we’re not like them’. It’s often comparing weak performance to a competitor or benchmark company who have mastered simplification. One ‘spin-off’ to this one is that comparing your INSIDES to another company’s OUTSIDE appearance is flawed as well. Good companies hide their inadequacies better than some others; BUT the true leaders have nothing to hide.
  5. “We tried that once and it doesn’t work (refer to a failed oversimplification).”  Or, “a burned cat doesn’t sit on a hot stove; but it won’t sit on ANY stove’. Past failures don’t necessarily mean future failures – only if you repeat the same mistakes. In fact, the reality is that there was a NEED to simplify. We once implemented one of the industry’s benchmark eCommerce solutions RIGHT AFTER A MAJOR FAILURE AND WRITE-OFF. The company’s new leadership knew they needed to simplify, but took an entirely different and better approach.

Stay tuned for the next in this series: What are the three key success elements to keep in balance?  I’ll describe the proven approach to B2B simplification.


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