December 15, 2007

E.R.P. vs. B.R.P. or, is s.a.p. about to buy thingamy?


For the last couple of years I've been a very minor shareholder in my friend, Sigurd Rinde's ERP software company, Thingamy.

Not being the ERP business, Sig doesn't tell me much about what's going on with Thingamy. Seems to me he has spent the last year or so mainly in his cave, tinkering away.

Then suddenly I'm noticing a whoosh of thought-provoking activity in the blogosphere.

1. First, Sigurd posts about the difference between ERP [ he calls it, "Easily Repeatable Processes"] and what he calls BRP ["Barely Repeatable Processes"}:

I. The Easily Repeatable Process (ERP for me)

Processes that handles resources, from human (hiring, firing, payroll and more) to parts and products through supply chains, distribution and production. The IT systems go under catchy names like ERP, SCM, PLM, SRM, CRM and the biggest players are as we know SAP and Oracle plus a long roster of smaller firms.


II. The Barely Repeatable Process (BRP)

Typically exceptions to the ERPs, anything that involves people in non-rigid flows through education, health, support, government, consulting or the daily unplanned issues that happens in every organisation. The activities that employees spend most of their time on every day. Processes that often starts with an e-mail or a call. A process volume, measured by time and resource spent at organisations, probably larger than for the Easily Repeatable Processes.

2. Then I notice our mutual friend, James Governor picking up on it:
According to Sig, ERP actually stands for Easily Repeatable Process: "Processes that handle resources, from human (hiring, firing, payroll and more) to parts and products through supply chains, distribution and production. Known to be rigid, but handle events and transactions with precision and in volume. Systems deliver value through extensive reports and full control over resources. Resource oriented, transactional, event driven systems. Delivered by system vendors with roots in accounting using up to 25 year old technological solutions." But Sigurde is far more interested in the Barely Repeatable Process (BRP): "Typically exceptions to the ERPs, anything that involves people in non-rigid flows [like] the daily unplanned issues that happen in every organisation. The activities that employees spend most of their time on every day. Processes that often start with an e-mail or a call.
3. Then it seems the former Editor of Harvard Business Review, Nick Carr has picked up on it, as well:
Governor quotes Doug Merritt, a guy from SAP who apparently has been up in the alps with Sig recently: "I don’t worry about IBM and Oracle. I worry about Google, Amazon, and Facebook." Then again, Merritt says, "the 'consumer' companies haven’t fully realised the change that’s upon us yet." Bingo twice over. You need the BRP for the people and you need the ERP for the institution - and you need them tied together in a seamless web-wise bundle with a pretty ribbon that doesn't scream "software!" at you. Governor thinks the twain shall meet in SAP's upcoming offerings. "SAP delivering 37Signals ad-hoc collaboration with real enterprise process data and objects is sexy," he says: "'Wow. We only just hooked up - and you’re going to let me see your … purchase order …'”
So what's going on? Is there some kind of new paradigm I don't know about? Is BRP the future of whatever? Is SAP trying to long-term outflank of Microsoft and Oracle? I have no idea. Sig won't tell me one way or the other, mainly because of the relatively high volume of readers I get on my blog, as he simply doesn't want too many people finding out too much about Thingamy too quickly.

But I do know, from reading his blog, that he's been up to see the boys at SAP a few times this year, with flights and hotels paid for by them.

My guess is that Sig is in talks with SAP about acquiring Thingamy, or at least, having talks about having talks. My guess is that some people within SAP sees some kind of unrealized future in BRM. I look forward to Sigurd giving us the skinny.

[Afterthought:] Whilst we were talking about my involvement with Microsoft, Sig said to me, "Everybody misunderstands Microsoft because they think they're in the Consumer software business. They're not. They're in the Enterprise business." Food for thought etc.

Posted by hugh macleod at December 15, 2007 6:38 PM | TrackBack

Hehe. Even if I didn't know anything, Hugh, I still wouldn't tell you ;-)

p.s. Fact: Been invited three times by my friends there is right, although only as a mere tech blogger, alas...

Posted by: sig at December 15, 2007 8:14 PM

That's one hell of a rumour.

Seems like SAP are getting into some very cool things at the moment, but still looks like that's around the edge ... eg. encouraging new Wii/Flash widgets to interface to their back-end. (Very smart and sensible, of course)

But Thingamy wants to throw that back-end away entirely. Not sure if SAP could cope with that.

Don't get me wrong, I think Sig's a visionary, and I'm a fan. I'd like to see this all work out for him. But I can't imagine that SAP could do anything with Thingamy at the moment.

My hunch would be that SAP (or IBM) would just put it in limbo. Microsoft would ... probably try to integrate it with Sharepoint something. :-(

Posted by: phil jones at December 15, 2007 8:53 PM

intriuging but as I read this I can't help thinking BRP sounds a lot like Information Work(ers) which isn't anything new.

also pretty sure that Microsoft is in *both* the consumer and enterprise software businesses :)

ho hum...I may be completely missing the point here though

Posted by: steve clayton at December 15, 2007 10:39 PM

From my perspective, I'm just glad that enterprise software marketing has evolved from the "protection racket" messages of the mid-to-late 1990s.

It's been a while (2002?) since I've been in that particular hunt, but I just remember that the sales pitch for enterprise software -- always to the CEO -- went something like:

Vendor: "Buy our software."

CEO: "No. It's too expensive and, besides, I'll have to pay your consultants $3 for every $1 of software I buy."

Vendor: "If you don't buy our software, then we'll just sell it to your closest competitor and, in just a year, they will absolutely crush you with the operational efficiencies that they will achieve using our seamlessly integrated, feature-rich, end-to-end, robust solution."

CEO: "Ummm... Uhhh... Where do I sign? And is it customary to *tip* the consultants?"

Seems we've come quite some way since...

Posted by: Phil Gomes at December 16, 2007 1:48 AM

"I may be completely missing the point here though"

I pretty much feel the same way about ALL software, Steve ;-)

Posted by: hugh macleod at December 16, 2007 6:01 AM

Ho hum Steve!

It's the P in BRP that is the crux - the activities have been there forever and email, office suites, wikis, Monday morning meetings, collaboration software etc runs them. Precious little process structure in those... and with that a bit of lacking accountability, danger of process falling into cracks (oops, forgot to answer mail), and without process capture a lost opportunity to build much of the knowledge needed to get better in what the organisation is _doing_!

And of course, MS is in consumer, hehe, duh-to-me etc. Think the quote should be more like "much of the "consumer" stuff is really "enterprise", more than what the first impression is"... or something along those lines...

Posted by: sig at December 16, 2007 9:56 AM

mmm ok so what was the BRP to do with BRM....:)...and we still need dreams....but now we know what to dream about :)

Posted by: Gordon at December 17, 2007 10:56 AM

Can't help but think that most BRP today is done in Office. This is really about addressing all facets of business intelligence. ERP systems and for that matter many LOB applications are common in that they’re able to address only a fraction of the information that we need to access to help us become more productive and make better decisions. They’re tied to the ERP system, the data warehouse, the different transactional systems that we have all over our organizations.

They’re hard to use—and harder to maintain, and are often restricted to a few people or groups in the organization. Why? Most often, the tools don’t reflect how we want use this information.

Posted by: Ben Tamblyn at December 17, 2007 7:08 PM

Actually, Sig has a good point. Most software products aim to automate processes that are easy to automate. The next level of value-addition will be in automating the processes that _need_ to be automated.

Think about an application like Documentum. Document storage is an ERP. For that matter, Document indexing and retrieval is an ERP. Workflow...the process of generating document from draft to deliverable...that's more like a BRP, and actual implementations reflect that. Food for thought.

Posted by: Joe at December 17, 2007 9:36 PM

What does "up in the alps" mean? Seems like coide for something boring or illicit or both.

Posted by: Susie at December 19, 2007 6:16 PM

I know absolutely nothing about this as an SAP consultant, but I just love you possibly blowing the cover on a company you've invested in. I love it even more that Sig should have fun with it. Only Scoble could be more transparent.

Posted by: shel israel at December 23, 2007 3:41 AM