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Jun 19, 2010

Knowing the customer: Is it important?

I have a question.

When you are implementing a business solution for a customer, is it important to know the customer in detail? This is the subject of this weeks' poll.

I believe so. I think that if you are going to implement the business solution, it is very important to know the customer and their business in detail. The more you learn about the customer, the better the quality of the implementation will be. The knowledge about the customer will help you talk the language of the customer. For example, it always is better to talk about item '4411' rather than 'TEST1234', or for that matter customer 'Lester Martinez' rather than 'TESTCUST'.
It makes sense to put in the effort to know the key customers (may be the top 5) or the key suppliers, the key raw materials, the key products. It makes sense to know the customer's revenue, the plans, the key people in the organization... Etc.

My view is based on the idea that as an ERP consultant, you can add value to the organization and improve the quality of the implementation if you know the customer and their business.

However, my friend Ravi disagrees. According to him, it is better to leave the customer to know the business and you spending effort in learning about the product / application. He feels that time spent on learning the business can be better spent learning the application. That way, customer can focus on his requirements and you can focus on providing the best possible alternative solutions to his issue. He feels that it is better that the consultant spends time learning the application since a thorough learning of application will force you to clearly understand most of the business concepts. In Ravi's opinion, the best quality implementations
are where the knowledge of the customer is transferred to the best possible product options.

These are two different philosophies, I guess. My view says that ERP implementation is a business value enhancing process and hence the consultant should know the business thoroughly to provide the best business solutions. The underlying assumption is that the consultant knows more of business in general, and hence is in a position to provide value added advice to the customer (basically, Consultant knows it all..).

Ravi's view is that an ERP implementation is primarily a mechanical process. Once you have a solution designed, the rest of the processes like pilots, Unit Tests, Data Conversion etc are more of a mechanical process and hence it is better to learn how to 'Operate the Machinery' well rather than learning 'How the machinery works'.

What do you feel is the correct approach? Or is the whole question dependent on the type of solution being implemented? For example, if you are implementing a financial solution, it might be better to know the business, but if you are implementing a manufacturing solution, it might be better to ignore the business learning and purely focus on learning the product features?

Or is the whole question irrelevant?

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