The mark of a good CIO is to know when to hold a position — and not taking on this business sponsorship role is certainly one of those occasions.

erp project

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system implementations are business, rather than IT projects.

One CIO perceived an ERP project as ‘career making’ and argued his case for becoming the project sponsor. Fourteen months later — with $16 million spent and little to show for the effort — the project was abandoned and the CIO fired.

Yet far too often it falls to the CIO to take on the role of project sponsor when there’s a sponsorship vacuum created by the unwillingness of business leaders to take on the role. Don’t fall into the trap of taking on the role because nobody else will. Instead, secure the right business sponsor to ensure success.

Some CIOs seize the sponsor role as they believe they will gain power and control through performing it. An ERP implementation, particularly one that aims for significant business transformation, is usually one of the largest investments an organisation makes and has far reaching scope, impact and influence.

The reality is that CIOs don’t have the political muscle and clout to push the transformation through the organisation. They can assist in doing so, but are more influencers and providers to the enablers, rather than assuming the leadership mantle.

Other CIOs fall into the trap of thinking that they are better positioned than business peers to be the sponsor. Some CIOs, failing to secure business sponsorship, step into the role assuming that once they build it others will follow, particularly when they themselves recognise the absolute imperative for the project.

The fact that so many ERP projects are compromised (or fail outright) is attributable to many reasons, such as failure to recognise it as a business project, lack of business ownership of the ERP strategy, over reliance on a system integrator or inappropriate scope. But at the root there’s invariably an absence of effective business sponsorship.

You must support the appointed business sponsor of the ERP project to secure and maintain active, engaged, and informed sponsorship throughout the project — even if the project extends over several years, as many ERP implementations do.

Author: Denise Ganly, Gartner