In this issue, we take a look at two technologies that have been around for quite some time: electronic data interchange (EDI) and enterprise resource planning (ERP). But if you think we are being nostalgic or just plain falling behind, that’s not really the case. It’s more that we want to prove a point: that technology not only takes time to implement, it can stick around a lot longer than you may think.
The tendency is to blame user inertia, but really, who are the ones telling you that you’re at risk of becoming obsolete? They are the same people who want to sell you the latest and the greatest.
My first exposure to EDI came in 1985 as staff writer for Computing Canada attending an event put on by the EDI Council. They had gathered about 500 business users at a Toronto hotel and seemed to have a compelling message: EDI is the future, and with it, you can eliminate all paper including invoices and purchase orders. Further, if you don’t get on board, your business will suffer, going even as far to say that it could be a case of EDI or die.
To be sure, EDI represented a lot of potential to improve business efficiency. In hindsight, though, EDI proved expensive, difficult to implement, lacking in standards, and it would take at least 20 years for all these issues to be sorted out.
Make no mistake, EDI will some day be retired, but it could be some time. Says Robert Hall, CIO of trucking company Speedy Transport — who admits to being one of those people who thought EDI was dead — “We have a lot of customers who still want to use it.” (See story, p. 12.)
Unlike EDI, ERP will be with some time yet, if only because it’s that much more comprehensive. It’s interesting that ERP, which only started to become mainstream in the mid ’90s, is already being considered old hat.
In “Pet Project,” we learn something that often gets overlooked: the benefits of an effective solution are often not clear for several years. In other words, what is the rush?
All of this is not to suggest that companies should be slowing down their IT effort. By standing still, you will of course eventually lag your competition.
But CIOs are well-advised to not jump into it too quickly, you have more time to experiment with new technology than you think. And some times, it pays to stick with the tried and true.

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