This is one of my favorite expressions. It comes from my history of implementing ERP software - especially SAP. What it refers to is trying to use new software to overlay the same old processes. I've been in many firms with ERP and CRM systems especially where we simply configured new software to do what the old systems and processes did!
But what's damaging about forcing software, especially packaged software, to meet existing processes is the range and depth of changes required to implement successfully. Rather than simply changing the business process and the culture (gulp!) to fit the software application, many firms decide to change the software to meet the existing business process. This is short-sighted for at least four reasons:
1. Do you really think EVERY one of your business processes is so unique and provides a competitive advantage? Can you learn something from what has to be a fairly common business process like cutting a purchase order?
2. When you change the software - even just in the configuration of switches and tables - you are creating a new maintenance issue for the long term. Every change you make means something that has to be tracked and tested upon each upgrade or change in the system.
3. When you change the software, you may create data validation errors. Are you using fields for one function that should have been used for another function? Did you add fields to the database? Will this cause limitations in how you can grow with the software over time?
4. When you change the software, you impact the process documentation and possibly the underlying business processes inherent in the software. This could be important in an environment where validation of the business processes is important - pharmaceutical or medical supplies for example.
Now I'm not suggesting that you should change your entire process and culture for every software application that your business leaders or IT team considers, but you should carefully weigh the tradeoffs when changing the business processes inherent in an enterprise application. By making these changes you are dramatically limiting your ability to grow with the software and creating maintenance headaches down the road. I recognize the power of corporate culture, and I know that enterprise software developers need to take more real world examples into consideration when they develop software.
Ask yourself this question as you prepare to install software - will my business processes look just like they do today in two or three years? If you have any question about how stable those processes are and how important they are to your business - determine the right business processes before you install software to support them.