Why Did the Air Force ERP Implementation Fail?


The other day I heard an officer of the law exclaim “There is no big computer in the sky, folks! Governmental agencies, sometimes even programs within the same agency, don’t talk to each other.”  But why not? The world’s largest, most successful companies have had real-time operation and seamless integration as their primary IT goal for decades now.


Individual cities have also had a preference for ERP solutions for years because they see the benefits of integrated billing for services, the potential for multiple sub-agencies or companies, and excellent payroll capabilities. It looks like the revolution is finally catching on with larger governmental organizations, probably due to mounting pressure to cut costs. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now considering a unified ERP platform for all governmental departments.


The solution would help agencies track their own progress and share information quickly and directly among departments. Early signs point to a direct collaboration between the UK departments and the solution provider to implement (instead of a 3rd party or dealer facilitated implementation). This is the key to success when it comes to large implementations.

Why did the Air Force ERP implementation fail despite a $1B investment and 7 years of time? I assert that it was due (in part) to the choice of dealer facilitated implementation versus OEM facilitated implementation.  When an organization reaches a certain size (medium or larger), it becomes absolutely necessary to work directly with the solution manufacturer. Dell and IBM both operate this way with great success, especially when endeavoring governmental solutions. Smaller engagements go to the dealer network, while larger purchases are made direct through the manufacturer. The fact that both of these companies consistently stay off of the “Biggest Failures” lists is indication that this method benefits both the client and the vendor. The original manufacturer will have a better understanding of what the solution can and cannot do. The OEM will also know the best complimentary applications and hardware based on their own history of feedback, cases, and research. Larger implementations need immediate, knowledgeable support along with a deep understanding of the software and integrated enhancements to succeed. Dealers don’t usually receive this level of training due to a learn-as-you-go education. Although this informal method may work for SMB companies , it spells wasted budgets and excruciatingly long implementations for larger organizations, governmental or otherwise.

I will take a deep dive into the failed Air Force ERP implementation and specific examples of direct versus dealer solutions in the next Carillon ERP Newsletter. Please join our mailing list by filling out the form on the right to receive these newsletters and other important product updates.

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