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Let's Keep It Simple--Dickeson

September 2003
"I really don't trust the integrity of the formula establishing them," remarked a print executive. He was talking about the cost numbers produced by his computer management information system. "By and large, printers just don't trust the MIS cost data," said a printing industry expert consultant.

More than a quarter-century ago, Wally Stettinius in his classic "Management Planning and Control," warned that, ". . .Unless they [cost accounting data] are complete, and reconciled regularly to the figures reported for financial purposes, the possibility—actually the probability—is that inconsistencies will creep in."

Several times, over the past years, I've challenged printers to prepare a variance analysis of "profits" reported by cost systems with the "profits" for the same period shown by their financial reports. How many have done so? I can count 'em on one hand and still have fingers left over. "Why don't you do this simple task?" I asked an executive.

". . .Printers don't want to use any type of variance analysis. Sometimes we look pretty dumb. . .and do you really want to know what happened. . .are we that inept?"

Just too, too embarrassing. . .that sums it up.

We're wallowing around in quicksand. Here we are with expensive computer systems for which we paid a bunch of money to give us results that we don't trust. And really don't use. Yes, it's embarrassing. Wally told us 28 years ago that unless we reconciled cost regularly with general ledger values we'd probably be inconsistent.

Not-So-Little Mistakes

Since Wally spoke, we've learned that small inconsistencies in input have profound impact on results. In estimating a job, we have inconsistencies both great and small! If Wally were writing today, he would say results will be inconsistent, not "probably" so.

Whose fault is it that we're now in hot slop with inconsistent, embarrassing, incredible, computer cost systems? We've just got to blame someone. Let's have an old-fashioned, finger-pointing, post mortem, blame session.

Hey, it's the system suppliers, isn't it?

"No way," they shout. "We've given you exactly what you asked for. Our computer systems and programs work just as they're supposed to work. It's your fault if you don't keep the systems complete and reconciled as we, and your Wally Stettinius, told you to do. Garbage in, garbage out."

No. It's us. The moving finger now points at us. We asked for it.

"But we're busy getting jobs out the door," we scream back just as loudly. "We can't spend all of our time keeping your magic systems updated. We're printers, not statisticians and computer geeks. You didn't tell us about the constant care of the system and the errors in specs."
 

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