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Career Conversations - ERP Specialist (Enterprise Resource Planning) with Daryl Hewison

In this career conversation, Jenny talks to Daryl Hewison on the career she narrowly missed out on, ERP Consultancy. Daryl is a very engaging LinkedIn Content writer discussing all things systems, culture, communication and data as well as owner and Managing Director of MetaEight.

Jenny: Wild assumption here, you did not grow up wanting to be an ERP specialist! What did you want to be?

Daryl: I was vague about careers and not ambitious, from what I remember. I liked construction work first, even though I was seen as academic while at school, and just liked to make things and design things. But I also remember re-programming my calculator for Maths GCSE, so the seeds must have been there.

What was your first computer experience like?

I grew up in a community that refused all modern technology. But when I was about ten years old I was picked out for computer lessons on a BBC Micro, and a teacher came in to show us how to write BASIC code once a week. That was all the experience I had for a long time.

When did you learn how to instruct and program computers? 

The BBC Micro was the start, I think, and I have sometimes thought that getting the real fundamentals young enough must make a big difference. Then there was a very long time when I had no further instruction (or computer) at all. But the calculators I had for school allowed the use of a language a bit like BASIC, and I found reasons to need it – I recall working out how to display polar graphs for Maths, for example.

It was years later before I approached anything like a conventional route into coding, and that was via Excel and then VBA (the scripting language that MS Office uses). Once I found just how useful that was, I enrolled into a distance degree in Maths and Computing to learn the real lessons. Though I must say that the real-world experience of using whatever is available to solve the problem at hand was in some ways the bigger lesson.

There a lots of people who dismiss math’s, “urgh it’s not for me”. You one of the lucky ones, you have a way with numbers and words and I often read your Linked In posts thinking he’s going to go off and be a writer here. Do you think the cultural acceptance in the UK that 'maths is not for some'.

I do worry about that, but I haven’t been able to decide whether it’s fixable across a population. I don’t see why anyone shouldn’t be able to grasp Maths and numbers, but it does seem to be a real struggle for many. It really is an obstacle that it’s acceptable not to grasp them, though, because I think anyone with real decisions to make needs the thinking methods that Maths and Logic can give them, and you can see some influential people switching off when the subject goes that way in a discussion. That’s where you come in with data literacy, I guess!

I’m not really a writer, myself, I’ve just always loved reading. I think if you read enough, the words just start to come back out.

Do you think we have a growing issue with a widening gap between system influencers and business?

I’m not sure about widening, but I see a growing number of people talking about the problem of technical expertise being separate from decision-making. You can’t import data scientists and expect that to make the business data-driven, and you can’t install massively clever software systems and expect them to run the business. Business happens in the real world: real people make decisions, machinery makes real objects, and real people buy and sell to each other. The people who matter need access to the data and systems that matter, they’re no good each doing their own thing. The massive challenge, a lot of the time, is infusing the real-world knowledge into the way the systems work so that the results make sense to the real-world people when they come out the other end, and the issue you mention is that it’s easier for technical experts to stick to what they know rather than do that, and for non-technical people to leave them to it.

Your work has taken you all over the globe? Where have you lived?

My work has been a bit incidental to travel, but I’ve spent time in Taiwan for family reasons and worked from there.

What has working in other cultures shown you about workplace culture at home?

I don’t think I’m a culture expert at all, but I do usually worry for us in the UK and Europe when I come back from the Far East. Over there, they are still far hungrier than we are, and in a global market that’s what we’re competing with. If we want to keep our ideas of work-life balance, support of the less fortunate, and all the other good things we’ve come to take for granted, we’re going to have to be very good at keeping productivity up in whatever ways we can.

What have you done with Epicor? and why are you a big advocate for it over other systems?

I’ve implemented Epicor and run it day-to-day in a mixed manufacturing and distribution environment, customised it and integrated it with other systems. In a sense, of course, I’m an advocate of it because I’ve had that experience and know it works, so I can recommend it with confidence. But it sits in a sweet spot compared to other ERP options because it’s unusually focused on the mid-sized business, and there are a LOT of those around. Plus it has a good balance between being very extendable and customisable, but still with a lot of default functionality that just works. Many systems either require custom set-up to work at all, or restrict you to what they provide, and Epicor walks the line unusually well.

It also helps that it’s a big vendor with deep pockets for investment, especially among options targeting that mid-sized market, because no business wants to tie themselves into a core system that’s going to get left behind as technology develops.

Recruiting in Information Technology and Supply Chain is notoriously hard. I believe that is because both landscapes are being rewritten by tech and it changing our human nature. What are your thoughts?

I think it’s changing the requirements of human nature, at least, and maybe the problem is that human nature itself can’t change that fast!

We’re back to your question about the gap between system influencers and business here, I believe. There are some roles where things have become extremely technical and need quite abstract capabilities … but my suspicion is that the problem we have is that we are not acknowledging that those aren’t ALL that is needed. And not only are people who can deal with the highly technical as well as social and practical needs quite rare, they also aren’t very easily identifiable before you’ve seen them in the role.

What do you think we need to teach our kids?

Adaptability and flexibility! More than that, I’d need a crystal ball to say.

It does look like there’s going to be more of a premium on some kinds of skills, assuming technology continues to develop, but I have to believe that as technology continues to get smarter we can’t go wrong teaching children just to be good humans. And to stay creative.

As a parent, are you concerned about how the education system prepares us for working in the future?

My experience is still very limited. I am worried that we’re trying to push too many people towards the same kind of work, and there won’t be enough of it, since technology is proving unexpectedly good at removing the routine tasks from desk work. That’s a problem with assuming that more higher education is automatically better. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the more basic end of education so far.

Do you think a certain types of person can comprehend data better?

Unfortunately, I think we have to accept that’s true. Not that others can’t learn, or that it can’t be presented in a way that many more can comprehend, but certain types do seem to find it more natural.

I love your linked in banner and business name. {your business} > { your systems}, works on me but I can tell you a lot of people struggle with that > sign. Tell my why you have chosen to be your own boss and why METAeight?

That banner was thrown together … it expressed what I wanted right then, but probably needs revisiting. “Greater than” is a stumbling block, I know.

As far as setting up in business goes, I mostly wanted a broader canvas. I just love solving problems, and already solved problems I have to fight to stay interested in. Most businesses want as much stability as they can get, so there seemed much more scope solving problems far and wide and leaving people in a better place to carry on, rather than staying with one company and hoping for more problems! In the USA there seems to be more of a culture of freelance expertise for Business Systems (and Epicor specially) as well as full-time employed experts, and I think there’s a lot more space for that approach here in the UK, because while you always need someone available to help with your ERP, you shouldn’t need them on-hand all the time.

I always thought if I had a business I’d give it a “story” name, and I think a metaphor is a very powerful concept when thinking about systems. So METAeight is twice as good because eight is twice four (excuse the pun), and eight is also the luckiest number in Chinese culture, which is nice for the Taiwan connection.

Your content on Linked in very very through provoking, I genuinely believe you need your own TV show. What has it been like having such a engaged community as an individual, does a certain responsibility come with that? 

I hadn’t actually thought about it like that. I’ve been enjoying the conversations, but I’m still small fry compared to many. It’s been a good discipline for me, having committed to posting each day, to know that people are looking, I suppose? But LinkedIn seems to work best as a sort of loose community thing, and a lot of it is about conversations here are there, not only on my posts. I’ve always thought people come along to chip in on my posts because I pop up elsewhere as much as anything, and I do feel responsible to keep up with the people who I think deserve support.

I’ve yet to do a video, even, so I can’t quite imagine what I might do on a TV show! Ideas welcome.

Is there anything you can’t believe I have not asked that you want to share about working with people and systems ?

I think you know your subject too well to miss anything obvious! Speaking of sharing, though, I think we share an opinion that people and systems need to mesh better in business. Data is key, these days, and data is the language that people and technology share, but only people can really USE it. So people are vital, and it’s vital they understand data. And that they know it’s vital.

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