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Shell flagship IT project “a monumental blunder”


1 Million dollars a day. That is roughly the sum that Downstream continues to spend on its “GSAP” system, IT flagship of the “Downstream One” (globalisation) project. So how is it going ?

GSAP was launched in 2004 to the dismay of many experienced IT people. Here was an IT project straight out of the 1980s, with a sprawling bureaucracy, 10 year plans, propagandist newsletters, and all the baggage of the mainframe era. RISK factors were off the scale: a massive IT build, a revolution in the business, experimental offshoring, and no fallback plan ! Hadn’t we learned to stop doing things this way ?

Well, no, we hadn’t. And 5 years on, we are still doing it – but the business keep on signing the cheques (so they must be happy) and dissent has largely faded away.

So I was surprised in a recent corridor conversation to hear a contrary view. I was talking to a senior person outside of Downstream – someone with specific intelligence about EXXON MOBIL and their Global SAP system (which I understood we had set out to copy). The view being expressed was that GSAP had been a monumental blunder.

A blistering critique followed, the gist of which is as follows:

(1) EXXON MOBIL realised many functions are best kept LOCAL; we instead GLOBALISED almost everything.
(2) THEY kept their SAP system simple; WE built a huge data warehouse using SAP “BW” (a notorious piece of “bloatware”).
(3) THEY deployed their SAP system all over the world. WE can barely afford to get halfway.
(4) Because of our “SAP BW” decision, we are quietly having to build a lot of (non-SAP) gap-fillers…

…and so on. Not only was this said out loud, but the tone was rather “doesn’t everyone know this ?”

Well, no, they don’t. Back in Downstream, the newsletters are still flowing, and the business are still contentedly signing the cheques. But I do wonder if we may be at a turning point ? With COST CONTROL now back after a 5 year holiday, might we see an end to this kind of IT project ?

Anyone have any insights into this ? Can it really be true that we set out to copy Exxon Mobil, only to get it so fundamentally wrong ? and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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