Andrea Haynes, Group Editor of SAPexperts, recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Yosh Eisbart, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of NIMBL LLC, to get his thoughts about what tools and resources you need for your next implementation.
Following is a transcript of their conversation.
Yosh Eisbart: Thanks, Andrea, for having me.
Andrea: This is the first of a series of interviews we’ll be doing on Insider Learning Network on managing vendors and consultants, playing to the strengths of your IT team, and developing your IT maturity. Thank you for joining me today.
Yosh: Absolutely, looking forward to discussing.
Andrea: Let’s start with talking about one of the most common vendor accountability issues that you’ve seen.
Yosh: Sure. Well, one of the challenges obviously in any SAP implementation is resourcing. And when internal resources don’t have the necessary skill set and/or bandwidth, customers are often faced with the requirements of working with outside vendors. Obviously that’s pretty common, and working with employees in general, whether internal or external, you run into some challenges.
Some of the most common challenges that we’ve seen in the marketplace are challenges around delivery, specific deliverables within a larger project, timelines, and, obviously, cost.
Those four challenges are pretty pervasive, and obviously there’s a whole host of mechanisms that we’ve seen to help mitigate those.
When you’re working with your partner, it’s tremendously important that specific deliverables are clearly articulated and documented, so that there are no disconnects. Whether it’s cost overrun, whether it’s a disconnect in expectation, whether it’s missing timelines, you’re dealing with a complex, robust, long term initiative in an SAP implementation.
Those types of issues may not be as pervasive or challenging in a short term, smaller, let’s say, web development month-long project. But when you’re talking about two years - having clearly documented specifications is one way to help mitigate challenges around delivery.
At one of our customers right now, they’re on a 10 year SAP program, in year two of that implementation. They’re implementing soup-to-nuts SAP functionality, a very large, global company. Like many large SAP implementations, they’re running into challenges around implementation, both from a customer and from a partner perspective.
One thing they had mentioned was, “We don’t know what we don’t know” - a very real challenge beyond deliverables, costs, or timelines. They only really identified this need after money and time has been spent, and they needed to bring in some more heavy duty SAP expertise.
So the recommendation – and we’ve actually seen this in multiple customers, specifically within the newer SAP implementation space – is that if an organization does not possess internal SAP expertise, there’s really two ways that they can handle it.
Recommendation #1 is to hire experienced SAP knowledge. You always want to trust your partner, and trust needs to be earned. But you also need to be able to verify. So having internal SAP expertise is that kind of trust-and-verify approach.
The other option, which we found to be very successful in larger implementations – even in the mid-market, but specifically in larger implementations – is the third-party objective “bulldog.” That is where you’re engaged with a tier 1, a tier 2, or a large SAP SI (services integrator/implementer) and they obviously have PM responsibility in terms of the deliverable, timeline, all those things we spoke about. But if you as a client hire an objective third party – whether an independent, or even a Big Four – you have an individual or a small team that is responsible for overseeing the activity that your SI is doing.
Again, it’s not that you as a customer don’t trust your implementer, but it never hurts to have an extra set of eyes and ears and expertise in-house to be able to validate and hold accountable your prime.
Andrea: You just mentioned the need to verify. Do you have any advice on tools to enforce accountability with vendors?
Yosh: Absolutely. There are a whole host of tools out there, both SAP and non-SAP.
One specifically is SAP Solution Manager. Solution Manager is not simply just a technical tool, an old-school kind of CCMS, or Basis or OSS type of tool anymore. It’s much more robust, it’s basically a product toolkit that plugs into the entire SAP implementation life cycle from blueprinting through testing through change management, and then through sustained production support. And then as a new initiative comes, that circle continues.
So the Solution Manager product suite is very powerful, which we as customers already own – not an extra set of licenses. And putting in specific Solution Manager components helps provide a tremendous amount of accountability, reusability, and accelerators that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you don’t use Solution Manager.
Here’s a perfect example: We’ve been deployed to multiple implementations where mid-stream, or even after the fact, a customer has not used Solution Manager as part of its rollout. Again, getting back to “You don’t know what you don’t know,” one may not understand what Solution Manager can do.
For example, SAP Solution Manager Solution Documentation is a component that allows you as a customer to document your business processes through your business process repository. There are additional tools that actually allow you to do reverse engineering, like Solution Documentation System, etc. But the bottom line is that Solution Manager is a wonderful accountability tool that allows you as a customer to define your business process, which in turn, exists as a foundation for additional Solution Manager and business process accountability.
From a tech management perspective, you can use Test Workbench or integrate with additional tools such as SAP’s newly branded ALM (which was HP Quality Center), or some change management Solution Manager functionality such as ChARM or Quality Gate Management. All of these, again, are accountability metrics that allow you to document what you do, ensure that your outsourcing partner is clearly documenting what functionality is being implemented, and that allows for a tremendous amount of reusability.
Another really neat accountability tool for those companies that are leveraging either a third-party hosting provider, and/or leveraging remote BASIS services or technical services, there’s a component within Solution Manager called Central System Administration or CSA.
CSA is another wonderful vendor accountability tool where you as a customer can work in partnership with your outsourcing provider to document the activities that need to be performed on a periodic basis: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, quarterly, whatever. Again, what this allows you to do is to document process, kind of run your SAP like a factory, and allow for reporting – both proactive and reactive reporting – which allow you as the Basis manager or CIO or a Basis administrator to understand what activities are being performed and when.
So, there is a tremendous amount of accountability, and also obviously a tremendous amount of transparency.
Andrea: We’ve seen a heightened awareness of consultant fraud recently. Do you have any advice for avoiding that?
Yosh: (Laughing) You know, there are a lot of haters out there! Seriously, though, like any industry or any service, whether SAP or not, you have both well intended employees and well-intended consultants, and you also have, unfortunately, the opposite.
There are obviously challenges within the SAP market in ensuring that your consultants are of the right expertise and skill set, and ultimately that comes down to a couple of things.
One is this: You as a customer are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the resources that your given partner deploys are of the right skill set.
A common question again is, “Well, if I’m a new SAP implementer, how do I know?”
So one way you do is to bring in some internal SAP expertise. Ultimately, no one cares about your SAP environment as much as you do.
It’s your responsibility to be able to partner with the right outsourcing vendor, but always use a trust-and-verify mechanism. The goal is to end up partnering with someone who’s got integrity, and has got the right skill set as presented on their CV.
Andrea: Thank you very much, Yosh.