Thursday, 12 February 2009

Hardware hassles

I'm going to go back to the start of the project to highlight some of the issues with the hardware and installation of the software.

I had asked that we get details on how to do the installation, but the consultants director had insisted that installations could only be done by a qualified "basis" consultant. Arrangements had been made to begin the installation almost at the same time as we were conducting the launch meetings.

We were told that they would arrange for one of these "basis" people to be on site, but at the last minute, I was told the person concerned would do the work over a remote connection. Not a problem as we have used remote connections ourselves for many tasks. However, there was a problem as he needed the CDs and DVDs swapping; that's one job you can't do remotely. To make life easier, I copied all of the required disks to a network location so he could get on with job without needing us to keep swapping disks.

The thing that did surprise me was that he seemd to take a long time to complete the job - there were a number of disks involved, but after some 10 days, the system was still not working. In fact, it was actually almost 6 weeks before all of the installation was finally done so that it could be used - and that was just the one system.

Now if you have not worked with SAP, I should highlight that standard practice is to have 3 systems - Development, Test and Production. The idea is that you start with work on the development system, validate it on the test system before moving it to the production system. (This has some merits, although it does make it a tad long winded to do anything.) Much of the configuration work is supposed to be done on the development system to begin with, then it is "transported" between the systems. In theory at least, the 3 systems will all be identical; as you are moving changes between systems, they should be synchronised.

Having had the first system installed, it was several months before they started on the second one - and that was started by a different person to the first one. He only got about half way, before he was replaced by a second person. In turn, this person was replaced by yet another for the third system - which was only finally finished off by another. Subsequently, we have had another 2 people involved to do certain changes.

Now, I expected that these people would all work to set up the systems in the same way - I quickly found that was not the case. Each of the 3 systems was set-up differently and we are still finding variations which cause the occasional problem. A few times I have had to report issues to the SAP service market place (their support system) and their support staff have expressed some questions about why certain things are the way that they are. The answer I was given is that there is no "standard" way to set-up these systems - I find this a little bit odd, but I suppose it is not too different to the way that Windows can vary on different PCs or servers. However, in our case the 3 servers are all identical hardware so I would expect them to be set-up identically. Clearly, this is not the case.

Another issue I had was with the training - or lack of it to be more precise. We were given a massive printout and a 2 day session with a guy who was from part of Eastern Europe, who did speak English, but wasn't completely comfortable with it. Most of the 2 days involved him reading from the pages of the printout; we had no access to a working system, and no chance to test any of the work. Since then, we have had the chance to test some of what we were given, and we found much of the text was incorrect.

We have moved on since then - but it has been a major stumbling block. We are still learning new things every day and often purely by trial and error and I have to say, it is a major source of frustration. My team are willing to learn new things, but it does seem to be a very haphazard process. I got an email from someone a while ago and he suggested that we have at least another 2 years work ahead of us, possibly more in order to reach a good level of competence.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

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