It occurred to me that when writing these posts, I've fallen in the same trap as a lot of people; I make assumptions that the readers will know certain things about SAP that I don't need to elaborate on. So I thought that I would clarify a few issues.
SAP is an acronym - Systems, Applications & Processing. The title was originally in German, but it works the same in English. It is both the name of the company (SAP GmbH or SAP Inc etc.) and it is also the name of the software product that the company produces. Normally, it is fairly clear which of the two is being referred to, but just occasionally, it can be a bit confusing.
The company is a global player - they operate in almost every market area of the world. Previously, due to the size, complexity and cost of implementing their product, they concentrated on selling to the larger organisations. However, some years ago, they realised that there were a lot more smaller businesses out there than larger ones and so changed their focus somewhat - they now try to sell to all sizes and type of organisations.
The software is a massive product, with many modules covering different areas within a business. It is intended to be a true Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) product; that is, it allows data from all areas of a business to be handled and processed in order to allow a seamless transition of data and therefore much greater accuracy of processing and transparency of data for analysis. This has previously been of real importance to the larger operations, but is becoming equally important to the smaller ones that wish to compete on a equal footing.
So far, so good. However, now it starts to get a bit more complex. You see, SAP (Inc) don't actually do most of the selling of SAP (product) . Yes they have a massive marketing budget and teams of specialists that help in the selling process, but the majority of the selling is really done by other companies; and these are the ones that also (generally) do the implementation of the product. These can be smaller companies operating in a single country or larger one that operate across a global region - it could also be one the big boys such as the major consultancies. This actually also includes people such HP & IBM who are surprisingly active in this area.
Now there are people out there that will tell you that SAP (the product) can operate "out of the box". I know what they mean, but in fact that is a very simplistic statement and in reality is simply not true in the way that say Microsoft Office would work out of the box. From my experience, I can say with utter certainty that the software installation is not a just case of putting a CD / DVD in the drive (they actually supply a large box full of over 100 discs!). In order to carry out even the most basic of installations successfully, you need to know certain things about the product and your business before you start. Even then, there are a number of factors that could prevent an installation taking place at all.
In order to use the product effectively, it also needs to be set-up - SAP (the company) refer to this as "best practice". What they actually mean is that over the years, they have developed a series of modifications and changes to meet the needs of the larger businesses that they have installed the product in. They have a wide range of these based upon sector and process type; they can select which of these to install on a "mix and match" method. This requires a good knowledge of the product AND of the business - and I would suggest that this one area is responsible for many of the problems that occur during implementation.
Now it gets even murkier. In some of the consultancies, the people that work for them are employees, but many are only on short term contracts - say 18 months to 2 years. These consultancies will hire people for the specific project based upon need and skill. Unfortunately, many of the people hired are of varying quality - and in some cases, they end up working in a module area that they are not particularly skilled in. I've also seen that the consultancy can hire in a person who is in turn a private contractor, and these generally get paid by the day or week. I also understand that in some cases, the larger consultancy contracts out part of the work to a smaller firm. And of course, the smaller firm can then hire in the actual people, who might even be employed by yet another business.
You see, some of these consultancies specialize in specific areas - HR, Accounts, or groups of modules such as those that make up the manufacturing process. The concept is fairly sound - you hire in the expertise in the area that you have the need. This allows you to act as a consultant even if you don't have the required specialization.
But with all of these different people, using different employment methods and structures of reporting, you find communication problems even in the relatively simple projects. From experience, many of the individuals like to work in particular way and use specific methods or practices - in some cases, these clearly don't meet the specific requirements, and I've seen that they often go against the defined goals.
Now, for a lot of people, this will seem a strange way of working - but you have to understand that this is the SAP business model. They are NOT in the business of selling software - they actually want to sell the knowledge and experience of the consultants, either as business consultants, project management, training, education services - basically all of the additional items that are perhaps a bit harder to quantify.
Don't get me wrong, when the software is set-up properly, it seems to work well (if perhaps a bit long winded). However, I would suggest that the way that the product is sold and then managed is almost designed to lead to issues that will then require the hiring of additional outside expertise. The problem then of course is that often people get locked in to the product - no-one (especially in senior management) wants to admit that they might have made a mistake, so they act like the gambler who keeps on playing in the hope that the one big win will cover all his losses.
Our project is one of the less expensive ones - we've spent nearly $2 million so far after 2 years and based upon some of the comments and observations, I expect that we will see an annual expenditure of another $100k to $150k for the next 5 years in addition to any contracted support cost (which was hiked from the beginning of the year). I still have a copy of the original documents - they stated categorically that the total cost over the first 5 years would be $1.06 million and this covered all installation costs, support and consultancy.
In reality, we will probably have spent around 3 times as much by the time that we are finished. I did some basic numbers and to get the return that they suggested, we would have to continue to use the product for around 18-20 years, and that doesn't allow for any subsequent changes or projects. I have to be honest, I cannot see that we will ever actually get a return on our investment - it's just going be a big old money pit.