Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Same old, same old

I had actually planned a slightly different post, but with a few things happening at work, I've decided to update you on a couple of issues.

Some weeks back, we had the chance to get a consultant on site from another company. Boy - what a difference! This guy was not a native English speaker, but still managed to understand what we wanted and in the couple of weeks that he was with us, went thru the list of outstanding jobs and put a big dent in them. Several of these tasks have been hanging around for ages, and it has been really good to get them out of the way.

However from my point of view, the best thing was the last day that he was on site. He presented us with a document that detailed exactly what he had done - listing the specific items, a description of a revised process with the flow chart, screen shots as appropriate to show this and the details of some mods to a database table and a script as well. The document was close to 20 pages long and was quite superb. If ever we have an issue in future, there is no question that this document will guide us well.

Compare this to what we normally get from the normal consultants - zip, zero, ziltch. In several cases, they have done specific work and simply not told us about it. I had one particular case a couple of month ago when I received an email informing me that a specific piece of work had been done. I checked this - then I sent the guy a screen shot proving that he hadn't done what he said he had. He just ignored me and told our project leader that I should go ahead and process a change anyway. Best part of that was it didn't fix the problem - he then told the project manager that I hadn't done what was asked - our project manager sent a screen shot proving I had!

What really bites is that we are still using these people despite all of the issues we have experienced. I spoke to the Financial Director today and he is really pissed about this. His comment was that we are paying for these people to do shoddy work, then paying again for them to come back in to fix the mistakes that they make, and then paying a third time, because they didn't actually fix the issue at all. (Note that we are now 6 months past go-live, and there are STILL issues outstanding!)

He showed me the invoices from the consultancy for the last six months - and the total is astonishing. He has written to them several times to ask for proof of work done - they've claimed for people being on site when they haven't been any where near the place. Our total expenditure on the project has topped $3.25 million and is still climbing (and that doesn't include some travel costs, our own staff costs and some additional expenditure on hardware which has been written off against normal IT budget).

Now for some people, this will not sound like a particularly big expenditure, but for us it is getting really serious - our gross profit last year was just $480,000 on a revenue of $25 million. We simply can't afford to bleed money like this particularly in the current economic climate.

There is one other instance I want to write about that I've not mentioned previously. A while back we had a young lady consultant on site for a few days to cover a couple of items on FI/CO. She had not been with us before so wasn't completely up to speed with what had been completed. Apparently she had sent an email off to their project manager asking about something that was needed and was waiting a response from him.

She had then called to ask for me to to have a look at something with her - but when I arrived in the office that she was working in, she had gone to the ladies rest room. While I was waiting for her to return, a pop up appeared on her laptop with a response from her project manager. I don't normally make a habit of reading other people's email (which is why I haven't mentioned this before), but in this case I couldn't really avoid it.

Essentially the message said something along the lines of "Yeah, we've screwed up, that should have been done some time ago. Just BS them for a couple of hours, and we'll get someone to connect and make the necessary config change. They won't know any different". (Those are my words - the original were a little less polite). I was tempted to raise the issue, or report to our people, but decided not to - I've got to be honest tho', it really gets me mad when I think about it. (Particularly when they keep asking us to sign up with them for a support contract.)

I wanted to finish on a more positive note - yes, we do have those as well. About a month after we went live, we started to experience some issues with the system running very slowly. With the help of the SAP support portal and some training at an SAP center, I've identified a number of areas where they set the system up incorrectly. Changes were made to address these and as a result, over the last couple of months, we have had very few of these speed problems at all. In fact, many people have noted this.

Despite what many people might think, I can see that when the software runs well, it does in fact do what is needed (not necessarily what people want) and it can be very effective. Getting people to accept the changes is (certainly for us) a major task, but once they do get with the program, there are real benefits. We just have to try to make the most of these.