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.


  1. how utterly un-frickin' $%^&*( professional!!!

    as a consultant it absolutely boils me that this goes on. i'm not naive, i know this type of rampant mis-representation and shoddy work happens in all forms of business. but it gives consulting the worst possible reputation and i can't help but get ticked off about it. I can't begin to recall the number of customers I've been to where there is an obvious amount of consultant scar-tissue with the folks I work with. It's clear that they have a built up mis-trust which makes it that much more difficult to tackle design or process issues. in some cases their feelings extend to lack of respect to outright hatred.

    that said, and i think i replied in an earlier post of yours... is that while customers don't deserve this from the people they hire, they do have an obligation to act once they have reasonable doubt (or a scandilish email in your case). failure to do so is the customers fault in my opinion. it's tough to say but they have no one else to blame when they put up with this. kick these guys out of there and get knowledgable and respectful resources. there are reasons (i.e., contracts or timing) why it is difficult to remove a consultant but it's never impossible.

  2. > 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.

    Perhaps I have lost the big picture (long time since you started this blog) - were you directed to implement a Very Large ERP package and/or use a specific consultancy by a parent company or large investor?

    I have done about a dozen implementations of midrange ERP systems for companies in the $20-$100 million range, both as an internal consultant and as Director IT. Generally the only way I have found to make progress, get the system live, and fix the inevitable problems is to terminate all the consultants (contractually that is!) and force the business staff and in-house IT people to start learning, working with, and (most importantly) fixing the system themselves. And to me the system includes all infrastructure and associated components, most notably the database.

    I have never had a project finish successfully where senior management insisted on a big-dollar outside consulting firm being involved. And if it did finish successfully, what then? The first time something breaks (and it will break), or the first time a new report is needed, the consultants will be gone and no one will know what to do. The learning is in the doing, and if the business and its staff aren't doing the doing during the project when will they?

    Note: Usually in the three months it takes to get rid of consultants I identify 1 or 2, and perhaps 2 or 3 of their trainers, who actually know what they are doing. Then I can bring those people back as needed for focused 2-3 day storms. But no endless hours billed.


  3. Kevin,

    I really do understand your feelings and feel much the same - I consider myself to be a professional and try to encourage appropriate behavior from my staff.

    This sort of thing does nothing to improve the reputation of people in IT - but if it is any consolation, I don't believe that it is typical of most consultants in general or SAP consultants in particular. I addition, I have met many consultants and SAPs own people that are really good.

    Regarding getting rid of the people we currently have, I wish it were that simple. I must admit, that I don't understand why they are still on site - if it were down to me they would have been gone a long time ago. There has to be a reason, but I've no idea what it is.

    To sphealey: we actually had no choice in product or firm of consultants (they are not tier 1), they were selected for us and we just had to make the best of the situation.

    I must admit that at the beginning I had serious concerns and having seen the sales people from this firm, did not feel any better. However, I did point out to my staff that having SAP on your resume doesn't hurt if you are looking for employment.

    Shortly before we started, I met up with a consultant from another firm and he actually made me feel much better about the project, as he clearly knew what he was talking about. Sadly we couldn't use them - a pity as we might not have had so many problems. I will say that I think your comments about getting people trained to reduce reliance on cnsultants is right on the money.

    Hopefully, I will be able to post a new item next week, that you'll find a bit more palatable.

    Once again, thanks for following the blog and for the great comments.

  4. 你可以從外表的美來評論一朵花或一隻蝴蝶,但你不能這樣來評論一個人........................................

  5. Great site, keep up the excellent work! After doing SAP projects since 1994 I'm still amazed that so much of this garbage continues. What I'm surprised about is that there are not a LOT MORE lawsuits!

    I write a blog from a client / customer perspective on how to keep themselves from getting ripped off. I think that more SAP customers should have stronger contracts so that they can sue the $#@%$# out of these con artists.

    I'm sorry to hear about your experience. Unfortunately it is more common than it should be but getting to be less common. I think what you are seeing with some of the folks who have done a decent job AFTER you went live is they are probably contractors. I got sick of the system integrator games and went independent for that reason.

    Check out my site some time and let me know what you think:


    I'd also like to know if you would be okay with me posting / cross-posting some of your posts on my site with full attributes and links back?

    Bill Wood
    R3Now Consulting
    (704) 905 5175