Some time ago, I went to a vendor sponsored event. These are usually good places to pick up on new technologies. find out what else is going on and also network with other people within the industry. It also allows me to take some time off away from normal activities, and re-charge my batteries so to speak.
I took a short break during the lunch period and started talking to a guy who told me that he was the IT manager for a government organization. Although he and I have the same job title, he has a lot more responsibility - a base of several thousand users and a large team of specialists working for him.
During the conversation, the topic of SAP came up - it turns out that his organization has also installed SAP. It appears they started about a year before we did, and went live a couple of months before us. Although there is little in common between our two businesses, we had similar issues with the SAP implementation. We swapped business cards and made promises to contact each other again. This is quite common practice, but generally I wouldn't expect to hear from anyone afterwards.
To my surprise, I got an email from this guy a short while ago. In it, he detailed a number of issues regarding their project and the people involved. They have been using one of the top tier consultancies and have spent many 10s of millions of dollars so far. Although they went live well over a year ago, they still have consultants on site - in fact these people almost have their own office space and on any given day, they will have between 5 and 10 consultants working on something to do with the product.
I've now shared several emails with this guy. Although he didn't specifically ask me not to reveal too many details, I wouldn't want to put him in an awkward position, so I am going to be a bit careful. However, I can say that he and his staff feel very unhappy about the position they are in. From his comments, it seems that the consultants almost never talk to the IT staff or manager. Certainly, the IT staff appear to have had limited training at best and in most cases, none at all.
The project itself seems have been entirely managed by the consultancy firm, and very little communication seems to have occurred between them and the IT department or the business process owners. Worse, the end users seem to have had equally limited training. At this stage, the IT staff take calls from the end users, record the issue what ever it might be, and then just pass it on to the consultants. He indicated that on some occasions, they get a response the same day, but in most instances, it is usually several days before they are offered a resolution - in most cases, they just get told that the issue is "closed".
When they started their project, an amount of money was allocated specifically for training. All of this has now been sucked up by by the project along with amounts budgeted for other IT projects. It appears that the money pit that is SAP just gobbles up cash, and at this stage, they seem to be able to do little with the product in terms of the business processes - he indicated that not one module seems to be working as it should.
I have to be honest, I feel really sorry for this guy and his staff. I've been there, I have the war marks and I know just how frustrating it can be. There were times when I seriously doubted that we would be able to get some of the processes working. I wanted to try to help him out and give him some practical advice - I then realised something really bizarre.
I was trying to defend SAP.
Seriously, I actually found myself writing to him, telling him that once it was working, he would be really pleased at how he could get certain things working for him. I've passed information to him on certain specific transactions for admin and systems monitoring. I know that several of these have been previously unknown to him or his staff - he asked for clarifaction how to use the t-code. He also came back with questions about some of the information that they found, some of which I have been able to assist him with.
From my point of view, one of the most serious issues was to do with user permissions - previously, all of this had been managed by the consultants. I've helped this guy understand how to analyse what permissions have been allocated, and also how to test to see where they are going wrong. What got me was how greatful he was for the information that I was able to give him.
I'll be honest, I've not been impressed with the consultants that we have had working on our project. I felt that they didn't achieve a lot of the things that they were supposed to do. Most of our internal project people struggled to get the required information they needed, and it seemed to take far too long to get some of what we saw as fairly simple issues resolved. I think that we have spent a great deal of money and at the moment, don't really have a lot to show for it in terms of ROI. But at least our system is working, and people can use it to do the basics.
But when we compare our implementation to the project at this other organization, ours is a runaway success.
It got me talking to one of my staff - I discussed the issues they had had, and what would be needed to correct them. He then made a comment that perhaps we could hire ourselves out as "guns for hire" - experienced IT staff with SAP knowledge that could go around the companies trying to install SAP having issues, and help them get the problems resolved. He was a bit taken aback when I pointed out that such people already existed - and they are called "consultants"!