Friday, 5 November 2010


I'm going to be taking a short vacation - my wife's sister has been unwell, so we will be visiting with them for a short while. However, I want to leave you with a few thoughts.

Now I accept that I have only done the one implementation project - I have however, spoken to half a dozen people that have also been involved in completely separate projects. Based on the information from these, I am going to highlight a few issues that seem to be common between these.

In the cases involved, the projects all overran by a considerable amount - they also cost a significant amount more than was originally budgeted. Another common complaint was that there were many more days consultancy involved than had been advised and everyone highlighted issues with the quality of the consultants involved, the knowledge transfer that took place (or didn't!) and problems with getting the right advice for the business concerned.

Now I have slowly come to see that actually the software does do what it needs to (for the most part). I still think that it looks outdated, some of the processes are very cumbersome, and there are a number of technical items that seem to be designed by people specifically to ensure that they will always been needed. But there is no question that it can be made to do what is needed by many organizations, and if done correctly, will actually achieve what it was designed for - to help a business manage itself better.

The problem is that when an issue occurs, it is always "Darn SAP" (or worse). People are not able to distinguish between the software product, the company and the System Integrator employees (and why should they?).

Taking a slightly higher level view, I could say that it could be down to the implementation process. But if you look at the methodology, it should work (and I am assured that it does by many more experienced people than myself). It meets the needs of the project if carried out. But there I would say is a key problem - from my own experience, I know that the SI director constantly used that SAP image with the project roadmap used in many books to prove that they work to the SAP methodology. But just using the image is not the same as actually following the full procedure.

It could of course be down to the individual consultants. We were promised experienced people with key skills, but instead got people that proved to be relatively new to the SAP world. In many cases, they had received SAP training, but it was in modules that they then didn't work on - and as a result, we have found many areas where we were given poor advice, and are now having to consider re-doing several major sections of the project again.

In a recent coversation with our senior finance officer, she made the comment that one consultant had been on site, then was called back in to do the job that he should have done the first time but didn't - and was then called back a third time to fix the problems that he created the second time! What really annoyed her was the cost - we know that he won't get what we have paid the SI, just a part of that, but even if he only gets half of what was paid, he will actually recive more money this year from us, than any of the senior management team below the C level.

Now all of this is creating serious PR issues for SAP. To be blunt, if we had that sort of major perception problem with our customers, we would have had shareholders screaming for heads to roll. Somehow though, SAP seem to get around this. But the question then is for how much longer can this situation remain unchanged? Surely SAP need to take a long hard look at the people that are representing them and ensure that these people are doing the right kind of job in order to preserve a reputation just like everyone else?

Now at this point, I think it fair to mention that a while ago, a couple of long time readers (Jon Reed and Denis Howlett) along with a couple of other guys set out to take a critical look at just this topic. They produced a document that I have now had the chance to read and made a number of key suggestions that they felt would be to everyone's benefit. I'm adding link below as I think everyone should take the time to read it.

Now you can read what you like into what they say - personally, I think they make a lot of sense. Can you imagine McDonalds operating the way that SAP seem to? The reason that McDonalds are so successful is that they have a key set of operations and every one of their restaurants has to follow them - if a franchisee chooses to ignore these, he may well find that the franchise is taken away from him. They go to great lengths to ensure that the correct training is carried out, that staff work to the defined standards and that is "policed" by careful observation from "mystery shoppers".

From what I've seen, most SAP SIs are rewarded not for the work that they do, but just on how much money they generate. It's therefore in their interest to ensure that costs are kept down, so they engage less well experienced staff. They don't worry about doing a good job - after all, they will earn more by doing a crappy job and getting called back in again and again.

Perhaps SAP could take a look at the McDonalds method - perhaps they need to police their SIs more carefully. These people are representing SAP, and if I was an SAP shareholder, I would want to make darn sure that they did so in a way that I found acceptable.

SAP have training academies, run both by themselves and by others - is there a difference in the quality of the teaching? I can't say for certain, but I suspect from what I have seen that this is a possibility. Having taken a certification, is there a need to refresh it? There have been a lot of changes in various processes in the last few yers, and I know that the guys we had working with us were not aware of many of these. Perhaps SAP should declare a "life" to a cert - say 5 years? After that, the consultant would have to retake the exam to prove that they have stayed up to date.

Certainly from what I have seen, I would question the value of some of the certs. Back in the 90s, people were highly critical of "paper MCSEs" - Microsoft certifications that were obtained without real knowledge, just a series of brain dumps. These days, it is almost impossible to pass an MS exam without real handson experience - they heard the complaints and have done something about it. Can anyone say the same about an SAP cert?

I would say tho' that I don't have too much confidence in seeing any changes any time soon. I do wonder if SAP have reached the point where they are so big that they think they will just carry on the way they are without having to worry about standards. Oh well, time will tell.

See you again in a couple of weeks.


  1. The most successful large-scale ERP implementation I am aware of (it happened to be SAP but could have been any of the large-scale products) was done by a very large company that is also family-owned (and private) and very tightly managed by people who are deeply involved in every aspect of their business. No free-floating "project managers" or "enterprise strategy consultants"; if it can't be explained to Dad (soon to be Granddad) clearly and in depth then it doesn't happen.

    Basically what they did was (1) select the product (themselves, with minimal outside involvement) (2) bring together a project team comprised of high-quality _managers_ from throughout their organization (3) obtain assistance from the vendor and a few select consultants for the /project team/ to install and configure, /and operate/ the product at a small test site (4) continue with minimal assistance from SAP and consultants for the next 3, somewhat larger, pilot sites (5) end most assistance from outsiders while the project team, supplemented by additional business unit managers and associates from the 3 pilot sites, continued with the remaining (27 I think) implementations. It was made clear to project members on joining the team that if the project was successful and they performed well they would be given promotions back into the non-ERP side of the business as well as additional career support (I believe in the event about 2/3 did go back to general business and 1/3 ended up in the IS Dept by choice).

    The idea that outside consultants can figure out how to implement systems that belong to the organization and must be operated and maintained by the entity is not supportable IMHO. Nor is the idea that an implementation can be performed by "project managers", particularly from "IT", rather than real in-line business workers and managers.


  2. I've followed your posts for some time and you offer great insight from a customer perspective. My frustration as an SAP consultant since 1994 is the same as yours--, that SAP does not demand higher quality implementations.

    Back in the late 90's SAP used to demand that any company wanting partner logo certification HAD to follow the methodology AND had to have project QA / Audits done at each major project phase. Unfortunately that does not happen any more.

    For the last several years I have been posting articles and offering insight from an insiders perspective as well. Mine comes from the consulting world on what to do to make sure you as a customer do not get ripped off!

    I try to offer specific suggestions and options on how to manage the vendor relationship and achieve project success.

    Check out the site some time and let me know what you think.