SAP – Good Projects and Bad Projects

Recently in the whole SaaS versus Enterprise Software debate there has been a large amount of mud slinging going on. Large numbers of “informed” observers have been remarking on how hard it is to implement SAP and how expensive it is, along with the business disruption it brings.

What I haven’t heard is from the really informed people and organisations. Those organisations that have spent their money and have a fully working solution. Now why is that I wonder? Could it be that they have discovered something that other less fortunate organisations ( using non-SAP solutions ) haven’t? Could it be that they are now focused on their business processes which are now taking  their time and attention?

I think the answer to both of those questions is yes. Organisations that install SAP well realise that they have increased control and visibility and develop a questioning and investigative approach to their business processes that supercedes their interest in the associated technology matters.

But back to the “failures”. What is that all about? Actually nothing more than poor management and acceptance of change, and usually a large amount of personal preference being allowed to intercede in the decision making process.  Strong management delivers strong results and combined with effective project management delivers SAP projects. If you dissect a project the size of a full blown ERP implementation into digestible chunks, they are still big undertakings and for that reason it needs great management. Most of the management is about change but sadly change management, whilst widely spoken about,  is less widely understood.

What sort of change might we be talking about?

People: suddenly we have sharing of data, and visibility of data that empower people in different roles to make decisions. The old adage – information is power is eroded from individuals and suddenly the “black arts” disappear meaning new people come to the fore that focus on the process and the information,  not just the information. If you don’t manage this change in roles and responsibilities then expect issues with your project and your business.

Business Processes : a successful ERP project looks at process, in a really detailed way. If it doesn’t then why are you doing it? This is a really challenging part of an ERP project – probably the first time in many years that your way of working has been so widely and deeply challenged (note again the people change management issues!). If you haven’t got them already, it will likely spark a demand for business analysts certainly for the project and if you are enlightened going forward,  into your newly tuned business. One of the lightbulb moments for me in my first ERP implementation was gaining a realisation that the assumption that everyone understands what they should be doing and why just don’t hold water. In one case a warehouse team had to be completely retrained on good practice.

Technology:  An ERP implementation is not an IT project. It is a business project. That is often the first and biggest mistake an organisation makes. For all the reasons above it’s clear to me that without overall business ownership then an ERP implementation is a doomed project.  I should also say that Technology is important as well. And guess what? – another people challenge. A large number of businesses that go the way of SAP either move from old style solutions or in house solutions – this means massive upheaval in the IT function as well. Skills need to change, different languages need to be spoken (literally – how much code in ABAP is German?).  The way of working needs to be changed within IT as well.

….and there is much more besides.

As all of this is solution agnostic, and  is directly relevant and transferable to any really large project, any solution provider that claims that they don’t  encounter these management challenges is being very economical with the truth!

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