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Turn your SAP implementation into a success story

“Six out of 10 existing customers wouldn’t buy the same solution from SAP again” – so said a recent report from Nucleus Research. Understandably SAP has dismissed this report as flawed but it has stirred up some interesting opinions within the SAP customer and consultant community. Behind the headline can we recognise some genuine issues and concerns?

In DNASTREAM’s experience there are a few steps that you can take to help make a success of your SAP implementation (or any ERP for that matter). Paul Windsor takes us through those steps here.

Be prepared for the reality of implementing ERP

This might be the first time you have done anything so big and of course you “don’t know what you don’t know”.

A reputable partner will certainly offer you support and guidance during the project, but you need to make sure you are stepping up to the challenge too. All too often resources may be allocated on a part-time basis or without the necessary skills and experience to deliver. Yes, it can be difficult to make the right people available but the pain of getting the implementation wrong is likely have a bigger impact on your business in the longer term. The commercial reality for any partner will mean that they cannot take on your responsibilities and often this can cause friction between you and your partner and can lead to delays.

DNASTREAM’s experience is that customers benefit from having business-side support from seasoned implementation specialists, who can provide specific advice and guidance to the customer team during the project. When it’s difficult for you to ask the right questions or make sense of mind-boggling options, having someone who can help you engage with the partner and drive out the right solutions can save significant time and effort as well as reduce risk.

Make sure that you have business control over the project

Implementing SAP or other ERP applications is a business project, not simply an IT project, and ultimately it needs to be owned and controlled by the business. Ensuring you have the right governance model with appropriate responsibilities, accountabilities and involvement is crucial.

DNASTREAM has seen so many ERP projects led by the IT function with too little involvement from the business, where we support the customer in realigning the governance. Whilst it’s true that ERP projects can be successfully delivered when led by IT, in our experience these tend to be where there is sufficient engagement with the business functions to ensure buy-in and effective decision making.

Establishing and maintaining control over the implementation partner is also very important. It is naïve to think that the partner will always “do the right thing” – they are after all subject to their own commercial pressures. It is your strong management that can actually assist the partner to maintain focus on their own areas of responsibility by removing ambiguity and eliminating uncertainties. DNASTREAM often undertake key customer-side roles to ensure there is strong management and governance of both the partner and the customer team. Our customers have found that having an experienced, independent, trusted partner that can challenge all parties can help ensure successful project delivery.

Be clear about what you want from your partner – is it implementation or support

Partners really like to secure the ongoing support contract for the ERP implementation as this can provide five or maybe even 10 years of recurring revenue. Whilst you may be able to drive a hard bargain on the implementation project, it’s quite often the case that the partner is willing to give something away on the project costs in return for the support deal. This of course, can lead to challenges during the implementation project where the budget is constrained and scope is tightly controlled.

It’s not unusual to find that areas of scope are deferred during the project, ostensibly to safeguard the delivery date, which are then planned as later phases to be completed within the support contract. This can easily erode the business benefits delivered by the project and cause dissatisfaction with the end result. Furthermore, there is often little focus on ongoing benefits realisation so the deferred areas of scope might not actually be completed.

In DNASTREAM’s experience, it is crucial to establish clear measurements of success for the implementation project, which should always come back to the business case and be encompassed within a robust benefits realisation initiative. Whilst it might be necessary to accept a certain level of compromise with the immediate outcomes from the project it is important to maintain a focus on ensuring the completion of all expected deliverables beyond initial go live.

Be prepared to rethink business processes

The Nucleus Research report seems to mock SAP’s “run simple” tagline, but are they actually missing the point here? If you end up with complicated and clunky processes – it could be down to the underlying business processes rather than the software. This is an opportunity to embrace change and to simplify your ways of working. Simplification isn’t achieved as a result of implementing new software but needs serious thought by the business and a willingness to challenge the status quo.

Whilst this is all well and good, it can be very difficult to do in practice and you could find it hard to introduce significant transformation to business processes without help.  For sure, expecting the IT system alone to drive the transformation is demanding too much. The key is to understand what the project (or probably programme) is trying to achieve – if it really is business transformation then the software implementation is only part of the overall picture and not the objective of itself. We’ve all heard of “IT-led transformation” programmes, but shouldn’t it really be “business-led” supported by IT?

Don’t underestimate the business change impact

The very fact that some new software is being implemented means that there will be some change to the ways of working. Fundamentally there can be a significant impact on people and processes. Make sure that you manage this business change to avoid problems when deploying SAP or other applications, because at the basic level the system is still used by people and those people are expected to execute business processes.

DNASTREAM’s advice to its customers is to always have a direct focus on business change management. The degree of formality and depth depends on the actual nature of the business change impact and can vary from a “light touch” approach to a full-on change programme where business transformation is the goal. Indeed, DNASTREAM’s Change Management Framework provides a range of flexible strategies, tools and techniques to help customers to deal with the impacts of change at all levels.

Don’t under-cook end user training

It is a mystery why end user training is still so often given a lack of attention in ERP implementation projects (in fact, projects in general). There is clear evidence that effective training for end users can reduce operational issues and lead to enhanced adoption and an optimal use of technology. You may run the risk of running out of budget earlier in the project, often end user training is squeezed to fit what budget is left. In DNASTREAM’s view this is a serious error – it would surely be better to sacrifice some areas of functional scope rather than go forward with poorly trained users, who are not fully equipped to perform their roles.

All too often, the IT system is blamed for issues that occur following go live when in reality many issues are due to lack of end user competency or disengagement. In DNASTREAM’s approach, end user training is an intrinsic element of business change management and we encourage customers to maintain a focus on this from early in the project. Our Rapid Launch™ approach to knowledge transfer and training provides an embedded “knowledge supply chain” concept that starts in the early project stages, encompassing stakeholder engagement and building up throughout the lifecycle culminating in the delivery of training to end users.

Being aware of these issues as you prepare for your ERP implementation, and seeking the right advice at the right time can make a significant difference to the success of your project. Find out more about DNASTREAM’s experience in supporting SAP implementations or get in touch with us about your project.