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Lately I’ve been reading some good stuff on SCN (SAP Community Network) about Corporate Social Responsibility. For starters, one can find plenty of members’ contributions here and here (not to mention blogs), which all point to a gamut of different areas where we as an IT knowledge-sharing community can impact society in a positive way, whatever our sphere of influence may be.  

 

CSR – what’s involved 

 

According to Wikipedia.org, Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR is described as “a concept whereby organizations consider the interests of society by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, communities and other stakeholders, as well as the environment.” In this blog, I would like to focus on the impact to customers where organizations’ actions towards social betterment are concerned. 

 

On a more conceptual level, when we talk about CSR, it is of course essential to look beyond our own boundary walls at the Corporate – Social aspect, thus seeing a larger picture of the realities at hand. And the Responsibility part comes in when we process certain information that triggers the conscience in all of us to wake up and shout “hey wait a minute…there’s something not quite right here — DO something about it!”  

 

In an effort to challenge us to think about CSR in a new way, I propose that we also need to look within our boundaries (our own backyard) to see where we can also be more responsible as a community and as IT professionals in our dealings with SAP customers. You see, we also face social & business issues in terms of the SAP software we sell and use –- presumably for benefit of the customer.  

 

The Need for CSR in terms of ‘software peddling’ 

 

When it comes to selling software, an area where there is considerable room for improvement is promoting responsibility and accountability in terms of selling customers products/licenses/software that they actually need.  

 

I have seen time and time again from my own experience, scenarios of customers being persuaded/convinced to buy a surplus of software & licenses that they didn’t really require, which ended up creating very unnecessary (and unfortunate) outcomes of writing a lot of customized code in order to support that software in their environment. Along similar lines from a services perspective, trying to undertake rapid implementations in a matter of 6-8 weeks usually results in overlooking the real problems that need to be addressed.

 

What this translates to is that the customer, not knowing one technology from another, makes their decision based on the information that they are given (by technology sales teams). Whether a good decision or not-so-good decision, the customer also knows that they have to get all the “recommended” software to work, considering the investment they have made. 

 

The result 

 

Realistically, a sample statement from any given customer might go something like this: “First off, after this SAP implementation, our business processes are not optimized, in fact they are broken… And secondly, our SAP system did not end up supporting the business processes how we wanted them to be supported, and now it’s very expensive to work with what we have.” 

 

Echoes of this statement resonate when we consider the ripple effect that arises from potentially needless amounts of money, time, and labor being wasted on too much technology. 

 

So one scenario might be that a given customer is required to pay the maintenance costs, however high, just to keep things running (as is the case with the sample statement above).Another scenario could be that the customer actually abandons the project mid-way or post-go live without even using the software because of the financial strain/setback it brings to their business.  

 

What this amounts to is that seller will eventually suffer from potentially bad relations with customer for selling them something they didn’t need, and the customer will definitely suffer. 

 

In the case that the project is not very successful due to a ‘misdiagnosis’ of what technologies should be used (much like a misdiagnosis of treatment in the medical world), it seems clear to me that Corporate Social Responsibility would be a key factor to help avoid this situation from happening over and over again.  

 

I’m not saying that this happens all the time, since we as professionals & as a community continually strive to deliver the best and most fitting solutions to our customers, based on their particular needs. But it does happen far too often, to the extent that I am not inclined to be understanding or complacent about it. 

 

And I’m also not putting any particular group on the spot here –- I think that technology sales teams, service providers and customers should share equal responsibility and could collaborate better in this process…so perhaps this is in some ways related to the classic debate of build vs. buy (this problem is not just specific to SAP either, but rather to the IT community at large)… 

 

Increasing software selling-based CSR 

 

One major step that SAP/SCN has taken which has increased CSR with respect to over-selling or mis-selling software to customers is the advent of the BPX Community. Because the focal point of the Business Process Expert community is to look at business processes first and foremost, this approach generally leads to shining the spotlight on the real problems at hand (rather than pulling technologies out of a hat at first glance), which can bring more clarity to what the best diagnosis would be based on what is revealed. As a result, such business process-based solutions can offer just the right ‘treatment’ for what these companies need, and can help to reduce the number of projects that face avoidable challenges (at best) or avoidable failures (at worst).  

 

That being said, I think we still have a ways to go within the BPX/SCN communities to improve how we align with technology sales groups.

 

I welcome a dialogue on this, so please share your thoughts on the matter.

 

Can you think of ways to increase CSR in terms of selling software?

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2 Comments

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  1. Rizwan Uqaili
    Great topic Ranjan. I feel that CSR can be leveraged in not just selling software more responsibly, but as a way to measure the effectiveness of any IT initiative. When we serve our clients as consultants we are effectively trying to help them help their customers. And businesses have a responsibility to not just their shareholders but more importantly to their communities. As a consulting organization we should be measuring our success not just by our revenue numbers, but also by the social benefit that we’ve helped our clients to realize. That’s a more challenging ROI to measure but one that actually matters. If corporations are going to continue to stay relevant going forward they have a lot of work to do to re-focus their energies away profit maximization to maximizing social benefit profitably.
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    1. Ranjan Baghel Post author
      I completely agree that there is a lot of ‘re-focusing’ that needs to happen in order to maximize on social impact – not just $$ impact. On similar lines, I thought to share a recent article that I read on PCworld.com :
      http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/157058/sap_project_costs_cited_in_jewelers_bankruptcy_filing.html

      How can a project go from costing an estimated $8 million to actually costing $36 million?? Without all the details of this case, I can only speculate that the core issues for this company were not dealt with from the very beginning of the sales cycle…

      It again reiterates the point that there was a lack of responsibility in terms of the identification and ownership of the key problems that this project/software supposedly aimed to resolve. This is an extreme case in point where the project’s cost went up by almost 500% !! – being partially (but not completely) to blame for this major retail jewelry chain declaring bankruptcy this week.

      One last thing to consider is that it’s not just the customer who gets impacted and suffers as a result — it is SAP or any other major software vendor, it is consulting partners, consultants, employees, etc…in other words there’s a huge ripple effect of wrongful selling that can play out, and presumably this was the case for the unfortunate customer in this article.

      My stance is not about playing the ‘blame game’…it’s rather to point out a striking phenomenon that these occurances are not as uncommon as we would like to think that they are.

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