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In the last few posts I have implored organizations to not shut the door on the notion of innovation. Innovation is not necessarily about unearthing that killer app or revolutionary product that will change things dramatically and overnight. Innovation is a lot about the small things we can change in how we solve existing problems and challenges. The message I have been trying to get out is that this can be done by looking closely at your processes, not merely IT, and figuring out where you need to make changes. If you are having trouble with accomplishing that internally, there are always other avenues such as leveraging the community, seeking out community-enabled channels, and, of course, your trusted implementation partner.

In the SAP world there are Enterprise Services to be taken advantage of and the flexibility of the NetWeaver platform to be exploited. Recognizing this, the new iteration of SAP’s business platform, SAP Business Suite 7, has been put together to assist its users in just these areas. In my mind, some of the key aspects of leveraging this suite that stand out are as follows.

For one, it is recognized that traditional ways of managing the enterprise are being challenged. In the past, it was sufficient to pass data from one department or group to another so that a transaction could be completed and an accurate record of an event captured.  For organizations that seek to stay competitive and consider becoming a Business Process Enterprise (BPEn) (see my June 17, 2008 post, “Café Innovation – The Business Process Enterprise), it is important to cater to the fact that even the most basic business processes involve many other individuals in an organization interacting dynamically.  In addition, since business requirements change so frequently, the idea of installing a system once and never having to worry about modifying a process is a matter of history. Today, it is equally important for enterprise systems to remain flexible enough so that they can be configured to address a new business requirement quickly; this is the essence of a BPEn. SAP is addressing this by going further with SAP Business Suite 7 to enable companies to enjoy the power of more agile end-to-end business processes with the mantra of: no more stove pipe processes.

Second, SAP is delivering on something we’ve heard their leadership talk about at past SAPPHIREs – providing the ability to pick and choose software functionality without the need for wholesale changes to the system landscape. Tying the future of SAP functionality to enhancement packages makes this notion a reality. SAP enhancement packages are optional packages that should help enable an organization to take advantage of ongoing innovation while keeping the enterprise system landscape stable, thus keeping out the somewhat disruptive impact of large upgrade projects. Each SAP enhancement package provides a collection of new or improved business functions that an organization can choose to deploy in a modular fashion by activating only the new features that are most critically needed. This is a big blessing for those organizations that are in need of new and improved functionality in certain key areas but are not ready to go through a massive upgrade from a time and cost perspective.

Third, this new flexibility of SAP Business Suite 7 that is provided by the enhancement packages makes it possible for an organization to target specific challenges without the need to implement the entire suite at once. This provides the option to start process improvement initiatives that are linked across individual departments such that an organization is better positioned to compete more effectively or generate a positive impact on the bottom line. What this also means is that now the IT department might not be able to call the shots on when a hurting business unit can get new functionality deployed. With the help of their Enterprise Architect and BPXers, most business areas can make a case for themselves – they will likely not be obstructed by the economics or physical challenges of a full-blown upgrade. This puts the decision-making power back where it should be – with the business.

In time, many aspects of SAP Business Suite 7 will be discussed in depth. SAP will also certainly have a lot of official literature going into considerable detail around this. I have chosen to dwell on this topic here because I wanted to connect a few key dots – think about process renewal, and think about leveraging the platform to get the most bang out of your IT investment buck. Some businesses might not be ready to take full advantage of SAP Business Suite 7. However, there are many others who are contemplating upgrades from older versions such as 4.7 and earlier. For them, this is a strategic opportunity to give themselves the boost they need, so that they then have the technology available to enable and deploy what the BPXers design in order to fulfill the needs of the business. For those who have already invested in SAP ERP 6.0 the ability to take advantage of all the latest solutions within SAP Business Suite 7 is a lot easier.  The other dots that must be connected to this matter represent the need for a process culture and establishing a clear BPX role. As I have often said, and confirmed by so many of you, the best most flexible technology cannot do wonders for you if your processes are ineffective and if you have not empowered your BPXers to do something about it. When taken together, all these forces can combine to give your organization the boost that will enable you to keep on improving your processes and performance despite the change in external conditions.

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