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This morning I drove past a premium grocery chain store and noticed with some amusement that a panhandler (commonly known as a beggar) was perched next to the parking lot exit holding the universally familiar cardboard “unemployed – need help” sign. I thought it was particularly apt that the said panhandler had specifically moved from his usual location at the traffic lights, to this location, based on his determining that there were more opportunities for personal gain to be had. Getting up close and personal with unnecessarily guilt-ridden grocery shoppers, trapped in the parking lot by the commute traffic and driven high end vehicles laden with premium whole earth organic munchables is a clever strategy. The panhandler has shrewdly assessed his target, determined that commuters are generally indifferent or too self absorbed to be good opportunities. The premium-shoppers on the other hand are prisoners to his mournful stare, the bleak message of his cardboard sign and the unwillingness of the commuters to let them cut into the traffic. I remember when this store was built, I remember thinking that a busy intersection is an odd location for a grocery store and I remember past experiences with trying to get in and out of the parking lot. I never shop there, though it is the only store of its kind for a significant radius from its location. The store does well though, the parking lot is always busy, and again it indicates some astute assessment of the market in its placement.

Know your target

This careful targeting as opposed to shooting from the hip brings me to the topic of understanding how and who is using your SAP system. Most SAP professionals in supporting roles within business know who their busiest and most vocal users are, they are the ones with mountains of support tickets or who are constantly on the phone with you or who generate flurries of critical emails. These professionals often also know which business processes are the most critical to the business, because they are profiled by the characteristics of the business. The critical business processes also dovetail into some sort of disaster mitigation or recovery plan. If they don’t, it might be time to ask why? For a selling operation, the idea of VA01 for order entry seems intuitively an obvious transaction to be heavily dependent upon. For a company that relies heavily on integration, it may be a particular sales order BAPI or for a service organization some particular service related transaction. A study of the system logs via the ST03N transaction might convey some sense of the volume of system use in a particular transaction but ultimately this is really only a swag when it comes to determining the relative dependency of the business on a given transaction or IT process because it tells you about the number of steps, the response time and drill down allows you to see who the users are. What ST03N doesn’t tell you, is how many discrete executions were made of that transaction. One VA01 execution could range from 5 to 50 or more steps depending on configuration.

Many is not the same as mass

Quite apart from the need to engage in disaster recovery management (DRM) planning, the importance of understanding system utilization is  critical to understanding opportunities for business process optimization; determining areas where the business should be evaluating the overhaul of business supporting IT functions or reevaluating the operational and functional practices of a given business unit. It is very easy for example, to assume that the use of the CIC0 transaction is a great opportunity for automation simply because it is a high volume transaction in your SAP system and it is one on which your business as say a utility company, may be heavily dependent. It is quite another matter when you determine that in fact the transaction cannot be easily or practically automated for mass transactional use because it is a transaction that in your scenario, hinges on walk-in customers or single file inquiries; though it is high volume, it is not logically batched it is used many times but does not lend itself to mass use. Understanding the underlying business process and how the transaction is used to support it, is essential in looking for optimization opportunities. Your existing configuration of CIC0 may be optimized but it may be being used sub optimally.

IF CIC0 is being primarily used to provide customer account inquiries these could possibly be better serviced by a kiosk or a customer self service scenario. The banking industry and online retailers have successfully turned us all into bank clerks and data entry clerks through the clever use of self service technologies and while these technologies are not necessarily cheap to deploy and support, they have extended banking and shopping hours, eliminated some of the variability introduced by having customers served by technology that applies consistent rules to interaction, and eliminated the inconsistencies often associated with the human element.  From a business process optimization perspective (BPO) these have been major inroads to customer sales, service and support. While I am not necessarily an advocate of wholesale application of technology to improve business processes, it has its place and part of the identification of the relevance of using technology comes from getting a better handle on system utilization profiles.

Gathering Stats

Over the years I have seen a number of different requests posted on various boards on the most optimal way of determining who is using what on which systems; these requests are often driven by either a quest for BPO or the creation or refresh of a DRM strategy or both. IT managers in particular, like to have a handle of how what they provide, is used. In general, people rely heavily on the statistical element. Statistics, if gathered correctly and exhaustively help to profile trends and assist with analysis. As already pointed out, they can be a useful indication of activity. In my example they are not necessarily indicative of definitive opportunities.  For my utility company, geography may restrict the practicality of kiosks and online access may not be as ubiquitous as it is in certain metropolitan areas, the profile of the customers may also not align with an online access model. All of these variables have to be measured when looking at the overall BPO possibilities. In my utility company example, the idea of a kiosk or online self service may be impractical or inappropriate but a revised approach might involve avoiding the CIC0 transaction and deploying a webform or a Microsoft Excel, Infopath or Adobe form for operator use instead.

Though SAP systems offer good auditing and statistical logs, many customers find the statistics part at least, somewhat difficult to work with for determining trends or simply evaluating system utilization even if you rely on solutions like the SAP Solution Manager. Worse, some SAP customers keep only truncated statistics and as a result have no sense of their system trends over an extended period. Some third party SAP collector analysis tools such as those from companies like Hyperformix are useful not only for evaluating what your business does today with its SAP systems but also what your future could hold if you add say x number of users to perform x number of additional processes.

With all this in mind, I wonder just how much more profitable the grocery store is for that panhandler and whether he keeps any stats?

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