image source: an Old SAP presentation
I’m always amazed at how many projects miss one of the most important (and relatively simple) scoping requirements. The worst part is that projects don’t just miss it but they get it completely backward!
After doing SAP projects since 1994, I still can’t believe SAP’s customers don’t use the old “Seven Habits” step of starting with the end in mind. What do I mean by that?
Start your SAP project with REPORTS and BUSINESS requirements!
Come on now, WHY do so many projects wait until they are live with some new system to figure out what the reporting requirements are? Reporting requirements must become part of the initial SAP scoping exercise. Even if it is not spoken, every business that undertakes a massive ERP or IT project like SAP wants actionable information from the system after it is installed. You want critical information that can enable you to:
- Make better management decisions
- Make better financial decisions
- Determine what products or services have good margins (and which ones don’t)
- How different product lines or geographies are performing
- What future business directions you should take based on ACTIONABLE information
- What competitive pressures in the marketplace to focus on
Aside from the operational automation and getting business processes defined, reporting is the key for :
- operations decisions,
- sales and product (or service) decisions,
- and for every part of the business.
Reporting is so critical to a business yet on almost every project it is treated as an afterthought. Too often “reporting projects” start after the system is in place and people start working in it. From a budget and cost perspective you don’t need all of your reports done as soon as the system is installed, but the system must be designed from the beginning to support all of the data needed for those reports. It must be designed from the start to produce actionable information after the operational and automation components are implemented.
If you start from the beginning with your reporting requirements you can ensure that the system design addresses any reporting gaps. By doing this from the beginning you will not have the system installed and then be disappointed that it does not provide you with the key actionable information you need for your business.
Using Reports for Driving Meaningful Business to IT Alignment
Without knowing in advance what the final actionable reporting requirements are you will not be able to take advantage of some of the really great information that a system like SAP can offer. When an SAP system is properly implemented and constructed SAP provides mountains of data and field options. There is the ability to add custom fields, re-purpose existing fields [FN1], and add other data dimensions so that you can track and report on any piece of information in any way you can imagine. However, if this is not planned for in the beginning, and then set up and trained so that you can maintain that data, then after you go live you may be disappointed.
If you do not do this up front exercise you may discover that you need certain key data requiring expensive rework, expensive customization, and additional time budgeted. And in the worst case, depending on the system design, you may end up creating a design dilemma causing even more trouble down the road. Worse still you may discover that the way the system was designed and implemented may prevent you from ever realizing key decision-making information.
There is one other benefit from this approach as well. By defining end-state reporting needs and end-state actionable information needs you can use this during vendor selection to separate the capable from the incompetent. The ideal situation would go so far as to provide actual desired end-state reporting examples (field names, field values, etc.).
By doing this exercise you also have the additional benefit of focusing the entire project, right from the beginning, on the end-state goal. This will help to distill the project down into actual business needs and business requirements for success.
Where to Begin with SAP Scoping and Reporting
Every customer considering an SAP implementation should carefully read through the article on developing an SAP business case (ERP and SAP Business Case for ROI, Business Benefit, and Success, PDF version attached here).
The key steps to getting the most from your SAP implementation or your SAP scoping exercise is to start with the tools and resources SAP provides free of charge to their customers (and prospects). There are a couple of tools in particular that every customer, or prospective customer should insist on working with before doing their SAP implementation. The first is the SAP Solution Composer [FN2], it is a free download and it is a great tool for understanding how to scope your SAP implementation. As mentioned in the article linked above on developing the SAP business case, it is a great tool for:
- Developing an initial scope
- Creating process lists for starting some of the critical change management discussions
- Communicating in a “new” but common language about the processes.
The next tool available for a high quality project is the ASAP methodology. It is an active HTML and Java script based repository which contains templates, resources, materials, and a project plan for ensuring you have a successful implementation or upgrade.
Take Inventory of You Existing Reporting Landscape and Define Desired Metrics
After your initial SAP scoping exercise it will be important to take an inventory of all of the spreadsheets, databases, and system reports that exist. From these you can get a good idea of what will need to be accommodated in the system. And from these existing reports the master data requirements that are required can also be derived.
After gathering the existing reports, begin short duration management workshops to define desired reports. In other words what has been lacking from the business decision-making process that would provide strategic or tactical insight going forward. For more information on one reporting and metrics strategy see the posts related to defining and understanding real Key Performance Indicators for business performance (see Why Indexed KPIs are Critical for Business Performance and Success, and Using Key Performance Indicators for Building a Strategy Focused Organization).
Once the initial operational requirements, existing reporting requirements, and desired reporting requirements are defined a final scope and blueprint can then be determined which will propel the business forward strategically into the future.
Conclusion on Early Reporting Requirements in SAP Scoping and Blueprinting
In the end I’m still suprirsed at how many organizations finally get around to SAP reporting requirements after the system is already implemented an in place. Just because you consider and plan for them from the beginning does not mean that you have to complete them by the time the system is in. On the other hand, you will need them at some point so having the key data and understanding the business drivers for key information is crucial in your SAP implementation.
Too often the reporting metrics, goals, and drivers for business decision-making are treated as an afterthought. Those reporting metrics and the business goals, key performance indicators, or business direction they represent are generally the reason for the huge investment in new systems to begin with.
Stop and think about it, how will you ever know if any of the business-centered success criteria was delivered if you don’t have a clear direction in advance? Those reporting requirements must include current and desired actionable data requirements in some measure of detail. Certainly as a company and then during the sales cycles the buzz words and generalities of the information end-state are discussed;
- during the early research,
- during RFP preparation, and then
- during the vendor sales cycles when all of those promises are made about a “future state” for your business.
Some of the actionable data requirements, or efficiency improvements, or competitive improvements, or other business drivers are also explored during this period. If they are not captured and distilled into some detail, and then included in your RFP and project charter how will you know if they were ever delivered without defining these critical business justifications for the system to begin with?
One other thing to keep in mind is that no system, no matter how good or how well implemented will change a business by itself, but properly implemented it will provide the actionable information to make sound business decisions for marketplace success (see also SAP as a Change Enabler, Using SAP to Improve Revenue and Profitability, and Change How You Look at SAP to Create ROI).
[FN1] SAP provides a huge number of fields that are never used on most projects. Some of them are directly tied to application functions and can not be used, still others are not and without doing any custom coding or application changes you can use some of these fields for other purposes. This “re-purposing” of some fields is a very easy, cost-effective way to solve a number of issues.
[FN2] Go to http://www.sap.com/ and search for “Solution Composer” (or use this link http://www.sap.com/solutions/businessmaps/composer – retrieved 4/13/2010).