Podcast: SAP Solution Manager Roundtable – Hype Meets Reality
With one foot out the door for ASUG/SAPPHIRE Orlando, I didn’t want to miss out on sharing one of my favorite podcasts I have done with the SCN community. If you have a stake or interest in the real pros and cons of SAP Solution Manager, you may want to download this one and take it on the road with you.
SAP Solution Manager is one of the most controversial topics in the SAP community. Though some see Solution Manager as the key to everything from post-go-live optimization to realizing the value of Enterprise Support, there is a noticeable gap between how SAP perceives Solution Manager and its customers’ own experience. One way to close this gap is to bring honest discourse about SolMan out into the open. What better way to do that then a no-holds barred, roundtable podcast with three of the most influential voices in the blogosphere (and Twitterverse) on SAP Solution Manager?
As I said on JonERP.com, I had high hopes that the combined voices of Jim Spath, Tony de Thomasis, and Phil Avelar would advance the Solution Manager conversation with new insights and a clash of perspectives, but you never know how a podcast will turn out. With good humor but a frank style that underscored their different perspectives, these guys nailed it.
I’ll insert the podcast player here, but you may want to also scroll down and check out the speaker bios and some of the text highlights from the fifty minute podcast.
(If for any reason the player doesn’t work, you can download the podcast using the “download media” link on the right hand side).
(Trouble downloading? if for some reason it’s not playing in its entirety for you, check out the version on JonERP.com in the meantime.)
Jim Spath is a Technical Architect with a global manufacturer. He’s an SAP Mentor Initiative and a long time ASUG volunteer. He writes some of the most readable technical blogs on SCN. Jim is presenting at ASUG 2010 on compressing database objects. Jim blogs frequently on Solution Manager (one example here).
Tony de Thomasis is a NetWeaver technician with more than 20 years of SAP Basis experience. He’s an SAP Mentor Initiative and frequent speaker and blogger on the topic of SAP Solution Manager innovation, including its relevance to Application Lifecycle Management. Tony has been a key player in Australia Post’s industry-leading example on deriving value from Solution Manager and he serves on the SAP Solution Manager Influence Council.
Phil Avelar is the Practice Manager for Advanced Solutions. As an advisor and project manager to his clients, he sees both the technical and business advantages (and drawbacks) of Solution Manager firsthand. Advanced Solutions frequently gives workshops to its clients on getting the most out of Solution Manager.
0:00 Jon introduces the panel and frames the goals: advance the SAP Solution Manager conversation through an honest discussion – one that hopefully closes the gap between what SAP thinks Solution Manager is capable of and how its customers perceive the tool.
INTRODUCTIONS: Each member of the roundtable shares a bit about themselves and their experiences with Solution Manager so far:
(1:05) Tony: Got into Solution Manager as Australia Post grew its landscape from 10 instances to 90 instances. Tony thought SolMan could give his team the technical benefits to alleviate the Basis guys from repetitive tasks. We peeled off every single Basis-related technical opportunity within Solution Manager. ordering them by which provided the biggest return on investment and quickest turnaround. Once completed, we “advertised” the achievements to his higher ups to achieve buy-in for future SolMan projects…“What makes the wheel go round is getting some funding from management.”
(4:30) Phil: My experiences are almost the opposite of Tony’s. As the Practice Manager for Advanced Solutions, in my day job, I manage projects on the project management side. My Solution Manager exposure has been more on the implementation side. If it seems like my clients are negative on SolMan, I should point out I’ve been a fan boy of Solution Manager since it first came out and have been promoting it to our customers back as far back as 3.1, before our customers were even required to implement it.
My company holds workshops on SolMan with IT Managers and Business Analysts to expose them to Solution Manager and help them to know what it’s capable of. Once you get beyond hands-on IT folks, many of them don’t know about SolMan’s capabilities. On the implementation side, I’ve seen a variety of Solution Manager capabilities in action – I haven’t worked with performance tools, but we’ve worked with everything from blueprinting to the Test Organizer to the blueprinting to the Service Desk, many of which are very useful tools.
(6:25) Jim: I’ll try not to get to ugly but I definitely have some differences of opinion. One of the people who spoke at one of my webcasts last year doesn’t use Solution Manager even though they’ve been running on SAP for fifteen years. I’ve never seen a compelling case for most aspects of Solution Manager.
(8:25) Jon to Tony: What aspects of SAP Solution Manager are least relevant to you and what does SAP need to do to make it more relevant? Tony: You can’t expect one guy to do it, it’s got to be funded. Everyone pays lip service to innovation, but how do you expect to run a huge landscape if you’re not taking advantage of the platform that is being provided?
(12:20) Jon to Jim: I thought I heard a comment from the peanut gallery when Tony said that “no on complains about paying a lot of money to get a big ERP or BI system up.” Jim: It was a cynical response to the idea that everyone likes paying big money for big software which is not true. We take a best-of-breed, bare bones, minimalist approach. We do have a complex environment. We’ve been building enterprise management tools and using them for 15years, but as a do it yourself company, we find that unless a product suits a particular need, we aren’t going that route. The problems I’ve encountered – the complex crashes, the runaway processes, Solution Manager is useless for.
(13:45) Jon to Phil: We have two very different SolMan user viewpoints from Jim and Tony. In your talks with users, do they fall more into Jim’s “We’re only going to use this if it can really help us and enable us to cut costs” camp, or do you run into more in Tony’s “Solution Manager is the key to our platform for innovation” camp? Phil: They fall more in line with Jim’s views.
(16:40) Tony to Phil: SAP doesn’t advertise itself to be the solution to everything, but SolMan is actually a great platform for integrating third party tools, including our HP testing tools which are integrated. To me, Solution Manager is the shed to hold the tools and the processes and do the root cause analysis.
(20:05) Phil to Tony: If you’re talking to a customer, then what’s the compelling reason for using Solution Manager? If you already have tools in place and the people trained on it, what would be the argument for moving to Solution Manager? How would I justify it to the business?
(25:15) Jim: We would never switch to SAP’s Enterprise Scheduler from Solution Manager. It would have to be cheaper, better, and faster than our current scheduler, and I’m sure other companies have their preferred schedulers as well. The other issue is the user interface.
(27:00) Jon to Jim: I have talked with a number of SAP users and Mentors about Solution Manager and here are their biggest criticisms: 1. They feel the tool was imposed upon them; 2. There is an education gap – they don’t know how to use the tools provided; 3. The cost of getting the most out of the tool – is it fair to ask companies to invest so much in a tool in order to get the kinds of benefits Tony’s team has gotten? Which of these resonate most with your experience?
Jim: In terms of training, my company is very progressive about sending people to training and getting them up to speed. It isn’t a question of Solution Manager and learning how to use it, it’s just hard to use.
(29:52) Jon to Tony: When we discuss SolMan in the Mentor forum, most of them seem to come from you and your team. While the Mentors are not a huge group, there does seem to be a shortage of stories about good results from Solution Manager that don’t come from you. If you were talking to SAP product leads about how to improve the tool so that more companies could get as much out of it as you, what would you say?
(35:35) Jon to Phil: Same question as Tony’s: you hang up on this call and you get an invite to come to Walldorf for the weekend. How can they get more results like Tony is talking about? Phil: Talking about SolMan as a Swiss army knife is one thing, but they need to get the consultants out there and turn them into fan boys. Many of the consultants are not familiar with Solution Manager.
(37:30) Jon to Jim: I have a list of tools in SAP Solution Manager, when I’m done reading it, I want you to tell me which ones you think are good and which ones are not.
(40:20) Jon to Jim: So you want SAP to consult heavily with SAP user groups and Influence Councils on the product? Jim: Yes – there is an ASUG Interest Group as well where feedback can be relayed. SAP does listen to the problems users are having with Solution Manager, I just don’t like SAP hiding behind Solution Manager for bad code or bad help desk support.
(42:30) LIGHTNING ROUND – Last comments from each participants
(43:15) Tony on SolMan innovation – I don’t need an army of 24 Basis guys to manage a landscape of 80 – I can do it with 10 guys because I’ve armed them with the best tools SAP has got.
(46:15) Jim on his upcoming Solution Manager training – As I said, we’re progressive about training, I took training on Central System Monitoring a couple years ago, and we still don’t have the resources to get that completely functional, so there are definitely some investment decisions companies need to make. I will definitely blog about my experiences with the training.
(49:30) Jon to Phil: What are you taking from this discussion? Phil: on the business side, SAP is going to have an uphill battle with Solution Manager. On the operational end, there’s a much more compelling case for Solution Manger for the monitoring and tolls that Tony mentioned. For IT managers, it’s kind of a catch 22: without the business content, Solution Manager is not very useful, but if I can’t justify loading the business content in Solution Manager, I’m never going to use it.
(52:00) Jon’s wrap: We can’t wrap all the issues in this podcast – we didn’t even get to the Enterprise Support/SolMan issues that would have been riveting if the support pricing based on the KPIs was still in effect. But we hopefully did help to bring a greater transparency to Solution Manager discussions.
(53:10) Jim Spath’s surprise “musical outtro” and some riffing by the guys.
Note: if you crave more Solution Manager content, check out the shorter SAP Solution Manager podcast I taped with Jim Spath recently. Tony and I are also co-facilitating an SAP Mentor Monday on Solution Manager in June – watch this space for details.