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The Customer Center of Expertise – A Single Source of Truth

A big thanks goes out to Gerard O’Neil, Program Manager for the Customer Center of Expertise, as well as the other valued members of the Customer COE at SAP for spending some time discussing how the SAP Customer COE works. Read on for more information on how the SAP Customer COE changes the operating model, boosting collaboration and quality execution.


What is the Customer Center of Expertise’s mission?

The mission of the Customer Center of Expertise (COE) is to manage mission-critical operations and establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver business continuity and business agility. It’s not just “an IT thing.” The objectives of a Customer COE are shared business and IT objectives, these include:

  • Ensuring business continuity by increasing business process availability
  • Continuous improvement of business processes by carefully managing and improving key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Protecting the SAP investment by enabling agile innovation outside of major software upgrades
  • Reducing TCO through standardized, integrated, and controlled application lifecycle management


Because multiple business units are involved in the E2E solution operations process, how can collaboration be optimized through the Customer COE?

The SAP Customer COE model is built on a concept known as “The Single Source of Truth”, which fosters collaboration between Business and IT units by defining, establishing, and standardizing the Application Lifecycle Management tools, methodologies and processes. Through the transparency gained by the Single Source of Truth, it allows for the collaboration necessary to drive integrated quality management throughout the application life cycle.  In addition, one of the main responsibilities of the defined Quality Management roles is to integrate the various Business and IT units into one end to end quality management process.


How does the Customer COE change the existing operating model?

The Customer COE doesn’t change the existing model so much as it unifies the existing model. Most customers do many of the tasks required of an Advanced COE but those tasks are generally executed by disparate groups in silos. This causes inefficiencies and a lack of quality in execution because the teams may not know how their tasks directly or indirectly affect another group or that there is another group with the skills to make their job easier. The Single Source of Truth and a priority on Quality Management focuses on the entire application life cycle and improves the End-to-End processes, fostering collaboration and pulling in the right groups at the right time.


What are the new business roles that are part of the cross team unit that is the Customer COE?

  • Quality Manager for Safeguarding Integration Validation focuses on lowering the risk and cost of software integration in complex IT landscapes
  • Quality Manager for Business Continuity ensures the continuous operation of the business and lowering TCO by increasing the degree of process automation
  • Quality Manager for Business Process Improvement drives proactive actions to remove process inefficiencies and increase customer satisfaction
  • Quality Manager for Protection of Investment focuses on release planning and management of custom code in order to get the most out of the SAP delivered functionality and reduce costs associated with customer development


How does quality management tie into the Customer COE?

Based on the previous answers, it is obvious that Quality Management plays a major role in the Customer COE. Many IT shops today are so busy fighting fires and focusing on reacting to problems that, in many cases, could be avoided. There doesn’t seem to be time to step back and look at how things can be done better and more efficiently. In the case of Quality Management for Business Continuity, for example, the focus of the QM role is to standardize and solidify the processes to avoid problems from happening in the first place, thereby freeing up resources to focus on activities that deliver more value to the business.


Do you find this more common in one industry over another?

The Customer COE model is applicable to all industries. Historically, highly regulated industries (i.e. pharmaceuticals) are more likely to be using standardization and auditing because of regulatory requirements but the model delivers benefits regardless of industry.


Can you give examples of how you can optimize business processes through the Customer COE?

The main function of the QM for Business Process Improvement is to implement a process where the business process owners and IT teams supporting the process review all aspects of the process (Is it meeting the customer needs? Are there errors occurring that causing pain to your business? Are there any manual steps that can be automated?) After the review, steps are taken to take action on the findings, making the process more efficient and increasing customer satisfaction.

In one example, a customer was having issues with a shipping process and, after investigation, the cause was an unstable interface. They had a manual process in place where a person would manually look at the interface every hour, 24 x 7, and when he recognized the symptoms, he would execute a script to resolve the issue. This customer implemented a tool in the SAP Solution Manager called Business Process and Interface Monitoring (BPIM) that would monitor the throughput of the interface, identify when the issue was occurring and automatically execute the script to resolve the error. This freed up the resource from a manual process to focus on other tasks.


How can the Customer COE stimulate innovation?

The Customer COE stimulates innovation in many ways.

  • One focus for the QM for Protection of Investment is to keep the SAP systems up to current release levels in order to take advantage of the new functionality SAP delivers on a timely basis and to make the business aware of what new capabilities exist.
  • The processes implemented by the QM for Safeguarding Integration Validation reduce the risks of implementation projects, thereby allowing the PMO & IT organizations to confidently and efficiently deliver new capabilities to the business.
  • The collaboration between the business and IT groups driven by the QM for Business Process Improvement proactively drives the exploration for new or improved capabilities, making the IT organization an innovation enabler, rather than a service provider.


What are some customer examples?

One customer example is ConAgra Foods, in Omaha Nebraska. With the standardization, discipline, and focus on Quality Management of their COE, they have a nearly flawless track record of delivering major rollouts of new capabilities to their business EVERY 90 DAYS over the last 3+ years. All of this being done without increasing their operations budget. Last year, they became the first SAP Advanced Certified Customer COE in the Americas.



More details on the Customer Center of Expertise can be found here in a recent article featured in the SAP Insider.  

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