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3 Tools Every CIO Needs to Survive SAP

Going it alone is risky business in the world today.  We seek help selecting the precise insurance plan, finding the safest retirement strategy, even hiring the best lawn care company.   The point is, no one is smart enough to ‘make it’ on their own.  Another way to say it is:  Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

Going it alone when you are responsible for an SAP environment is not only risky business; it is akin to professional suicide.  Fortunately, some might say unfortunately, the SAP ecosystem is loaded with potential partners to help practitioners do everything from setting up their first system to migrating an existing landscape to an SAP cloud

But expert help is expensive and finding the best company or individual with which to partner is time consuming.  It would be great if we could just call SAP directly and say: “hey, my SAP isn’t working, can you send someone over to check it out and fix it.”   It doesn’t work that way.  In fact, you have to be quite knowledgeable about SAP to even talk to a consultant if you have a problem.   To augment this occasional reliance on outside consultants, wise CIOs depend on a few vital tools. 

So what tools should CIOs have in their tool chests to manage an SAP environment, even if they are taking advantage of SAP outsourcing options?    There are three.  First they need a telephone and they probably have that already.  Second, they need a trusted advisor who does not work for them.  Third they need a network of other SAP practitioners who are readily available to help. 

These are not tools you say?  Well I might be stretching the word ‘tool’ a little bit, but if you look up the word ‘tool’ in, one of the definitions is “anything used as a means of accomplishing a task or purpose.”   These three tools certainly meet those criteria.

If you stop reading this blog now you will have the essence of the point I’m making.  But I’m hopeful you will read on to understand why these three tools are so powerful and essential to life with SAP, particularly if you are new to SAP.    

Let’s start with the third tool first, a network.   According to Jane Howard, English novelist and Commander of the Most Excellent Order of Chivalry of the British Empire (CBE), everyone needs to be part of a larger community.  She says, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family.  Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” 

That pretty well shucks it down to the cob, like we say in my home state of Georgia!   I would add, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how much money you make, or where you live; to manage an SAP environment you need a village.  

There are several ready-made networks out there like ASUG, online SAP communities, local technical groups, SAP Corporation itself and others.   You can and should take advantage of these great resources.  However, the network I’m talking about is something you build yourself, one person at a time.  You select people to join your group and you proactively nurture that network by spending time together and learning from each other.   Ideally, you will have a broad mix of people – technical, non-technical, industry experience, senior leadership as well as young guns.  But the one thing all the members should have in common is a responsibility to see that an SAP environment is running smoothly.    Of course it will take time to assemble a quality network, but you will realize benefits from the very beginning with the first participant who joins.  

Once you have 3 – 5 people on-board, you should have a broad enough range of skills to provide meaningful insight and guidance for most of your ideas, problems, and issues.   You will also have quick access to knowledgeable people who might answer a question or solve a small problem before it turns into a crisis. 

The second tool is having access to a trusted advisor for your SAP environment.   This person should have enough experience with SAP that you can rely on her for valuable advice and guidance, even if she doesn’t have all the answers.   She should also be someone with whom you can spend enough time sharing your problems and challenges that she understands your whole situation.

Since there are probably many people competing to be your trusted advisor, finding a good one can be somewhat challenging.  I’ve found that the biggest mistake CIOs make is to select a trusted advisor who is close at hand, easy to get along with, and is well known to the CIO.  For the most part, those are all invalid selection criteria when it comes to the skills required to advise you on how to manage your SAP landscape.   So what are the best criteria for selecting a trusted advisor?

The first criterion a trusted advisor should meet is that they do not work for you.  They have to be free from the employee/employer baggage that could compromise their conversations and opinions.   You need a trusted advisor that will lay it on the line with you, no holds barred. 

The second criterion is that your advisor cares what happens to you professionally as much or more than she cares what happens to you personally.   The distinction here is critical because an advisor that is more concerned with you on a personal level can be influenced by issues that are not entirely relevant to overseeing your SAP environment.   Even though personal matters certainly impact our ability to perform our jobs, your SAP environment doesn’t care what your personal problems might be.  

The last criterion a valuable trusted advisor must possess is obvious; she must be trustworthy.  If she is doing her job correctly, she will not agree with you on all things.  In fact, she might challenge you on most decisions you make.   If you don’t have complete trust in this person, you might avoid her when making decisions because she slows you down and, frankly, you may not like her suggestions.   If you truly trust her, you will value any differing points of view. 

One of the biggest holes that a senior IT professional can stumble into is thinking that his ‘brilliant’ decisions of the past are evidence that he will make the right decisions in the present.  Wrong!   Yes there is a successful track record to point to, but if the CIO is getting cocky or self-assured, then big trouble is just around the corner.  Like Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan said in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, living on one’s past glory is like “a ship trying to sail on yesterday’s wind.”   A trusted advisor will be the first to rein in an overconfident CIO and put his feet back on solid ground. 

The last tool you need is a telephone.   This is something we all possess; there is probably one in your pocket right now.   The point here is that you should use that phone to call for help.  Don’t wait until your ship is sinking to phone someone in your network or your trusted advisor.    Don’t let pride get in your way!  No single CIO knows enough to make all decisions…but we all know people and they will know enough.

These three tools will not replace capable consultants who are expert in the various modules and components that make up SAP.   Consultants are still very useful in helping us quickly resolve problems or expand our SAP footprint.  However, having a reliable network of peers, a real trusted advisor, and a telephone are extremely cost effective assets for any CIO trying to survive SAP.

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