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I recently read Kristen Scheffler ‘s blog Meet SAP Support! which immediately caught my attention. Why? Because I used to be on that side of the phone.

My Brief History

I started in SAP Active Global Support as an intern in 2005, where I worked in their account team (then called TAS), the operations team (doing EarlyWatch connection setup), and then in the delivery group (Center of Excellence). For the roughly 4 years after that I had the opportunity become a Senior Support Consultant working in the Business Intelligence group. I worked in both SAP Americas in Newtown Square, PA and St.Leon/Rot, Germany. I absolutely loved my position there. I got to work with some of the biggest SAP customers in the world (Nike, Apple, ConocoPhilips, Coca-Cola, Nestle, just to name a few) in some of the coolest places in the world (Chicago, San Francisco, London, Switzerland, Netherlands, Stockholm, Johannesburg, just to name a few). My responsibilities were mainly to provide MaxAttention services, answer performance related OSS messages, and de-escalate customers. In many of the cases I was sent into escalations as a firefighter. Such an amazing experience to be in the trenches of a software deployment gone bad. This being something most SAP customers (and especially SAP) do not normally like to talk publicly about. Let’s face it, software always has it’s flaws.

Lessons Learned

Some of the key things I learned most during my career in SAP Support:

  • There are a whole slew of SAP Customers who are not ready to implement SAP software. I found that many escalations and project failures had way more to do with the way the organization reacted to business process change than the software itself.
  • The people buying SAP software are rarely the people using it.
  • The most deadly people (i.e. best people to work with) at SAP were the ones who had the strongest network within SAP
  • The TREX (and now HANA) team is one of the brightest and most progressive enterprise dev team I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. There is a reason the technology is such a massive leap from older legacy SAP technologies and it’s largely due to the people involved with the project.
  • Enterprise business people do not get tech and enterprise tech people do not get business.
  • Scaling organizations is an incredibly difficult thing to do.

How do you get SAP Support to work for you?

I still have many of my close friends who work in SAP support, so for me sometimes opening an OSS message is like picking up the phone to see how an old friend is doing. Even though I’ve been in many high pressure situations, I’ve always remembered that there is indeed another person on the other side of the conversation. Unfortunately, most people don’t think this way. I suspect this is largely due to the sad nature of how outsourcing is sold and presented to IT decision makers. Anyway, here is some insight I thought I’d share so that you can get the most out of SAP Support’s process:

  • Be thorough as possible in your error analysis. SAP offers courses on this actually, it’s called Root Cause Analysis (RCA) and it’s an invaluable skill. I still use that methodology to this day.
  • Much of my success in solving customer’s OSS messages was my ability to reference other customers with similar situations. So the more detail (with as much technical jargon as possible) you can include in the message. Do it. Every bit helps.
  • One thing I don’t think customers understand – do not contact support if you can’t reproduce the error, or SAP can’t reproduce in your system. It’s a waste of your time, and SAP support’s time.
  • The fact that you don’t have an adequate DEV/TEST system is not SAP Support’s fault. Invest in quality, it helps tremendously.
  • Open the damn SAP Router connection to your system. Seriously, just open it.
  • Many people (including myself) get very frustrated when the person from support is not the correct resource to be responding to your support request. This is what I normally do: (1) make sure the RCA was done thoroughly (2) make sure the issue is reproducible and then (3) kindly ask the person to forward your request to the next level of support. The person you are dealing with is usually just there to ensure you’ve done (1) and (2) properly (hint- most customers don’t) 

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13 Comments

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  1. Luke Marson

    Hi Michael,

    This is a great blog and I can relate to many aspects of it. I’m the biggest contributor to a few forums and so I’ve seen how poor quality troubleshooting and information is essentially just a waste of time for everyone involved. Devil is in the detail and I know how frustrating it can be for support colleagues and consultants when they simply don’t get the right level of detail or the right information. The phrase “it doesn’t work” means nothing to me, yet I hear it so much.

    This blog by a former colleague of yours shows you some of the pain that you and they have gone through and still go through today:

    Support Questions you will be asked when creating a message

    I hope the message gets across, but I don’t think that enough consultancies are teaching young consultants about troubleshooting and detail.

    Best regards,

    Luke

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    1. Michael Bestvina Post author

      Interesting you mention troubleshooting in forums. It would be amazing to have access to the SAP support system that holds all of the customer OSS messages. In other words, sharing support cases in a community and fixes issues together as a community. Obviously due to sensitive customer data, this is impossible.

      That being said there are probably three things that make good support engineers:

      • Clearly can articulate and document the issue for both the customer and other support people
      • Can effectively use the search functions in SAP’s internal support system
      • Know the right people in the SAP organization who can answer or solve the problem

      Unfortunately they can be quite rare to find 😉

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  2. Kristen Scheffler

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with support (both inside and out).  Really a great perspective!

    Loved your insights on how to get the most out of the support process, the plug for SAPRouter, as well as linking in the human side. 

    I appreciate you taking the time to be a part of our “Meet SAP Support” series.  Thanks for adding another layer of diversity 🙂

    Kristen

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  3. Miles Escow

    Hi Michael,

    “It would be amazing to have access to the SAP support system that holds all of the customer OSS messages. In other words, sharing support cases in a community and fixes issues together as a community. Obviously due to sensitive customer data, this is impossible.”

    What you have described here is actually already in place, after a fashion. Knowledge Centered Support (KCS), a methodology adopted by Primary Support offers just such a community approach. The process calls for an SAP Note or Knowledge Base article to be created for each and every issue encountered by support, often in several customer messages.

    These knowledge bases start off life as a set of symptoms and system information and over the lifecycle of one or more customer messages, this develops into a fully fledged knowledge base article with a cause and solution. These knowledge base articles are then made available for all customers.

    Sensitive customer information, such as system names is always removed.

    The KCS methodology is more mature in certain parts of the organisation than others. As a customer you should notice an SAP Note number referenced at the close of your messages. If you don’t, please remind us that there ought to be!

    I can certainly echo a lot of what you blogged as a former BI Support Consultant myself, in particular the usefulness of an SAProuter connection.

    Regards,

    Miles

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    1. Michael Bestvina Post author

      Miles,

      Interesting. Two things around this that would help myself (and probably other partners/customers):

      • Education that this is indeed an iniative and what we need to do to support SAP in achieving it.
      • The Search function in SCN (which holds all of the KB articles right?) is very poor. So finding results is difficult (although google searching site:scn.sap.com seems to work).

      P.S. What CoE center were you located in?

      Cheers,

      Mike

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      1. Miles Escow

        Hi Michael,

        I have let some colleagues involved in KCS know of your interest in the topic, although as I understand it KCS is largely an internally managed methodology. The best search tool to use if you are looking for SAP Notes is http://service.sap.com/search which includes results from the original SAP Notes search tool at http://service.sap.com/notes . There are efforts underway to merge these search tools further.

        Only a very small subset of SAP Notes are available through the SCN due to entitlement issues I believe. Membership of SCN doesn’t require an SAP Support contract like SAP Notes do… I believe. For the same reason Google will not yield satisfactory results if looking for SAP Notes.

        I work in the Ealing office, UK. Not a CoE but a Primary Support location.

        Regards,

        Miles

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  4. Nicolas Busson

    Hi Michael,

    Thanks for this article. But may you please clarify one point: does SAP support consider that it is the role of the customer to determine why the software does not work as intended (=RCA) ?

    Because according to me the role of the customer should be limited to show how to reproduce a situation that doesn’t give the expected result. RCA is the job of SAP support actually. What do you think?

    Regards,

    Nicolas.

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    1. Michael Bestvina Post author

      Nicolas,

      Great point. I can’t speak full on behalf of SAP Support (since I no long represent them), but here is my view on it:

      • It is indeed the role of RCA for SAP Support and all are required to be “RCA Certified” (whatever that means 😉 )
      • As a SAP customer, if you can successfully complete RCA before opening a message you are at massive advantage in getting better support from SAP. Or, rather, you can gain a lot more substance and context around disputes that often happen when trying to get better support from SAP.
        • To give you some context on this. I’m generally a very non-confrontational person. If I’ve properly done RCA the correct way, then my arguments as to why the message hasn’t been escalated become much stronger, and I will indeed “yell” to make sure that it does. SAP Support (IMS, DEV, etc) have their own signal-noise ratio to deal with. I try to eliminate that.
      • You’d be shocked how many messages don’t get past the first line support. SAP customers don’t do their homework. SAP would love not to have “cheap” first line support, but it’s a necessary evil.
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      1. Nicolas Busson

        Thanks for your clarification.

        Now I must say that I do not totally agree with you on “the massive advantage” nature of RCA before opening a message. I would say that this will help 50% of the time… and be a waste of time the other 50%.

        Why? Because usually you’ll need a minimum of 6 replies/answers within one message before the issue reaches the responsible developer… and few of them will take time to read everything you wrote from day one.

        So according to me RCA done by customer is useful to be 100% sure that a message should be open and an OSS note is needed, but I’m not convinced that will really help to speed up processing time. Interesting to see that a former insider like you thinks otherwise.

        Cheers,

        Nicolas.

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        1. Michael Bestvina Post author

          Because usually you’ll need a minimum of 6 replies/answers within one message before the issue reaches the responsible developer


          Perhaps I have a biased view as someone who processed messages. But, as a customer if I’ve done all of my homework (i.e. note search, RCA, etc), than I feel I have every right to demand to the support resource that they push it to the right resource. And any argument to not move it by that support person is unwarranted. I can then rightfully escalate to SAP Support management if it becomes an issue (this happened recently and we were assigned a SAP Support manager to drive all of our open OSS issues). Again, perhaps it’s only because I know the system so well.

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          1. Nicolas Busson

            Thanks for your feedback.

            Just one more comment: I totally agree with you when you say :

            Open the damn SAP Router connection to your system. Seriously, just open it.

            But why don’t you just recommend SAO (Semi Automatic Connection)? Would you say that’s something known/appreciated by SAP support employee? Because I’m wondering why none of them ever talked to me about it when they faced some connection issues because the validity period expired when they finally tried to connect.

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            1. Michael Bestvina Post author

              I’m not specifically familiar with SAO to be honest, and as far as I know did not exist during my tenure. Also, opening a SAP connection is sometimes more than just making sure the connection is open, but also for non-SAPGUI/ABAP based systems this may mean having a Citrix system open, etc. Accessibility tends to be a huge blocker for speed of issue resolution.

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