I work at an SAP customer site and we’ve just finsihed an upgrade project – R/3 4.7 to ERP6 EHP5. My job as technical manager meant I was responsible for making the technical upgrade itself happen. Over the years I’ve spoken to many people responsible for SAP technical operations. Some outsource all technical support, some keep the day-to-day operational activities in house, but very few are prepared to even consider taking on an install or upgrade with their in-house team.
I understand where that view comes from. When our very first R/3 development system was installed, that was done by external consultants who clearly thought they were God’s gift to SAP operations, and who made no effort to educate me about the process. I was left with the impression that SAP was a magic black box that you had to look after by running a few daily checks, but you brought in experts to do anything beyond that. Naturally, then, we got in somebody to do the test system install. This person was different. He was very happy to explain what he was doing, and why. To discuss options and their pros and cons. He taught me.
I should say at this point that I have a Computer Science degree and know how computers work from the chips up. I know there’s nothing magic about them. I would eventually have figured out the inner workings of SAP myself. I’m that kind of person. Being taught by somebody else, though, made the process so much faster. In fact, when the time came for us to install the production system we had the same guy in again and he just sat and watched while I did it all. That was the last time an external Basis consultant ever touched one of our systems. Since then we have done all of our installs and upgrades in-house. This most recent upgrade involved a platform migration (same OS but different CPU) and Unicode conversion. A little more complicated, but still no need for external help.
This is not to say we don’t need external input from time to time. While planning this last upgrade we spoke to an external Basis guy to validate our choice of new hardware platform and architecture, and to talk through the migration & Unicode conversion process since we’d not done one before. External consultants clearly do a lot more of this sort of work than Basis guys on a customer site, and it is important to take advantage of that experience from time to time. Especially when embarking on something new. Going it completely alone doesn’t make sense to me. What also doesn’t make sense, though, is thinking of SAP as something magic that needs wizards to look after. It isn’t. There’s no reason why an in-house Basis team can’t do all the work, including installs and upgrades, themselves.
What made the difference for us was a Basis consultant that didn’t act like a wizard and was prepared to teach as he worked, and a willingness from the in-house team (me, at that point) to discover what SAP was about. I spent a lot of time playing and experimenting. That was important. What is also important, though, is to get management support for this. They are exposed to the “SAP is magic” attitude also, and you need to overcome that. Doing the job successfully is obviously the most important part, but also being honest about what you know and don’t know. If you say, “I can do that,” to something and you fail they’ll be less inclined to believe you next time. If you say, “I don’t know – give me some time to figure it out,” then even if you fail they’ll know they can still trust you!
Oh, and one last thing. I lied above when I said that our first production install was the last time an external Basis person touched our systems. We had a problem once with a Java instance that was refusing to let anybody log in. It sounded like a simple problem but I just couldn’t figure out how to fix it. I freely admit I’m much less familiar with the SAP Java stack than I am with the ABAP stack, and eventually I said I couldn’t fix it and we got somebody in. It turns out they couldn’t fix it either! I did enjoy that 🙂
How much Basis support do you do in-house? Do you do your own installs and upgrades? If not, why not?