IT operations are becoming more and more complex. Many organisations deploy a complex system landscape, consisting of SAP, non-SAP and customer developed applications. As business becomes ever more competitive, the need to innovate and stay ahead of the competition becomes more important, placing a great strain on the supporting IT infrastructure. The same IT operations team need to provide a stable and consistent platform for the business while at the same time provide innovations at great pace, without disruption, all while reducing the overall IT infrastructure costs. Quite a challenge! For most organisations, the ultimate responsibility for this lies with the CIO.
Generally speaking, today’s key priorities of a CIO and the IT Operations teams are:
- Ensuring business continuity, where 24×7 operation is essential and where solution availability, stability, and performance as well as data integrity, consistency, and security are all paramount
- Reducing total cost of ownership and total cost of operations
- Continuous solution improvement, protecting investment, and maximizing the use of what is already in place
- Accelerating innovation without disruption to the business practices and technologies
If you were to ask a typical CIO which of these challenges is most important, I would suggest that most would say business continuity – without this, everything else is academic. It is essential that your organisation can ensure business continuity, availability, and performance of your key systems, else your business will falter.
Once the continuity is assured, the CIO can then think about the further challenges. To address and support the competitive requirements of business, there is a need to accelerate innovation to support transformation without having adverse impact on existing systems and processes.
This needs to be achieved while simultaneously reducing the total cost of operations. Unexpected downtime is very expensive, but costs of operations also come from poor performance, ineffective incident management, data volume management, and job scheduling. Proactive monitoring and continuous fine tuning is required to keep the systems running optimally.
Establishing a Customer Centre of Expertise
SAP’s approach to management of these objectives – which manage to be both competing and complimentary at the same time – includes a strong recommendation for an internal organisational unit that is charged with achieving them. Whatever the term you use, be it Support Centre, Shared Service Centre, Internal Helpdesk, Business Optimisation or Innovations Department, a Customer Centre of Expertise places the focus on those CIO priorities. Although the names may differ from one company to another, the function is roughly the same. The CCoE runs activities in accordance with corporate strategy, corporate policies (such as corporate governance, compliance, and security), and organizational goals. Bringing together business and technical experts to manage end-to-end solution operations, means that both sides are covered, and neither is neglected.
Within the CCoE, dedicated stakeholders – such as organizational units of a company, service providers, or SAP consultants – are responsible for different objectives. Using a simplified organizational model, you can assign stakeholders to different roles, classically grouped into two categories – business and IT – as shown in Figure 1.
Each real-life implementation of a CCoE will vary – but the first step towards efficient, end-to-end solution operations is this kind of specialisation.
On the business side, most stakeholders are either users who rely on the implemented functionality to run their daily business, or key users providing first-level support for their colleagues. Business process owners, who take the lead within the business units, can help identify appropriate areas for concentration of support, and drive the direction of innovation and business improvement.
On the technical side, the customer’s IT organization has to ensure that services required for the solution are available for the business units. The program management office (PMO) or applications team is in direct contact with the business units and works in conjunction with them to implement business requirements. The development group within IT is in charge of providing the right development practices or selecting the appropriate development platform, while the operations group is responsible for keeping solutions running 24×7. Providing the underlying IT infrastructure, such as the network and databases, is the responsibility of the infrastructure organization.
Figure 2 expands the simple structure, and depicts the core responsibilities of the different organizational units.
Line-of-business (LoB) owners drive investment decisions for new technologies and products. The business has to provide input to evaluate monitoring results and drive continuous improvement of the proactive activities, along with identifying requirements arising from the user experience and more proactive business operations.
The operations team is responsible for running SAP solutions with minimum headcount and maximum efficiency. This is made possible by defining an operations control centre that is responsible not only for reactive support, including incident diagnostics, but also for more proactive monitoring and automation of IT processes.
The PMO and applications team takes care of all project and maintenance topics. This covers requirements management as well as testing, documentation, and change and release management. This part of the team is often the link between the technical function and the wider business community – responsible for translation from one side to the other! Another important aspect is integration validation of projects to mitigate project risks and help ensure a smooth handover into production. Experience often shows that the successful deployment and management of this team is the differentiator between successful solution operations and those which fail.
A large part of the investment within any project is related to development. The development team is responsible for the quality and maintainability of custom code and provides customer-internal development standards as well as the most suitable development platform. The continuous maintenance of customer-owned code is also the responsibility of the development team.
Whenever new technologies are introduced, they must be integrated with the existing infrastructure and assessed in terms of high availability and disaster recovery, for example. The infrastructure department is responsible for this integration, and for these kinds of IT planning activities.
With the team structure, or something similar in place, we can start to build on it. The next task is to begin to identify appropriate job roles within these teams, their required knowledge, skills and competencies. Next, we need to select individuals who fit those job profiles and to work with any knowledge or skills gaps to prepare them for their roles. As you can see this picture then starts to get quite detailed, and there is no “one size fits all” approach.
Establishment of a Centre of Expertise is not just for organisations with in house support. The governance structures and processes that are put in place also benefit customers who have outsourced support. History has many examples of companies who blindly outsource support at lower cost, but without realising any real business benefit. In the outsourced model, the introduction of additional partners make the support model more complex, meaning that the CCoE approach becomes more important.
SAP Can Help
SAP has a long history of and a vested interest in helping customers get this right. At a most basic level, when more customers establish a Customer Centre of Expertise, and so become self-sufficient in solution operations, there are fewer major issues requiring SAP support, and fewer escalated problems. Enabling our customers to run their own systems smarter helps to ensure that SAP solutions are more widely accepted and valued – so this is a key activity within the SAP Field Services organisation.
We’ve written before about the idea of a distributed support culture – looking at how good user enablement and access to formal and informal learning means that your wider business community can act as first level support and reduce your reliance on a central support function. This kind of culture supports and enhances your implementation of a CCoE – making sure that your central, specialised and higher value support and innovation team can get on with business tasks they’re uniquely qualified for. Meanwhile, your business users looking for brief answers to routine problems and tips and tricks on how to do their daily tasks can provide quick and efficient information to one another.
An efficient support culture, including a mature Customer Centre of Expertise, relies on the expertise of your people. Make sure that your CCoE staff, both business and IT, have the in-depth SAP skills that are going to help them support the organisation and drive business improvements. Also give them so-called soft skills, like consulting, problem-definition and –solving capabilities and business-case construction. Make sure that your wider business community has the functional training they need to carry out their daily activities independently and accurately. Give all your audiences accessible, accurate and relevant formal learning materials, and a structure to enable them to create and use informal learning.
SAP Education can help you design, implement and operate your CCoE and your wider distributed support culture. We can provide standard training packages for typical CCoE roles, including functional and technical training, and efficient use of Solution Manager. A fully skilled CCoE will have sufficient awareness of your SAP solutions and their possibilities to drive business improvement. We can offer full enablement of your wider user community, including formal training and structures for informal learning – thus enabling them to reduce their reliance on the CCoE, freeing the latter to add the business value you need.
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