We’ve gone through some of the most challenging economic times in recorded history. Well-known brands, banks, institutions and even countries have wrestled with their finances. Household names have disappeared from the main shopping streets, businesses have been forced to look at ways to cut costs, and consumer purchasing patterns have significantly altered. When times are hard, many of us simply can’t afford to hire someone to paint our house, tile our bathroom or fix our leaking shower so we decide to give it a go ourselves. For the more do-it-yourself (DIY) savvy of us, this is fine; calamity does not normally ensue, however, that’s not always the case. If you’re like me, it usually does.
Fixing a shower? Disastrous! I would damage so many tiles that the additional breakage would be equivalent to hiring a professional tiler. The house would be flooded and the cost of fixing the mess significantly more than fixing the leak. “So what?!, You clearly shouldn’t be let loose on any DIY project”, I hear you state. Well, you’re right, I shouldn’t. But there is a more relevant point I am trying to make. We shouldn’t attempt to do something on our own unless we know what we are doing, or we are coached through it. It’s a philosophy that extends to our business projects as much as to our personal projects.
Going it alone
Businesses, like the rest of us, often look at cutting their costs by reducing third party consultancy and “going it alone”. Reducing third party consultancy costs is often one of the first cost saving measures taken. For example, the UK Civil Service implemented just such an approach at the beginning of the austerity measures introduced by the British government. Putting a moratorium on external consultancy makes complete sense, but what do you do with those upgrade projects you need to implement, or those restructuring projects designed to deliver even more savings? Do you do it alone? If so, how do businesses ensure the implementation is technically managed, tested and implemented? How is the workforce trained to use the new functionality available? How can the organisation make sure the workforce really know how to use the system and therefore reduce the risk of user error causing operational issues? Does the organisation have appropriately skilled functional, technical, programme and education experts who can safeguard the implementation or upgrade? All of these questions and more usually go into the decision making process of whether an organisation looks to cut its third party cost and go it alone.
As a software vendor, SAP is keen to support organisations so they can reduce their dependency on third party resources. Reducing consultancy spend reduces the total cost of ownership of an SAP landscape. That obviously makes the product more attractive. But how exactly can customers become more self-sufficient and therefore reduce that third party cost? As ever, there isn’t one right or wrong answer, simply a series of options available depending on the individual requirements of the organisation.
The three most common tend to be: recruit the desired skillset; train existing team members; take more ownership of your implementation. Here’s how these options can play out.
Recruit the required skillset
External recruitment helps companies bring specific expertise in house. This is very much the equivalent of enlisting a friend or family member with the relevant skills needed to fix the shower or tile the bathroom whilst giving them full time lodging. It’s often effective, but can be inefficient and ultimately more expensive unless they are regularly used. Larger companies are more likely to adopt this approach. Why? It’s simply that they have sufficient levels of change in their organisation to justify the associated headcount and training costs. Gaining agreement for headcount increases in an economic downturn and at the salary banding consistent with ex-consultants’ expectations will also present a challenge that is not always easy to overcome. Add in the difficulty of finding the individual(s) with the right skillset and this option becomes less relevant for all but the biggest of companies.
Train existing staff
In the same way as you could attend a course on how to tile your bathroom, organisations can send their staff on courses that cover SAP functionality overviews and more detailed configuration training. This effectively provides the opportunity to create a skilled internal resource pool without adding headcount. Using existing capacity within the organisation by retraining and redirecting job priorities is often the most flexible and cost effective method of creating internal capability. It allows organisations to exploit existing capacity in the workforce to pick up implementation/upgrade activities in conjunction with existing work priorities.
Training existing resources, however, comes with a warning. It doesn’t stop at the initial training phase. It requires continued investment to ensure skills are retained and kept up to date. Where skills are not kept fresh, the pitfalls of doing it yourself become very real. Indeed, I can think of several examples of customers who have heavily invested in the initial SAP training of their project resource (normally by sending them to SAP publicly scheduled courses or asking us to run tailored training courses for them) only to see that organisation a year or so later struggling with implementations. In almost all cases the root cause is either a lack of succession planning for trained resource or not refreshing knowledge at regular intervals. To extend the home DIY metaphor, if you attended a tiling course but don’t tile your bathroom for eight months, it’s reasonable to assume you will have probably forgotten some of what you had been taught. At that point you are likely to revisit any training materials given to you, or more likely, look up the areas you can’t remember on the internet. In other words, you refresh and plug gaps in your knowledge using easily accessible learning material. If you didn’t do this, the chances of costly mistakes being made are much higher.
So, if an organisation invests in resource training to implement and upgrade their SAP landscape, how can that investment be maintained in a cost effective manner? Easily accessible and quick-to- consume content is key. Normally, knowledge gaps will only be identified when the knowledge is needed; this means individuals need to have the gaps covered quickly. In many instances, they will also have limited schedule flexibility, so much like the DIY enthusiast who covers gaps with quick to consume online “how to guides”, the SAP trained resource will be looking for something equally as easy to understand and quick to consume. This sort of content is gradually gaining ground in the SAP world.
A significant amount of the content taught in traditional SAP classroom courses is now available online via SAP Learning Hub. It provides organisations with the ability to quickly make available SAP learning content with the added advantage it is pre-built. The individuals or teams in the business that need their knowledge refreshed can pick and choose the areas they need to focus on. Those individuals who simply want to keep up to date, can also access materials on the latest SAP technology as content becomes available. Resources like this provide a valuable and relatively inexpensive method of keeping existing team members current and informed whilst providing an excellent asset for knowledge transfer to ensure effective succession planning.
Take more ownership of your implementation
While training is great and can provide the basic level of competence an individual needs, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience. One of the most effective ways of learning something is to do it yourself – ideally in a supported environment. Most of the customers I have worked with over the years have recognised this. The result has been a shift in the way they procure third party services and the way they staff implementations.
Customers seem to be looking to split the risk and responsibility for delivery more equally, or more in favour of their own teams. This has the benefit of reducing cost (more effort is picked up by their internal teams) and increasing their internal implementation capability to further reduce future implementation/upgrade costs. Indeed, the concept of owning more of the implementation is usually an extension of the investment customers make when training their internal teams to implement SAP. Several of the programmes I have recently been involved in have consisted of limited SAP team members and large customer teams.
The focus of the SAP experts has been on planning, schedule management and quality assurance combined with customer up-skilling. The result has been highly capable customer education teams that have gone on to roll out further releases of their programmes. This has helped drive lower third party costs for our customers and lower implementation costs with no appreciable drop in implementation quality. For those customers who have maintained this skill set effectively, we’ve seen continued value being delivered as their teams take the lead training end users during subsequent implementations and upgrades. The tangible outcome has been the creation of core (education) implementation competencies in larger clients and highly skilled reservist education teams in the smaller clients.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely an organisation will choose just one of the identified options above. A blend of the options is normally adopted with great success. By reducing the third party footprint in an implementation or upgrade, organisations have been able to reduce immediate implementation costs. More importantly, well trained customer teams have been better able to hold system integrators to account for the functional, technical and business decisions made on their programmes. This has led to systems which better match the business requirements outlined at the start of the programme and therefore systems that better deliver the benefits outlined in the original business case.
DIY can deliver value
Whichever approach is taken, the “do it yourself” philosophy is a great idea, and one that delivers tremendous value if you are well prepared and capable. If not, do what I do: avoid the DIY disasters and leave it to the experts – it’ll save you money in the long run.
I encourage you to find out more by dipping into some of our SAP Education resources here on SCN: