THE BEST and WORST of SOFTWARE STANDARDS
Standardization is a good path toward a successful implementation project, because you can benefit from SAP best business practices but… what if:
– Your company wants to leverage your unique business with unique solutions.
– Your company does not want to change processes that are consolidated and fits perfectly with your organization.
– Your company is sensitive to prejudices about SAP standard software complexity and rigidity
Normally, SAP standard is the best solution, in terms of value, savings of time and money, and overall customer satisfaction, but sometimes companies are still not ready to adopt it in full.
Frequently, the customer’s project sponsors are more sensitive to standardization, and are willing to pursue it, but when you start to meet process owners and key users, on the battleground of the analysis project tasks, and you propose SAP standard and best practices, you’ll sometimes raise headaches that slow down your momentum toward success.
Customer’s key users know their internal processes very well. They have worked very hard over the years refining and optimizing the way they perform their daily work, and they sometimes must undergo a sharp turn to adapt new processes proposed by SAP.
In general, it’s not simple for an SAP consultant to meet a process owner or a key user and propose (or impose…) a new best practice, assessing this is better than the one is currently in use.
During my long career at SAP (I’ve started to work at SAP in 2003, as a senior payroll consultant) I have learned this lesson: to persuade the customer process owners and key users about the benefits of the standardization is the most complicate and delicate project task. and sometimes you fail to achieve it.
CHALLENGES TO PROJECT CUSTOM DEVELOPMENTS
In the past, if your proposal to adopt the standard best practices was rejected, the only workaround was to deploy a custom development, modifying SAP standard behavior in order to secure the specific customer processes.
Doing this task is challenging because:
- Normally, you have to rely on external parties to arrange the development, and often you can’t completely rely on them in terms of respect of development standards, compliance with future releases, minimization of risks during upgrades.
- The developers need to be continuously assisted: as an SAP consultant, you are responsible for the quality of the development, often.
- Sometimes you need assistance from an experienced Solution Architect because the design of the custom solution is very complicated or collides with SAP standards.
- Maintenance of the custom solution is not guaranteed: probably you must rely on the same external parties for future updates and adaption to changes of internal organization and/or law changes as well. Sometimes it’s difficult to recover the external parties during the years; this could represent a big risk because the customer investment is not sufficiently protected.
THE SAME OLD STORY… OR NOT?
My last big payroll project was aimed to deploy an SAP payroll standard solution for a large Italian company, a market leader in the utility industry.
Their payroll legacy software was quite a good product, and they were almost pleased with its performances (it sounds challenging to my ears…), nevertheless they would like to leverage their existing SAP environment (full Master Data, Time Management, Organizational Management, and many others) benefiting from an integrated payroll module.
After some days of analysis, we discovered a big gap: in the past they deployed, working in team with their software partner, a tailored functionality designed
to manage company changes and legal reporting as well (as a big group composed by many companies, they frequently move employees from a company to another one, assuring continuity in the payroll services).
As a result, at that time they could rely on a strong solution, which completely fit with their requirements; since this functionality was adopted as a standard by their software partner, they didn’t have any issues from a maintenance perspective.
The customer process owners were willing to substitute in full their legacy payroll software with SAP payroll, but they didn’t want to give up their unique processes in terms of company change and legal reporting.
Unfortunately at that time standard SAP payroll didn’t provide such coverage…When I realized the complexity and the challenges of such a big development, I was a little discouraged: to cover this requirement we need to start a large number of new project tasks, embarking in our team a solution architect and a lot of experienced developers, spending a large amount of resources and time to provide them the functional assistance they surely need.
Obviously, the customer expected from SAP a “standard-like” solution to cover this issue:
Hence, I was preparing to deal with these big issues, when I remembered something that changed my mind…
A GAME CHANGING SOLUTION
Working for SAP is an amazing and challenging trial, because you can’t ever rely on your comfortable niche of knowledge and experiences: as an innovative company, products and services offerings are continuously changing (and sometimes the game changes completely).
Months before the beginning of this project, I participated to demos on a new service offering, named Custom Development Program (CDP), that perfectly fits on our case: CDP offers to customers the possibility to maintain their uniqueness, safeguarding the adherence to SAP standards as well.
The Custom Development Program solution guarantees:
- Coverage of unique business processes of the customer
- Adherence to SAP standard of development
- Coherence with SAP standard architecture
- No risks during upgrades, enhancement packages and support packages application
- Maintenance for emerging needs related to law changes and organizational changes
- Stability and SAP higher standard of quality
On this basis, we advised the customer of the value added by this innovative solution in respect to traditional ones. After further discussions, the customer gave us “green light”; as a result we started a new project task in order to manage the development of a CDP solution that covers the particular requirements we found out.
We contacted our support services and added a new project stream aimed to the development of a complete solution based on the gap analysis we made. The CDP service delivery was subdivided into two main phases for a better distribution of the resources.
The CDP team was composed by a mix of regional and global resources; they ensure all the necessary competencies needed in terms of:
- Project Management
- Architecture of the solution
- Development skills
We organized a kick off meeting with all the CDP team members and had some face-to-face follow up meetings with them in order to ensure a smooth start of the activities.
After this preliminary phase, they started to work remotely and we frequently had calls and videoconferences to keep their tasks consistent with the main project ones.
They spent an overall effort of about 500 days for the first phase of the project and, after four months of hard work, they delivered a complete solution. Then the test phase started immediately and, after further refinements, we were able to run the acceptance test phase, which was performed by the customer on his own responsibility.
Obviously, this was the most challenging task, and it took about two months to get the final approval, but eventually the CDP solution was released, and went live on time (and on budget, too).
END OF (NEW) STORY
At the end of this project, the customer appreciated these advantages, and a happy customer is the best reward for an attentive consultant!
Now, they are running a fully integrated “standard-like” solution, benefiting of the quality and maintenance offered by SAP in respect of a custom solution that surely would have a shorter lifecycle and poses many question marks over time.
Some CDP figures from this customer implementation:
More than 45,000 employees managed monthly
About 3,500 company changes since the go live
Management of two yearly legal reports with 6 different types of company change
I’d like to share my positive experience because customers and consultants facing these kinds of challenges sometimes give up with SAP because of particular requirements that are not covered by the standard.
When you encounter such a big challenges, please think about this way of responding to customer needs: maybe you can save your SAP project maximizing the customer satisfaction with a robust, performing solution which adapts fully with customer requirements.
See below for an overview video for SAP Custom Development