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Just like the hard-core baseball fan who can’t wait to make his annual pilgrimage to spring training, I have begun counting the days to my annual visit to SAP’s big customer event, SAPPHIRE NOW, this May 5-7. Gearing up for this big event has been a ritual for me since 2010, when I became one of several leaders of our SAP delivery operations at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Today, these operations employ thousands of TCS professionals who are experts of the complex software system, which was brought to life 43 years ago in Weinheim, Germany by five ex-IBMers.

In that job and currently, as head of the TCS global SAP Practice, I’ve had the chance to talk with TCS clients around the world who run SAP to improve their business performance. I’ve moved from India to the U.S. and met many more of our customers. I’ve also spent more time with the top management of SAP itself so that we can even more deeply understand their direction and keep our services moving in lockstep with it.

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But in this post, I’m actually not interested in talking about me. I’d much rather discuss the world-class SAP practice that TCS has been building since the turn of the decade. Today, we have more than 13,500 SAP consultants. Our SAP business has grown 30% in each of the last two years alone, and we now have more than 400 SAP projects that serve as world-class proof points of the results we generate for our clients. They include many large global firms, companies like British retailer Marks & Spencer, U.S. toymaker Hasbro, Swiss engineering powerhouse ABB, and the Belgium steel and chemical maker N.V. Bekaert.

So how has our SAP practice gotten so strong, and where is it going over the rest of this decade? That’s what I want to focus on in this and other blog posts that I will publish in this space between now and early May, ahead of SAP’s SAPPHIRE flagship conference. In this post, I’ll describe the market needs to which we’ve shaped our SAP practice. That will give you insights on why we’ve brought to market the SAP consulting services that we have today, and why we believe they’re different than those of other ERP consulting and IT services firms.

I don’t need to tell any executive whose company runs on SAP how important the software is to a well-functioning business. They’ll know of what I speak: SAP is the technology heart of a large, global corporation. It’s ensures that customer orders for chemicals, toys, paper diapers, cars, cell phones and other goods and services result in a product that comes off the assembly line, is shipped, accounted (from a financial standpoint) and billed for. The manufacturing, finance, supply chain, order fulfillment and many other core operations of big companies depend every day on their SAP systems to handle hundreds or even thousands of such orders. And our clients, in turn, depend on us to keep those systems running.

Skill gaps in implementing business transformation

But companies for awhile have needed more skills than technical ones to keep their SAP systems running. Companies have been coming to TCS for years to scope out and make the business process changes that are required to use SAP to its fullest extent. In fact, a study we commissioned Forrester Research to conduct last year of more than 100 companies that had implemented enterprise systems found the capability in greatest demand to transform their business was not technical at all. It was that soft skill known as “culture change.” The next five skills in greatest demand were equally as soft:

  • Organizational issues
  • New practices
  • Organizational design
  • Job and responsibilities definition
  • Getting people to change the way they work (incentives, motivations, and so on)

We’ve known for awhile that “the soft stuff is the hard stuff” when it comes to implementing SAP. That’s why we decided several years ago that our SAP practice skills couldn’t stop at installing and maintaining the complex information system. To be sure, we have dozens of clients who depend on TCS to keep manage their SAP systems and keeping them running – to keep the heart of their business pumping, so to say. But we have many more for whom we have scoped the business changes that are necessary for companies to maximize the business potential of SAP.

So that’s why we have a full suite of SAP consulting services– business process transformation, technology implementation and integration with others systems, and support. But we also deliver all that change much more quickly for our clients because they no longer can take years to implement SAP across their global operations.

In the next few posts, I’ll explain the core principles we’ve used to build our SAP practice into one of the 10 largest in the world and how our services have powered up many global enterprises.

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