It’s truely amazing – in a sad way. I know I’ve been banging on about this for ages, but maybe one day the right person reads this and changes something in there own organisation. And after all, Blogs are supposed to expose a personal opinion to discussion rather than just spread technical facts, so here we go.


My best hope is that it’s merely a communication problem (bad enough) and Junior Consultants in large System Integrators and Service Providers could actually have access to the knowledge they need, but for some reason believe they have to get along without help.

Just today I’ve seen an employee of an offshore service centre of a large UK based service provider, who run SAP based payroll for a large number of clients and surely know how to implement all the latest UK statutory changes. Yet, this employee seems desperate for help in how to deploy shared parental leave – half a year after it has become a legal requirement. Sure, many employers lack behind, but I guess about half of their customers would have implemented by now, so the expertise must be there. Yet, the organisation doesn’t seem to know how to do shared parental leave (or holiday pay, or latest RTI changes). Only individuals know and their colleague on a far away island finds it easier to spend a lot of time on the SCN to find it. No best practise database? No culture of sharing and asking?

And still: she seems to be lucky. At least, she is allowed to use the SCN. Not long ago I had a consultant from a global SI, who knew my name from the SCN email me directly to ask a very elaborate question about ALE in HCM (it must have taken an hour to write and at least as long to answer). Much better chances for an answer on the SCN, but it seems they are “not encouraged” to do that. Nor did he receive much help from his colleagues, when I expect dozens should have been able to give this answer.

Why is this? Why are experts in Human Capital Management not able to develop their own Human Capital by sharing their knowledge about Human Capital Management? Don’t start the story of the cobbler’s kid’s shoes again! It’s not an explanation – just a poor excuse.

There is one guess from me. It’s the same reason, why I left a medium size SI back in the days, because collaboration and the ethos of doing the right thing for the client both died, when they went public.

What happens in these organisations, when you ask a colleague for more than 5 minutes of their time: they ask for a project ID to bill it to. Because that’s what they are measured by. Alas, junior colleagues (or seniors, who should really be asking just as much) don’t have an “ask a colleague” budget on their projects. So, they can’t ask.

It’s really sad. I’ve never managed a large SI, so the problem is probably not as easy to resolve as I think. But, if you are, are you even trying? How much do you invest in building and spreading knowledge? Compare that to what an oil company invests to get oil out of the ground and to the pump. Because knowledge is for you, what oil is for them.

The irony is that many young professionals join the big brands, because it looks good on CVs and allegedly they learn a lot. Maybe, when this perception changes (we certainly apply a discount factor of 30-60% to candidates’ experience from large SIs) and labour shortage kicks in, we see a change here.

Until then: if you are an SI’s CxO and you want to improve, please take your time. The day you’ll all get this sorted, small companies like ours will struggle to compete on quality and beat the brand.

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26 Comments

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  1. Christopher Solomon

    AMEN!!! Preach brother Sven! Preach!!!!!

    I too get my share of direct emails for employees/consultants of the BIG consulting firms asking the most basic questions at times….or even if they are a bit complex, surely they have their own “in house” experienced people to ask, a “library” to refer to, project documents to “check out”, etc….but no. Collaboration sounds all fine and good, but rarely do people take the “time out” to do so…..unless it is billable. haha

    The reason you mentioned is extremely valid. But allow me to got a step further and name what I think the “biggy” is. Sadly, the junior folks (or even senior at times) feel that if they ask internally someone might take that as a weakness….that they don’t know what they should know….and in some cultures, that is even more elevated. They might find it easier to go “outside” to get help without anyone knowing “inside” that they had to reach out. They can remain somewhat anonymous that way. Sad but true. Personally, I think the opposite…if a person as first gone at all lengths to find information for themselves, there is nothing wrong with asking for help. How else do we learn?!?!?

    I would LOVE to see the “traffic” logs for SCN just to see from which SIs the most questions come from….as well as the “lurkers” searching for answers. 😛

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      I’m afraid you are right in far too many cases, Chris. They probably don’t even have to make much of an effort. We observe with most new joiners that asking has to be actively encouraged. Don’t do that, put the “billable time” barrier in, and allow people to subtly expose other colleagues’  “stupid questions” without immediately intervening to stop such discouragement: perfect recipe for a “don’t ask” culture.

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      1. Christopher Solomon

        Sven Ringling

        …funny enough….started my morning today with an email from a SAP employee with several years experience asking me for info related to P&F capabilities. 😛 You would think they have this “in house”, but I guess even SAP is weak in this area.

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  2. Jagan Gunja

    I agree much on what you guys have said.   The reason many people ask outside of their org’n could also be due to:

    a)For a second opinion or a better solution

    b)They do not believe or trust their own people or experts

    c)Often there is no central database of knowledge – scenario or issue and solutions found.  d)This knowledge is often buried in a person’s head and this person may not want to share, because he/she feel others may become experts & become more senior as compared to oneself and one’s position would be under threat,

    I have also found other aspects of sharing.  I have found many times when I shared my analysis, the recipient went on to report problem analysis to the management and claimed full credit to oneself, without a shred of mentioning the giver. The management also has often considered such recipient as an expert.  This is the world we live.

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      Hi Jagan,

      Thanks a lot for your valuable insights. And for giving us a ray of hope with your first explanation. Getting a second opinion is certainly not a bad idea.

      We certainly should aim at acquiring knowledge from outside our organisations as well. After all, one well known cultural barrier for innovation is the NIH (not invented here) syndrome, which can be difficult to overcome (back in the days, Texas instruments created the NIHBWUIA award – not invented here, but we use it anyway – to encourage designers to accept innovation from outside.

      The other reasons you give are mostly cultural. On the surface some look like lack of system or process, but it’s most likely culture that determines whether or not effort is put into creating such systems and processes

      Whilst we always should look outside for new knowledge and innovation, acquring basic knowledge is usually much faster internally – if done well – and that also helps to create standards. When we look outide, we should aspire to increase the knowledge of the organisation, not just our own knowledge. That makes for the huge difference that creates a learning organisation as opposed to a bunch of learning individuals. I would guess that half of the top 50 SAP HCM consultancies (maybe less for SuccessFactors, as the big ones don’t really get cloud yet) also offer consultancy to create “learning organisations”…

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    2. Vivek Barnwal

      I agree with the 4th point of Jagan.

      • This knowledge is often buried in a person’s head and this person may not want to share, because he/she feel others may become experts & become more senior as compared to oneself and one’s position would be under threat,

      There is too much competition in any big SI and a lot of seniors don’t share knowledge proactively until and unless they have been asked to do the same. There is insecurity that others may become experts and surpass them and they won’t be left with any USP in their practice. Ideally, seniors in the organization should take the lead and share their expertise and knowledge or document their learning after successfully executing a project. However, this isn’t happening. And even if they share knowledge, it is done at superficial level – again to retain their competitive edge over others.

      The other reason which I have heard is lack of time/bandwidth. But I think that is a lame excuse and more to retain their competitive edge over others in the organization.

      Another thing which I have found is that I learned it the hard way myself…so why should others have a free ride.

      Sad but true!!!

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      1. Sikindar T

        Nicely Said Experts.

        As per  my personal Experience I feel it is purely cultural difference , Not all the consultants were same.

        I have been experienced all the stages , Learned good things which has to be practiced and also bad things which should not get habituate .

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  3. Jarret Pazahanick

    This is excellent Sven and I have faced this for the last 4-5 years on both very simple (should know) or complex (client paying big $ for their expertise) which is why I highly recommend customer interview every consultant that they bring on board regardless of the SI “brand” as the time spent on the front end can often pay off in multiples on the backend.


    I also think it is the “dark” side of SCN where Junior consultants are able to be sold as “senior” consultants and end up providing guidance from strangers (ie SCN) as their own and may not even be correct.  At the end of the day the customer is the one that pays the price.


    On a side I have partnered with many big SI’s over the years and always amazed with how poor the internal documentation (shared) and knowledge sharing is given their wealth of the experience and implementations.

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  4. Luke Marson

    You’re bang on the money, Sven… again.

    I think the problem is that knowledge sharing costs money and these firms probably don’t make any extra money by having smart consultants. If you’re a big 5 you are going have top dollar leads landing on your lap everyday – quality doesn’t matter when you are a large global service delivery firm. Until customers stop thinking they need a big 5 every time the sooner they will get closer to real value.

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  5. Soumyasanto Sen

    Sven you have definitely bring a very interesting topic and I am sure many of us had faced similar cases number of times. I also agree with Luke and Jarret here. I had opportunity in past to work with Large SI and with offshoring and believe me things are much worsts even what you have mentioned.There is not at all any thought process or actual learning/sharing knowledge in most of the cases as all they care about their Business, Profit and individual promotions. It’s the Brand that’s working for Customers (not all)

    Thank you.

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      Thanks for your Insights. Doesn’t sound promising.

      Well, most of them are successful organisations, so they must do some things right, nut as somebody who’s worked in culture change and who still holds the topic close to his heart, it does hurt to see.

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  6. Steve Bogner

    Agree with so much of what has been said so far; and want to add maybe another viewpoint.There has long been, in my opinion, a tendency to treat SAP-related consultants as commodities. By that I mean, you’ve gone through training, so you must be able to deliver the whole package as well as anyone else. But training is only the start, it’s just the platform from which you can start to become an effective consultant. And I think that people who place consultants and many customers who bring on those consultants simply assume that if you’ve had the training or that if the SI says so, then that is all that is needed. This is unfair for the customers and, importantly, the consultant who is expected to deliver results but isn’t equipped to do so. No one wins, except maybe the one collecting the fees.

    And it takes time to become effective. I’ve been mentoring a very sharp person for a couple years now. Just yesterday they had me review a functional spec – a custom ABAP report that reads payroll, creates some wagetypes and etc. Fairly complicated. Once I understood the requirement, I said ‘or you could just modify payroll rule “xyz” in schema “abc”…. so much simpler and effective. That sort of mentoring is missing in so many firms and clients. And that sort of knowledge doesn’t come overnight.

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  7. Imran Sajid

    I completely agree! There have been so many times I have seen a customers system have so many unnecessary customization’s because clearly the consultant didn’t know that there is a standard solution. Some examples I have seen are a custom operation in payroll when a simple rule should have sufficed, or a custom program (with hard coded values and dates) to create quota instead of using either the Time schema or the standard Time program which reads standard configuration.


    Many times it isn’t even the consultant who configured the system’s fault because they were put on the project when they weren’t ready without a mentor and had to meet X requirement by X date and just had to get it done. So if their background is more in ABAP than Payroll/Time they will end up thinking about an ABAP solution that may not be the best for the client. Maybe it works right away, but what about a year later when that custom operation runs into an exception situation that wasn’t programmed for and your payroll program short dumps in production. How about when you now have a date specific policy change to your quota and cannot just delimit an entry in configuration and change the value. Instead you must make a development change and over time end up with a disastrous custom program when standard would have worked seamlessly with far less ongoing maintenance.

    Now when the person who set all this up leaves the company and someone else comes in they will have to spend X hours more in order to figure out the customization and how it is working rather than being able to look at the standard configuration and how they may expect it to work.

    In the end, it is the customer who suffers and starts thinking that standard SAP isn’t capable of many of their requirements even though it most certainly is. This is especially true when they went with the big SI thinking they would be getting true experts and are paying a huge rate for these consultants and ending up with an unnecessarily customized system with issues!!

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      Very good points.

      To be fair to SIs: some customers have very poor infrastructure for documentation – particularly with distributed teams partially ourside their firewall. Sometimes you have to fight to push your doco to someone or somewhere at the customer.

      Our solution has been to offer a separate space in our wiki for the customer and our team members to use together as a collaborative doco tool. After the project, customers can export it and move to their sharepoints or other last-generation systems. But that never happened so far – they want to keep the wiki, because it’s easier to amend the doco 🙂

      Also easier for us, if requests for support or amendmends come in.

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  8. Sven Ringling Post author

    Just realised how – here as on Linkedin – my rather negative “grumpy German” style post is being turned round into something constructive: discussing knowledge sharing best practise.

    Thanks, guys!

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      1. Sven Ringling Post author

        Sometimes, I look at my own posts next day and think: “bloody hell you ARE a grumpy German. They’ll never give you a passport here, if they read your posts…”

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  9. Chiara Bersano

    Not only knowledge costs money, but if it isn’t diluted with the business experience, it can be very hard to achieve a reasonable outcome.

    I can only echo the situations of overprogramming, overcustomizing mentioned above by several colleagues. Yet, the solution should be on two sides: on one side, guiding the customer to simplify the processes where possible, and on the other in understanding the system enough to at least be able to research to best technical solution, instead of a dirty hard-coding.

    In the end, it is not about knowing everything, but in knowing where to look. I call it “The POWER OF GOOGLE” (no advertising/branding intended).

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      Agreed. And to balance out the search engine bias: you could also use duckduckgo.com as a more friendly (and less creepy) speciman or one of myriads of others 😉

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  10. Harris Moideen

    Good observation and well written Sven! Having been part of very Large SI’s and Payroll service providers for long, i agree with you that sometimes they overlook the process part and also do not focus on the analysis part to give the customer a easy and maintainable solution but i guess with the new cloud solutions and also HR BPO’s  in place standardization will be preferred by most clients and the days of large customisations will long be gone .But to be fair enough i have worked for smaller specialised HR focussed consultancies as well who are not far behind SI’s in over complicating  and recommending  large customisations  just  in order to keep the customer within thier orbit.

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      Agreed, Harris: over-complication is no privilege of the Big. At the end of the day, we are probably all at risk of falling into that trap – some are better at avoiding it, some not so good, and some jump into it with a big smile on their face…

      What seems to be endemic with larger players is to not share knowledge internally. I guess it happens with small players, too, but they don’t survive for long, so evolution takes care of it (as always: there are exceptions).

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  11. Chiara Bersano

    HA! listening to this Yves Morieux: How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done | TED Talk | TED.com reminded me of your post, Sven… Why? if we compensate employees based on delivery, we’ll have folks focusing on what they deliver. the switch to a learning and collaborating enterprise can only be done by recognizing collaboration – not just giving lip service.

    Otherwise, we’ll keep racing fast, but without communicating.

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    1. Sven Ringling Post author

      Right you are, Chiara!

      But don’t get me started on incentivisation or you’ll regret it 😉

      What’s the problem?

      The fact that we incentivise the wrong things?

      Or the fact that intrinsic motivation to do the right thing is killed by extrinsic incentivisation?

      STOP, Sven!

      ok.

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  12. Chiara Bersano

    I see it quite simply. If we pay a person to fish, s/he will focus on getting fishes out of the water, and will not make a priority of teaching others how to fish.

    Now of course, for some the intrinsic satisfaction of building a relationship and helping others grow will make that not only they will teach how to fish, but sometimes even gift them with the fishing rod. Alas, that is the exception.

    Happy New Year, Sven.

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