Cloudy with a chance of SAP expertise
When answering a question on SCN, have you ever thought “oh man, I really should be paid for this”? Well, now there is an app for that! (Cue the soundtrack)
Last Thursday, the ASUG members were introduced to the “rapidly growing collaborative platform” – the ERPfixers. Unlike some ASUG webcasts that are 20% educational content and 80% sales pitch for the consulting services or costly third-party software, this one was a pure, undiluted, grade A sales pitch. No figurehead ASUG member, no clumsy product placements or awkward “…aaaand here is how X can help” transitions. It was almost refreshing! Despite my initial intention to bail out after the “how X can help” keywords, I stayed for the whole duration and even asked some [tough] questions.
As any self respecting webcast, it started with the “as is” situation aka The Challenges. This part is designed to get the customers to nod in agreement and, consequently, loosen their purse strings. These will likely ring a bell for the broad SAP customer community:
- consultants are expensive and take their sweet time;
- customers end up paying for the solutions that don’t work;
- SCN is free but the advice you get could be worth exactly what you paid for it.
In the opening statements Paul Ovigele (ERPfixers Founder & CEO) noted the trend of shared economy, with the web sites like Uber, AirBnB or TaskRabbit (“dangerous babies”, as Steve Lucas calls them) stealing lunch from the traditional businesses. And the future of workforce is also sharing and caring.
Side note: last year’s article World Without Work in The Atlantic magazine pointed out similar tendencies: the raise of freelancers, “artisans”, and so called “the leisure force”, i.e. occasional workers who work just to sustain their otherwise leisurely lifestyle. Or, as we call them, the SAP consultants.
As an example, Mr. Ovigele mentioned that over the 20-year life span of a power drill an average drill owner only uses it for about 15 minutes (clearly some people have no imagination!). This should make it obvious to the listeners that they must no longer invest in the power tools. But the analogy doesn’t seem as great after you realize that you are the power drill.
Anyways. I’m sure many points mentioned by Mr. Ovigele resonated with the audience. There have been quite a few times in my line of work when we had a need for expert opinion on an issue that would be too complex (or too private) for SCN yet not big enough for the consulting company’s 4 billable hour minimum. The need for on-demand expertise does exist and right now the technology and timing are ripe for the platforms like ERPfixers.
You can easily find some FAQ content on the ERPfixers website and a short demo was included in the ASUG presentation. On this website the customers are called “the members” (this must be like Costco of the SAP world) and the consultants are called “the fixers”. This term reminds me of the mafia, but I guess “consultant” has become such a dirty word that ERPfixers did what SAP does best and renamed them as “fixers”.
In a nutshell, the customers, err, members can purchase “credits” that are the equivalent of 1 hour of the expert’s services. The member posts the request, guesstimates how many credits it’s worth and gets some popcorn while the fixers beat each other with the briefcases compete to get the assignment (or the members can just pick a favorite fixer). The fixer gets paid when the member is satisfied with the solution and closes the request. If the member is not happy they can choose another fixer and so on and so forth, until they realize that what they want is not feasible because of The SAP Design.
The site does not list the prices for the members (this information is available only after the registration) and 1 credit payable to the fixer is worth $80. I did not find it mentioned explicitly that the fixers must be US residents, but terms and conditions state that the US federal tax payer ID is needed. Which means the fixers have to be authorized to work in the US. I know $80/hour is big money in some countries and even in the US it’s a decent compensation, but not exactly the going rate for a senior SAP consultant. So I guess it might limit the level and scope of the expertise available.
As Mr. Ovigele was describing the concept, a lot of thoughts rushed through my head. Of course, most of them were along the lines of how this will never work or lead to some global SAP zombie apocalypse.
As the web site suggests, anyone can be a fixer, from the freelancers to the “permies” looking for extra coin. While this platform will clearly be a boon for the mercenaries, the employees would need to exercise caution. The employers from consulting “body shops” to the large SAP customers usually maintain some form of non-compete agreement with the employees. With that in mind, I’m not really sure how any employee could become a fixer without getting into hot waters eventually. And keep in mind, you’ll have to file taxes for this income, so make sure to check with your financial advisor (aka Google) before you sign up.
Availability is another matter. “Permies” are at disadvantage here as well – by the time they get off work all the low hanging juicy fruit would be already picked by the freelancers.
I imagine the rating system will also have the same pitfalls as on Amazon or Yelp. It will be a bit harder to sneak in the fake ratings, but subjectivity will remain. Even a perfectly good solution might not satisfy the customer for some reason and a simple misunderstanding (“I said to take care of her, not to take care of her!”) could lead to unflattering rating.
Since the fixers will have to rely on the member’s honor to get paid, I asked in the webcast if there will be any measure to prevent the abuse and was told a similar rating system for the members is in the works.
As such platforms grow in popularity, I wonder if we will experience a “brain drain” from other places? Could SCN be left with the “dear gurus” crowd and no actual gurus?
The Member is clearly the king on this website (this was highlighted in the ASUG webcast) and it seems like the right approach. After all, without the paying customers such enterprises are doomed.
The members who see ERPfixers as a potential complete replacement for in-house SAP support might be disappointed. At minimum, they’ll need to identify a module for the request. And the request itself would need to be somewhat intelligent to allow solving it as quickly is possible (on ERPfixers time is literally money).
Giving someone an SAP assignment is not the same as hiring help to pick up your dry cleaning. Usually you know quite well where the dry cleaner is and how your clothes are supposed to look. But it’s not always the case with the SAP issues. To understand whether the solution you are offered is actually a good one, either you need to have some level of expertise in house or have to trust the fixer completely. And such relationship takes time to build.
The members also would need to be careful what they wish for. If SCN was a medical forum, there would be no shortage of the questions on how to cut off your own limb. And, unfortunately, no shortage of the answers with multiple options to do so and even a side discussion on whether a spoon or a fork would be a better tool. Only if you are lucky someone would point out that a mosquito bite is not necessarily a valid medical reason for amputation.
The idea of profiting from connecting the SAP customers with the consultants online is not new. Similar attempts have been made before but never really took off, to my knowledge. ERPfixers certainly made the right move partnering with ASUG to add some panache to their offering.
If all the brouhaha about the shared economy turns out to be true then no doubt this endeavor will be closely watched. If it’s successful, then soon more “dangerous babies” will be born all over the world. And I wonder if in a few years the history will repeat itself and ERPfixers will be put out of business by their offshore equivalents. That would be quite ironic…
Disclaimer: the author is not affiliated with ERPfixers. This blog is the author’s personal opinion based on the information provided in the ASUG webcast or publicly available online. It may not represent the opinion of my employer or ASUG.