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.
At least this cleared now my doubts whether this is a real company or just a new way to get to know my bank data. I am invited but the appearance of the web page did not convince me, it had so many broken links and surface scratching information only that it was not trustworthy enough to go further when I saw it first and it had not much changed when I was there the last time.
Soo... company employees will provide access to their development or production environment to some (almost) random person, who has to figure out really fast the configuration, developments etc. and configure/develop stuff for them... then (hopefully) get paid? Yeah... sure...
Well, if they rely only on US market, they close a bunch of doors...
I'm skeptical about this kind of platform: I partecipated in another one I do not remember the name which worked (works? *) in a similar way and after a couple of months I run away.
As usual it was not the best developer, but the cheapest one to win.
Even if his rating was full of "bad work".
That platform used a multiple rating (quality, cost, quickness) and it was pretty evident that just having high rating on "cost" (meaning less money required) was the parameter the companies where looking for.
Real Life example was the company requiring a whole new custom report to manage massively deliveries with interactive ALV.
Nothing too complex but a good couple of days of development to do things nice and well.
The job was assigned to someone pretending to complete the work in 3 hrs..
*Could be ODesk? I do not know...
Thank you for the comments!
@Juergen - yes, it seemed shady to me too, even when I saw the name in the ASUG webcast announcement. But they appear to be an ASUG partner, so I guess at least it's a legitimate business. I got invites from similar sites before (but not this one, should I be worried? 🙂 ) and my first reaction was exactly the same that it's some ploy to steal private information.
@Veselina - I'm quite skeptical of the assignments and the customer expectations too. When I looked at the request samples though my reaction was: "wait, I can get paid for googling stuff for people?!". I'd be curious to hear from the actual members/fixers on what kind of problems can really be "fixed" on this website. Hopefully the customers will be at least smart enough not to let someone they don't know access their PRD.
@Simone - you are exactly right, somehow the cheapest one wins. Many companies IRL have the same problem with switching to offshore support - while the hourly rate is good on paper you end up spending more time and huge management overhead. As usual, "good, cheap, fast - pick any two". Fortunately, this web site at least takes the cost element out of the equation since everyone is paid the same 80$/hour. I guess if you do shoddy work then you might not get paid (if the customer will know the difference). But then there is also no incentive for self-improvement. Say I invest in training and getting additional experience, but am still paid the same money, so what's the point? (This question was also raised in the webcast, by the way.)
Well "cheapest" will be the one requiring less hours so this website just "hide" the costing element from the equation 🙂
This is exactly the point: on the paper it could sound interesting but still there are too many shadows for me.
Another nail for the coffin: think at the poor internal developers/technical referents who will be forced by the management to use a similar platform.
It's already difficult to work with consultants (and as former consultant I am aware of it) when you can build some kind of relationship: with something so impersonal and spot....brrrrr! Thrills of fear....
A few quick points as in theory it is a decent idea but has a LOT of potential risks for customers.
1. The going rate of $80 is well under the going rate for many areas of SAP (ie SAP HCM, SuccessFactors, S4, HANA to name a few) for senior consultants. Also ERP "fixers" is a middle layer.....why shouldn't customer reach out directly in Linkedin to experts. I for example help customers all the time free of charge for easier to solve issues.
2. Most of the better freelance consultants would not be interested in 1 hour spot work as there are many better opportunities elsewhere.
3. What incentive is there for a ERP"Fixer" to do the work quickly
4. What liability is there for poor work. Ie the 1 quick hour and your supply chain goes down or in my area 1/2 your workforce gets paid wrong (good old drastic examples) 🙂
5. What reputable consultant feels they can understand a complex issue and fix in 1 hour. On a side if the issue is truly "easy" than the answer probably can be found on google or SCN anyways.
6. They are only "partnering" with ASUG because they wrote them a check.
Anyways, just my quick two cents 🙂
Jarret, all good points. The liability question was covered a bit in the webcast and there is also T&C on the website. Essentially, the fixers seem to be fully liable and it's just between them and the customers. The platform does not bear any responsibility.
This seems quite risky for both members and fixers. In case something goes terribly wrong the members most likely won't recover their damages but still the fixers could potentially suffer significant losses. The consulting companies carry special insurance for such cases, but for an individual it might be too costly. In any case, it's definitely another point to consider for the potential fixers.
This was my thought, too. If I promise to solve the problem in just 1-2 hours in order to "win" the job, then I'm moving really fast to get it done in that timeframe. There isn't much time for seeing the big picture, so suddenly I'm recommending amputation for a mosquito bite (loved that analogy, by the way). Later the customer comes back with the SAP equivalent of a malpractice suit because they just destroyed 25% of their productivity at my recommendation and now they want hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in reparation. How many independents carry that much insurance? Seems way, way dangerous to me.
I have so many mixed feelings...
The link to the recording on the webcast page got fixed (it wasn't working for some time). Looks like the average rate for the "members" is around 110$/credit (=hour). The house always wins. 🙂
Even though the trend may be towards independent work (for the simple reason that the corporate jobs have been steadily evaporating already) it does not necessarily mean that all those newborn freelancers would flock to such platforms. There are already quite a few independent SAP consultants, but AFAIK most prefer somewhat steady contracts with established customers. As Jarret correctly pointed out, they might not be interested in such spot work, especially when payment is not guaranteed.
And, of course, the reality of SAP world is that not many issues can be solved in a couple of hours without knowing very well the customer's environment.
What would work better for all the parties IMHO is a pool of consultants shared between several customers. The consultants would get to know a bit more about the customers, so their suggestions would be more intelligent than some random dudes on the Internet. There could be some reasonable retainer fee involved (the customers also have to purchase "credits" in advance on ERPfixers).
This is, essentially, already a business model at some consulting companies. But where those companies fail is (a) huge overhead; (b) rotation of consultants or unavailability of your preferred resource. Such companies mix support work with major projects, so what happens is you get to know a consultant and they are really good. But when you need them then it's "oh, John/Jane is on this 3-month project full time with another client". If the consultants are committed to support only this would not happen. So here you go - free business idea. 🙂
Really, for me the best part here was being led to the "World Without Work" article. A long read, but a fascinating one.