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Why SAP Support Can’t Be an Afterthought

by Adolf Allesch

July 1, 2008

Two key shifts in the SAP product suite are behind a more robust approach to SAP post-go-live support: SAP’s mandates around SAP Solution Manager and SAP NetWeaver integration with SAP ECC.
 

Change is under way for SAP customers managing application support — are you ready? I ask this because I’ve seen a spike in inquiries from SAP customers of all kinds — my new clients, established installations, even outsourced SAP customers — all asking for a more robust approach to SAP post-go-live support. There seems to be high interest in “mechanizing and extending” their Customer Competency Center (CCC). Whether they realize it or not, these companies are migrating to a Center of Excellence (COE) and a new way to support their SAP solutions.

In my opinion, two key shifts in the SAP product suite in 2007 are behind this change: First, SAP’s advances and mandates around SAP Solution Manager, SAP’s application lifecycle management tool; second, the high level of integration of the SAP NetWeaver technology stack with core applications. Maintaining an SAP installation today is much different than in previous releases, so if you’re running SAP solutions, it’s time to reevaluate your support options.

How COEs Expand CCCs

For years, post-go-live support for an SAP project was typically a help desk aligned with an SAP CCC, where your key program team members migrated after go-live to focus on application-related maintenance and support. The CCC team relied on third-party tools and shared folders where they housed their tools of choice. Now, there’s interest in augmenting the traditional roles of CCCs to handle end user training, process renovation (or innovation), upgrades, benefit tracking, data lifecycle management, monitoring, and overall application governance.

Much of the interest in migrating to a full-fledged COE stems from the SAP Solution Manager requirement— so you should note its new features.

SAP Solution Manager’s Evolution

Before SAP entered the software lifecycle support tools arena, customers looked to third-party solutions for this support. SAP ERP Central Component (SAP ECC) Release 5.0 introduced the first release of SAP Solution Manager, which was optional but recommended by SAP for full maintenance support. Innovative SAP customers could work around the license key and installation requirements. Often, they merely installed the tool set with no adoption strategy. Others were confused about their migration path as the tool’s Web application server release differed from the core SAP ECC solution’s server release.

With SAP ECC Release 6.0, SAP Solution Manager is now a mandatory part of the SAP ECC installation — and with no apparent license key/installation workaround. This requirement, along with the application’s advances in functionality, is designed to manage the diverse product base of an SAP system across its life cycle.

SAP Solution Manager now has a modern Web application server, mature capabilities, and extensions to third-party tools. Its core capabilities also now include a business process documentation repository, blueprinting, a help desk, methodology, system monitoring, and SAP support service, as well as test, issue, change request, and software change management. The tool also offers flexible implementation: Some customers prefer one installation for development and another for production; others opt for a single joint-use installation. Taken together, this means you should seriously consider SAP Solution Manager.

Develop a Clear Adoption Plan

The SAP Solution Manager requirement will be especially well received by many small and medium business (SMB) customers that lack the scale and budget to procure any or all of these features separately. More established enterprises will need to analyze their current applications and tools that address this range of systems and functionality, and make some key decisions. So no matter what your size and current solution lifecycle management tools, it’s time to create an SAP Solution Manager adoption plan — something that the majority of clients I consult with still do not have.

SAP Solution Manager also requires education — without it, you’ll just be expending resources to unnecessarily modify the toolset. Yes, SAP customers are now modifying the tool to meet their needs as they did with their previously installed application modules. But to get the most out of the standard solution, you should treat SAP Solution Manager as you would any module and dedicate full project resources to it.

Each enterprise needs to determine which features to use as well as whether they have matured and can address your non-SAP applications and systems requirements. Other factors to consider are licensing from SAP and partner solutions included in SAP Solution Manager, as well as the training required to migrate from legacy solutions. Often companies leave this evaluation and adoption process to the final phases of an SAP implementation when time, skill resources, and budget are constrained. Don’t make this mistake at your company.

How Support Is Changing

Another reason for the trend toward COEs is the SAP NetWeaver integration with SAP ECC. SAP ECC Release 6.0 now provides a fully service-oriented architecture (SOA) platform for the SAP core, and SAP customers can treat them as a fully unified product.

Historically, each SAP application area had its own release and support patches and integration challenges across the platform suite, so software installations and maintenance varied across the product suite.

Now the SAP NetWeaver release is the key to your current release: Support and maintenance is administered at the SAP NetWeaver release level, not specifically for each solution. Offerings like SAP Software Lifecycle are now standardized across the suite to provide an integrated approach for platform management. Everything from installation, setup, job scheduling, landscape management, security, backup and restore, and archiving are now part of a more unified approach.

The ability to centralize technical support processes provides further incentive to migrate from a CCC to a COE-based organization.

Strategizing Your COE

Understanding SAP Solution Manager and the impact of centralizing your support processes is just one step. Companies that service multinational clients face other challenges — for example, scope definition: Will your COE cover legacy applications? At every location? Will it address both functional and technical features? Will the COE team also manage security?

Then, what processes and support will the COE provide versus core IT, the help desk, or departmental super users? With that come the organization alignment and governance questions: Who does the COE report to? Who funds the group? How is the staff selected, trained, and on-boarded? What is the staff’s career path, measurements, compensation, and succession plan? What is the relationship with business process owners?

The strategy development and migration to broader-based COE is underway. As you begin your COE migration plan, you acquire SAP Solution Manager education as you would for any module. Training opportunities (books, seminars, and knowledgeable system integrators) are starting to surface today.

Company size aside, you can’t afford to leave SAP Solution Manager as an afterthought. It’s time to treat your support function as a strategic part of each implementation project and installation.

Adolf Allesch is the global SAP NetWeaver lead partner at IBM Global Business Services. A pioneer with the Web, he is now the SAP NetWeaver evangelist for IBM. He specializes in technology-enabled business transformation using SAP and is a frequent presenter at SAP events worldwide. You can reach him at adolf.allesch@us.ibm.com.

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