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The Captain of Your Ship — Why Every Successful Organization Must Appoint an Integration Manager

by Yosh Eisbart

April 10, 2009

Many people still are unfamiliar with the crucial role of an Integration Manager (IM) for their changing SAP landscapes — or they don’t yet fully understand the relevance of this critical position. This article explains how an IM maintains the corporate vision and system integrity of your SAP environment, and why every SAP customer should have one.
 

Few technical positions within an organization using SAP solutions hold as much influence as that of the Integration Manager (IM). Part navigator, part referee, and part gatekeeper, the IM’s unique role transcends multiple skill sets.

Having an IM provides you and your SAP environment with a dedicated focal point responsible for maintaining both corporate SAP vision and system integrity. Lacking this type of oversight and facilitation can lead to the unraveling of your SAP landscape and an eventual rework of your system — wasting time and money.

Leveraging an IM the correct way can help steady your SAP production environment ship, deal with the ever-changing currents, and maintain the proper course. By understanding the relevance of this critical position, you can help solidify a firm and stable path for your changing SAP landscape. Conversely, ignoring the need for an IM can damage your organization’s ability to navigate the inevitable changes or even worse: cause your SAP environment to shipwreck.

An IM Is a Must — Not Just a Nice-to-Have

As the SAP product suite and corresponding footprint becomes more comprehensive — and integration continues to grow exponentially — companies must now focus their attention on the need for a central person to manage their systems’ complex business processes and technologies. Driven by a focused strategy of acquiring leading software products that support traditionally non-core-SAP business processes, coupled with an ongoing internal development effort to expand its product reach, SAP is now well positioned to capture a strong percentage of a business’s strategic needs.

For your IT organization to successfully implement multiple SAP products, you must understand how the SAP solutions work, what their touchpoints are, and how they integrate with the existing systems in your landscape. In essence, the need for this knowledge predicates the exact reasons for the IM’s role and existence. To enable the long-term success of your SAP investment, you should designate a “system owner and protector” who can judge how modifying one area of your system may affect the functionality in other areas.

Lacking a person with a holistic understanding of your SAP landscape and its interconnectedness could severely damage your IT environment and compromise business as usual. Without such a designated point person, you could risk system integrity and enable wasted effort, unnecessary redesign, and unwanted additional cost.

Many SAP customers are now focusing on streamlining their systems and consolidating their solution providers. Choosing SAP software as a product suite is increasingly becoming a strategic business decision for organizations. As you consume more SAP functionality — whether within SAP ERP or by expanding to other components such as SAP Customer Relationship Management and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse — your dependency on understanding SAP software grows as well. The key to long-term success is appointing a system owner with strategic foresight and oversight for your SAP landscape: an Integration Manager.

Even Small Companies Shouldn’t Overlook IMs

Every company should have an IM, regardless of the size of its SAP footprint or IT department. Within smaller organizations, it is not uncommon for a company with fewer resources to challenge the need for an IM. But this reluctance is misguided. Just because you are a small company doesn’t mean you can’t — or shouldn’t — designate a person responsible for the duties typically handled by an IM.

Small and midsize companies are building increasingly comprehensive SAP environments and are undoubtedly becoming more dependent on SAP software as a central strategic platform. In these cases, an IM is required because even modest SAP footprints require oversight and a leader. One alternative for organizations that cannot dedicate a resource solely to integration management is to “double up” roles. For example, one person can handle an IM’s duties while also acting as a functional or technical analyst or serving as a member of the production support center, also known as a Center of Excellence (COE). This arrangement can be successful, depending on bandwidth and the organization’s environment. Bottom line: an IM is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

Your IM Shoulders Many Responsibilities

An IM is a key player in the success of your SAP environment. Recognizing how this role fits into your company will allow you to appreciate this individual’s value to the greater SAP production support mechanism.

SAP solutions by nature are heavily integrated and often tightly interconnected with other systems that, on the surface, appear to be disconnected from SAP functionality. However, any changes in one area could affect another seemingly independent area. Thus, understanding the integration and complexities involved in your SAP landscape is fundamental to maintaining its integrity, maximizing its functionality, and minimizing any unneeded disruption. Here is where the IM shines.

The IM is charged with several main responsibilities:

  • Act as the guardian of the productive SAP environments, responsible for driving the approval of proposed changes

  • Understand the SAP software’s functional and technical touchpoints across the system

  • Investigate new SAP technology for potential system improvement or optimization

  • Review and vet proposed SAP software modifications and changes to the system

  • Bring together all key stakeholders, owners, and appropriate parties involved in discussing proposed changes to the SAP landscape

  • Work with the company’s approval board or group to prioritize requested modifications

  • Work with the COE or production support team to coordinate approved system modifications

In essence, the IM is responsible for stewarding your SAP environment.

Don’t Overburden Your IM

While the IM bears many responsibilities and may wear different hats, you should not place the entire burden of your SAP landscape on him or her. Although some organizations rely too heavily on their IM due to his or her broad SAP knowledge, the IM is not expected to be the master of all SAP software information, which would clearly be an impossible task.

All specific SAP application expertise — both functional and technical — remains the responsibility of the respective application owners. Likewise, application ownership, along with the corresponding work activities, remains the responsibility of those dedicated resources as part of the overall production support model.

Don’t diminish the value of an IM by placing him or her in charge of solution execution. Rather, an IM should oversee the project’s timeline, scope, and deliverables with an eye to producing quality results. The IM should be familiar with all of the puzzle pieces that make up the SAP environment, but the specific details must still reside with the experts. A failure by the CIO or IT director to delegate responsibilities properly could ultimately lead to less than ideal results and backfire.

An IM Must Interact Well with Various Players

Your IM holds a special position within the overall context of the SAP production space. He or she is not only the primary protector of the SAP environment but also its gatekeeper. In this gatekeeper role, the IM leads the organization’s advisory group that reviews proposed changes to the SAP production environment. This group of key stakeholders and technology and business process owners is often called a Control Advisory Board (CAB), but, regardless of its title, every organization should have a formal or informal review mechanism to ensure the integrity of the environment.

As the chairperson of this review board, the IM works with the CAB to facilitate healthy, constructive, and productive discussion, working to make sure that the proposed changes presented to the CAB are clearly articulated by the individuals presenting (typically the functional owners), and that the proposed changes are rationalized, justified, and thoroughly vetted.

Not all CAB members may be technology savvy, so in some cases, the IM must act as an interpreter, translating SAP terminology and functionality into layman’s terms. To do so effectively, an IM must not only comprehend the technology but also have a handle on the organization’s core business goals. When presenting modifications to the advisory group, the IM must also ensure that all relevant parties — presenters and affected stakeholders or business users — are included in the discussion. In sum, the IM oversees the review process, challenges when necessary, and assists in prioritizing approved SAP functionality or technology changes.

Despite the responsibilities and interaction with the CAB, the IM does not merely approve proposed SAP system modifications. As an extension of the COE support organization, the IM also must act as an advocate for the COE. Whether representing the COE to the CAB or to the greater organization, the IM is figuratively the center’s elected representative — and must place the interests of the COE first and set aside personal conflicting opinions.

Conclusion

Based on his or her unique role within an organization, an Integration Manager gains a different perspective into the inner workings of a company’s SAP systems and environment. The empowered IM — supported by a Control Advisory Board — can maximize your SAP investment while continuing to grow its value within the business.

What Expert IMs Are Saying: Real-World Insight from the Field

Sumit Manocha of TRM Consulting, Inc., a seasoned SAP veteran of over 10 years who has served as an IM numerous times, believes that an IM should focus on three key tasks: “One, make sure all existing processes are running smoothly and iron out any issues in a timely manner on a daily basis. Two, fine tune and enhance current processes in order to optimize the organization’s returns on investment. And three, based on past experiences, suggest and implement solutions that will create value for the organization in the long run, overriding all initial costs.”

Gerri Reeves of ANR Consulting, an experienced SAP project manager and IM of over 12 years, ranks strong project management skills over SAP application knowledge. “The IM needs to know how to manage the relationship between the client and the team and deliver a solid product or solution that follows solid project management methodology,” she says. While understanding the SAP application suite and technology is important, effectively managing change, properly prioritizing tasks, juggling aggressive schedules and deadlines, and focusing on reducing cost all take precedent.

Given the responsibilities associated with the job, the influential IM position is not without its challenges. Manocha and Reeves highlight a few obstacles:

  • Communicating with businesses around the world: As business operations continue to expand globally, IMs increasingly interact with business users, support staff, or third-party partners in various time zones, which may make it harder to address and solve problems on time. But Manocha sees an upside for the IM: “By having part of the support staff on the other side of the globe, when the business community is done for the day, the support staff is working on resolving issues before users come back the next morning.”

  • Balancing the company’s needs and demands with the COE’s skill sets: “During the ramp-up phase, most of the knowledge of custom code and processes lies with either the IM or the former project team. It takes time for the [COE resolution] team to come up to speed. So, the IM has to balance the learning curve with client expectations and managing cost,” says Reeves.

  • Juggling multiple and potentially competing priorities: Being an IM requires the ability to perform many tasks simultaneously while ensuring that priorities are maintained and items are not dropped. “A successful IM is someone who can keep day-to-day issues under control, provide effective resolutions in a timely manner, guide all concerned parties (such as business users and support staff), and manage business expectations,” says Manocha.
Yosh Eisbart, the SAP Service Line Director for COMSYS, has more than 13 years of SAP delivery experience. He has worked on many SAP projects since the days of R/2, ranging from full life cycle implementations and upgrades through Production Support/Center of Excellence build-outs. Yosh is responsible for driving COMSYS SAP Services, including its BPO and outsourcing service offerings. His extensive knowledge and experience have enabled clients to maximize their SAP investments. You can reach him at yeisbart@comsys.com. For more information about COMSYS and its many offerings, visit www.comsyserp.com.

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