Expand +



Make the Most of Your Customer COE: A 3-Step Approach

by Colleen Speer | SAPinsider

October 1, 2009

Following the three-step approach outlined in this article, IT can evolve from a service provider into a business enabler that's equipped to increase productivity, improve collaboration and accountability, and drive quality and consistency across your SAP software landscape. Learn how the concept of the Customer COE is central to this approach, providing added business value while ensuring solution quality and keeping TCO in check.

Like countless IT organizations around the world, you’re likely up against some daunting challenges:

  • Your IT solutions are increasingly complex, and you’re confronted with a growing number of solution users.
  • You face conflicting demands — your IT organization is tasked with guaranteeing business continuity and driving innovation, but also reducing costs and risks.
  • Over time, your IT organization has become siloed in its processes by task, technology, and geography.
  • You struggle with unclear priorities, inefficient processes, constant emergencies, production risk, and lack of continuous feedback or improvement.

To overcome these challenges and proactively improve quality and reduce costs in your IT organization, you need a holistic approach. One such approach is based on the organizational model of the Customer Center of Expertise (Customer COE).

A Customer COE manages mission-critical operations and establishes the objectives and processes necessary to deliver business continuity and business agility. And it’s not just "an IT thing." The objectives of your Customer COE are shared business and IT objectives, and should include:

  • Ensuring business continuity by increasing business process availability
  • Improving your business processes by carefully managing and improving key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Protecting your SAP investment by enabling agile innovation outside of major software upgrades
  • Reducing TCO through standardized, integrated, and controlled Application Lifecycle Management (ALM; see Key Term box)

To achieve these objectives and drive effective Application Lifecycle Management, an organization must transform its Customer COE by enhancing the value it delivers to the business. This transformation involves three key steps:

  1. Establish a single source of truth to provide transparency and enable collaboration between business and IT stakeholders
  2. Standardize your application management with ALM processes, tools, and services
  3. Align business and IT with integrated quality management

Let’s dig into each of these steps in more detail.

Step #1: Establish a Single Source of Truth

The objective here is to move from perception-based to fact-based decision making throughout your organization. For this transition to happen, business processes and any issues in your solution landscape must be visible to all stakeholders. This transparency, collaboration, and integrated quality in application management needs a standardized, up-to-date knowledgebase, which SAP calls a single source of truth.

A single source of truth, in the context of your IT strategy, is a structured, comprehensive, and reliable collection of information about the state of all your current projects and productive SAP applications. It comprises information about systems, software components, and the business processes that run on them, including the automation, workflow, and controls that preserve traceability and accountability across all application development and delivery stages. To manage quality properly, a single source of truth is an essential starting point.

As a centralized, open platform for application management and solution administration, SAP Solution Manager can be your single source of truth. The platform combines tools, content, and direct access to SAP to increase the reliability of solutions and lower TCO. It enables transparency and collaboration between operational units and those responsible for managing quality.

With visibility into key challenges and issues throughout the application management life cycle, you can make fact-based decisions, assign accountability for issue resolution, and manage results. SAP Solution Manager provides that visibility, and I encourage you to take full advantage of it: Make SAP Solution Manager the platform for your Customer COE.

Step #2: Standardize Processes with ALM

To implement solutions faster and operate them at a lower cost, Customer COEs should leverage the standardized processes of ALM. Organizations that embrace these processes will achieve transparency, consistency, accountability, and productivity — boosting their value delivery to the business.

Fully aligned with ALM are SAP’s ASAP and Run SAP methodologies. These methodologies increase the business value of IT by focusing not only on core business processes and end users, but also on automation and data aggregation, which allow for more effective utilization of resources.

For example, if you automate business process monitoring, exception alerts can be automatically sent to your staff when any issue occurs along the business process that might impact productivity. This automation greatly reduces the need to monitor systems manually, allowing you to do more with less overhead. Not only does business process monitoring give you 100% visibility into the technical execution of your business process, but it also enables you to identify trends in the occurrence of application errors and note areas where improvements could be made. Ultimately, the standardized processes of ALM make IT an enabler of business agility and a generator of high business value.

Based on proven standards, methodologies, tools, and unparalleled experience with over 36,000 companies, SAP has introduced initiatives around Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) to empower organizations to accelerate innovation, lower risks and costs, and drive quality throughout the application management life cycle.

Step #3: Align Business and IT with Integrated Quality Management

To truly align business and IT, your Customer COE should establish a quality management (QM) arm, which is responsible for driving and overseeing transparency and collaboration across all phases of the application management life cycle. This quality management arm serves to unite key stakeholders — in both business and IT units — by facilitating, implementing, reporting on, and enforcing ALM processes to manage quality.

To ensure the sustainability of your SAP solutions, I advise you to establish a quality management core that focuses on four key areas:

  • Accelerating innovation
  • Safeguarding implementations and major deployments
  • Reducing the cost of operations
  • Optimizing business benefit

Quality management’s role is to ensure that all tasks related to each of these areas are executed properly. The quality management functions discussed in the following sections (indicated in bold) are recommended to help your Customer COE achieve these four objectives (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Your quality management (QM) functions should focus on four key phases, tied closely to the phases of Application Lifecycle Management

Accelerate Innovation

To protect your investment in — and accelerate your use of — SAP solutions, you need to ensure that all of your software products, versions, support packages, and custom developments are aligned and ready for innovation whenever the business demands it. This requires a clearly defined release master plan to keep the application components and technology stack harmonized and up to date.

To help you develop this master plan and also accelerate innovation, consider establishing Quality Management for Protection of Investment. The goal of this QM function is twofold: to ensure that regular updates to the technology stack and application components are applied, and to make sure the solution remains maintainable and upgradeable even if it contains modifications or custom development.

Before implementing any enhancements, I also recommend that you perform a change impact analysis to determine what effects those software changes could have on mission-critical business processes. This analysis helps to reduce costs and minimize test efforts in the subsequent Application Lifecycle Management phases, when new business requirements are implemented and integrated into the productive solution landscape. And to help you protect your investment even further, SAP Enterprise Support services include remote continuous quality checks and advanced support for implementing SAP enhancement and support packages (see sidebar).

Safeguard Implementations and Major Deployments

Successfully safeguarding your software implementations involves integrating complex and heterogeneous IT solutions and bringing them into productive use. To do this smoothly, SAP offers a methodology called Integration Validation. It starts with a clear alignment and understanding of the business processes and systems involved, includes a deployment plan, and defines a comprehensive test plan across those processes and systems.

Embracing this methodology involves executing a methodical, technical analysis of your core business processes with a focus on performance, data consistency, and technical correctness; documenting findings; and establishing an action plan to technically optimize system performance and interfaces.

Quality Management for Safeguarding Integration Validation provides the tools to test business processes end to end across all involved software components and their interfaces. This testing ensures not only functional correctness but also the integration, scalability, supportability, and operability of business processes.

And to ensure system stability, you’ll also need to define very clear quality assurance procedures. For example, quality managers should establish "quality gates" that check quality between key project phases or milestones, including business blueprinting, integration testing, volume testing, or cutover into productive operations. SAP Solution Manager provides quality gate management functionality to integrate the testing and deployment of changes.

The perception of IT’s value should be more than system availability or problem solving. IT must be a business enabler that can rapidly respond to new business requirements.

Reduce the Cost of Operations

While IT must keep uptime, stability, robustness, functional correctness, consistency, and performance at a level agreed to by the business, related costs must also be justifiable. The objective of Quality Management for Business Continuity is to maintain the availability of IT services while supporting the business at an acceptable level of cost.

Maintaining this balance involves optimizing solution operations to deliver agreed-upon levels of business process performance and data integrity. This is best enabled by adhering to standardized, automated procedures for solution operations, thereby reducing the costs of operations.

For example, rather than simply monitoring your systems, you can efficiently, proactively, and automatically identify system performance issues before they affect agreed-upon service levels. You can use standardized procedures to determine where, by geographic region, users are experiencing unsatisfactory performance. And you can efficiently pinpoint where users are encountering the most trouble systematically — be it on the client, the ABAP stack, or the Java server. Using Run SAP, your quality manager can implement SAP standards for solution operations and focus on the most meaningful performance alerts to minimize business disruptions.

Within its ALM processes, SAP provides a comprehensive set of standardized procedures for the end-to-end operation of SAP-centric solutions to ensure business continuity. Diagnostic tools and techniques such as root cause analysis make it possible for organizations to utilize limited resources more efficiently to diagnose and solve issues, thanks to progressive data aggregation, the deliberate selection of data from components, and a unified diagnostics data display across applications. All of these capabilities drastically reduce the level of specialized skills required to isolate the problem-causing component.

Optimize Business Benefit

Quality management should drive activities to not only resolve issues that impede business process execution in the solution landscape, but to also proactively identify improvements that will maintain end-user and business-owner satisfaction. The goal of Quality Management for Business Process Improvement, then, is to improve existing business processes by providing 100% transparency and reporting of application trends and exceptions.

For example, in the Operate and Optimize phases of the application management life cycle, quality management continuously measures and optimizes business-related KPIs to increase business value and improve competitiveness. And to support continuous software and business process improvement, SAP Enterprise Support provides configuration guidelines for SAP software via the published ASAP and Run SAP methodologies.

Putting the Customer COE Model into Action

As a trusted partner and advisor to the business, your Customer COE can provide added business value while ensuring solution quality and keeping the total cost of operations in check. Following the three-step approach I’ve outlined in this article, IT can evolve from a service provider into a business enabler. With this model, your Customer COE is equipped to:

  • Increase productivity through standardization and automation
  • Improve transparency, collaboration, and accountability through the assignment of key quality management functions
  • Consistently drive quality for the entire SAP software landscape across all technologies and all code bases

I encourage you to rally your business and IT units around the Customer COE model. You’ll drive quality based on a single source of truth, deliver business continuity and business agility, and truly add value in your company. For more information, please visit

Colleen Speer ( is a Vice President in the SAP Active Global Support Americas organization, responsible for leading mission-critical support and technical account management. A 14-year SAP veteran, Colleen has held several technical and functional product-related positions before joining support management in North America. She has been instrumental in reengineering and executing customer-oriented support programs, including the Customer Center of Expertise (Customer COE) program. Colleen is currently driving the next wave of the Customer COE program, which focuses on integrated quality management.

An email has been sent to:

More from SAPinsider


Please log in to post a comment.

No comments have been submitted on this article. Be the first to comment!