When medication works as intended, it often goes unnoticed. For pharmaceutical distribution company AmerisourceBergen Corporation, the same can be said for the monitoring of its SAP landscape. And with roughly 75,000 invoices and 1.2 million transactional line items running through its SAP ERP system each day — and SAP software powering the company’s web ordering platform (ABC PassPort™) from which customers place same-day or next-day orders for essential medications — a robust and fully integrated monitoring system is essential. When even a brief outage could disrupt the nearly $100 billion company’s entire pharmaceutical supply chain, AmerisourceBergen can’t leave anything to chance.
Prior to 2009, when AmerisourceBergen’s external ordering portal ran off a legacy mainframe, system monitoring for customer-facing applications relied on custom-built in-house scripts that were more often than not developed retroactively to address issues leading to system delays or outages. With a major SAP project planned in 2009 that would replace the mainframe system — and with the rollout of ABC PassPort — the company foresaw the need for a more robust, automated monitoring solution. Significant growth was another driver: By the end of 2014, AmerisourceBergen expects to nearly double its ordering volume to roughly two million daily line items running through SAP ERP.
“We realized our SAP implementation was very large and complex, and that developing custom-monitoring scripts just to address areas after they became problems wasn’t sustainable,” says Milt Simonds, AmerisourceBergen’s Director of SAP Enterprise Platform Delivery. “Most of the time, what we ended up doing was putting a solution in place for something that had already failed.”
Before seeking a monitoring solution to integrate with its growing SAP landscape, AmerisourceBergen decided to limit the system’s reach to the five core applications that support both internal and external customers. The “Big 5” designation consisted of SAP ERP, SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM), SAP NetWeaver Portal, SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (SAP NetWeaver PI), and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW). As the transactional system of record, SAP ERP was the chief concern. Another factor in the company’s decision was that the solution be able to integrate seamlessly with the organization’s extensive SAP Solution Manager environment. With these considerations, AmerisourceBergen quickly winnowed a list of potential vendors and chose to implement SAP IT Process Automation by Cisco.
“With basic monitoring fairly common among the solutions, we looked for what differentiated the tools, and there were a few that stood out with SAP IT Process Automation,” says Simonds. “The upfront promise by Cisco and SAP concerning integration was key for us, and that came to fruition. Another major differentiator was the process automation component that would allow us to move away from a lot of manual tasks. The combination of those two things is what made the difference.”
One benefit of the offering was that the contract stipulated Cisco would stay onsite for one week as the systems integrator. Having narrowed the target list to five SAP applications helped AmerisourceBergen derive maximum value from this arrangement and avoid budgeting for additional consulting fees. (For more information about the application, see the sidebar at the end of the article.)
“Keeping the initial scope fairly simple was integral to the implementation,” says Simonds. “In that week, we covered the bases of the critical monitoring pieces, and then we had a runbook from Cisco to help us quickly expand into other areas.”
Up and Running
The entire configuration and implementation process lasted about one month, according to Simonds, with AmerisourceBergen using the runbook as a sort of do-it-yourself installation guide. After the onsite instruction, the company leaned on Cisco to iron out just a few technical glitches; one being alert functionality. The organization wanted to configure the system so that a critical failure would send an SMS message to a particular person responsible for the system in question, rather than alerting a general inbox. With Cisco’s assistance, AmerisourceBergen developed a rotation on-call list with the critical alerts going out to the correct person. This strategy accomplishes an important business criterion in that it requires little manual intervention, with the alerts pulling the appropriate personnel from a preset database.
Automating processes, of course, was one of the main drivers for a new monitoring solution. AmerisourceBergen’s future plans include phasing out manual input for many of its Basis administrative team’s daily tasks; for example, manual-intensive daily checklists of SAP applications can all be automated with SAP IT Process Automation. And, similar to the process for critical alerts, the solution can be configured to email a Basis administrator the automated checklist with notations for items of concern or requiring follow-up action.
“The solution simplifies this process significantly and will get us to a point where we save time by not looking at transactions that have no recurring issues, but are only checked because they’re on a checklist,” Simonds says.
Shining a Light
Process automation allows AmerisourceBergen to stay ahead of the game by eliminating needless manual monitoring; much like the monitoring component eliminates the need for manual scripts to test what was already broken. Critical alerts are set at a certain percentage of system failure, for example, while routine alerts are sent to notify administrators for routine maintenance such as expanding file systems or adding data files. “Throughout our environment, we are now much more proactive and are able to avert outages that we couldn’t have before, specifically around some critical file systems that we have more visibility into,” Simonds says.
For applications that touch the ABC PassPort customer-facing ordering portal, averting outages is especially critical during ordering cutoff times, which are typically early evening. AmerisourceBergen’s business model includes next-day delivery for certain products, often life-saving medications. If the portal is down for any reason, those customers must scramble to find another means of delivery — which usually means contacting another distributor. This, however, is but one potential business crisis an outage could trigger. “An impact to our SAP ERP system could not only affect the ability to take an order, it would affect our ability to get orders down to our warehouse in order to pick, pack, and ship those products, and that’s as fundamental as it gets from a business standpoint,” Simonds says.
Beyond the “Big 5”
AmerisourceBergen plans to roll out a new reporting application powered by SAP HANA, with which its customers can access real-time account information such as invoice and pricing history. This endeavor will entail scoping out SAP IT Process Automation beyond the “Big 5.” To enable this, the company upgraded to the latest release cycle to support SAP HANA integration. AmerisourceBergen started by monitoring a non-production SAP HANA system that went live in February 2014. As its SAP HANA environment in SAP NetWeaver BW expands, AmerisourceBergen expects a similar increase in its monitoring landscape beyond its core applications.
As AmerisourceBergen’s monitoring environment grows, the company plans to introduce extended diagnostic testing into the environment with two additional tools to complement SAP IT Process Automation: SAP Extended Diagnostics by CA Wily, which integrates with SAP Solution Manager, and CA Technologies Application Delivery Analysis. According to Simonds, the goal is to automate and monitor both the SAP and Cisco network environments from a single dashboard that provides maximum visibility into the entire IT landscape.
As Simonds explains, the desire for unmatched monitoring capabilities and complete end-to-end visibility into IT infrastructure developed as AmerisourceBergen formed more and more large strategic partnerships that the company anticipates will help double its volume. “Having to sustain this growth over a fairly short amount of time has put a lot more emphasis on ensuring that availability and performance continue to improve,” he says. “SAP IT Process Automation helps us to be proactive in managing and monitoring our environment, and part of being proactive means thinking outside of the box to make sure that we get better.”