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Roundtable Discussion Focuses on SAP Solution Manager in Latin America

Nathan Williams Fields Questions on How to Deliver Value

by Nathan Williams

September 18, 2015

SAP Solution Manager is gaining traction in Latin America as more companies in the area are implementing SAP software than ever before. As a reflection of this rising demand for knowledge and training on SAP solutions, SAPinsider is for the first time hosting events in the region, with three co-located events in São Paulo, Brazil, next month. Financials 2015, HANA 2015, and Reporting 2015 begin Oct. 27, 2015, with an agenda that includes in-depth sessions on solutions for enterprise performance management, as well as other solutions that drive customers to adopt SAP Solution Manager as a best-in-breed application lifecycle management (ALM) platform.

In another nod to the growing influence of SAP’s Latin America customer base, SAP Solution Manager expert and consultant Nathan Williams of Keen Fusion joined with Esteban Hartzstein of Tebyon Consulting in Buenos Aires earlier this year to host a Q&A with executives from several Latin American companies to shed light on ALM, discuss new functionality in SAP Solution Manager, and speculate on the roadmap for SAP Solution Manager 7.2, which is slated for general release in early to mid-2016.

Organized and hosted with the support of a major Argentinian paper and sugar company, the meeting facilitated an interactive dialog between IT leadership and SAP experts to examine customer experiences implementing SAP Solution Manager as well as discuss recommendations to deploy the platform to successfully deliver value to the organization.

“Having the opportunity to understand the SAP Solution Manager ecosystem from the perspective of a room full of directors and executives from major SAP Latin American customers was especially prodigious,” says Williams.  “I was personally impressed with the Solution Manager footprint established holistically across the organizations that attended this meeting.  It is critical that SAP architects proficient in the area of Application Lifecycle Management for SAP, such as Mr. Hartzstein and Tebyon Consulting, continue to guide and influence SAP customers in their local geographies.”

Industries represented at this Q&A include manufacturing (paper, sugar, aluminum, apparel, and textiles), oil and gas, automotive and public sector.  One of the Q&A’s objectives was to clear up confusion surrounding SAP Solution Manager implementations in Latin America that arose from:

  • Difficult access to SAP Solution Manager training in the area
  • A lack of SAP Solution Manager consultants in major consulting firms with working knowledge of SAP Solution Manager and best practices
  • A perception of SAP Solution Manager as only a BASIS tool
  • A perception of SAP Solution Manager as a tool, and not the foundational platform for ALM

During this wide-ranging Q&A session, facilitated by Hartzstein, Williams addressed these and other topics. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation:  

Q: (In your introduction) you mentioned several US companies that you’ve been working with. How have US companies been running Solution Manager? What are you seeing in the market, and what is your recommendation for where to start?

Nathan Williams: ChaRM (Change Request management) is a hot topic in the US, and I’d estimate I’ve focused about 75% of my time on ChaRM ever since it became overhauled as part of SAP Solution Manager 7.1.

Generally speaking, there’s a large number of SAP customers who either don’t use SAP Solution Manager, or have it installed but are using it just for mandatory activities such as generating installation keys, downloading maintenance, or basic monitoring, which is a common use case. But the product has evolved quite a bit, and because it’s included as part of your licensing and maintenance costs for your ERP suite, it makes sense to take advantage of it. For customers that are just starting out, my recommendation is to first get to the current version of SAP Solution Manager.

Secondly, is to develop a roadmap to understand what you should implement first because there is definitely some low-hanging fruit there; one route is to implement something that  will fit into your budget and bring immediate value while meshing with your timeline and internal resource capacity. Also take a look at pain points. For example are you managing transports manually on spreadsheets and importing changes into production daily? As a risk to the stability of your landscape, that could be an opportunity to consider a ChaRM implementation, or a ChaRM pilot. The point is to incrementally implement things that make sense for your company.

Q: SAP Solution Manager has been around in Argentina from version 3.2 or 4.0 and now here we are in 2015 at 7.1. How do you see SAP Solution Manager evolving in 2015 and 2016, specifically with the anticipated release of SAP Solution Manager 7.2?

NW: It’s funny you mention 3.2. I started my career in SAP Solution Manager in 2006 when 3.2 was just evolving to 4.0. To be a full-time consultant when it was 3.2 wasn’t very fun because of the limited functionality. Fast-forward to 7.1, and it’s a night-and-day comparison. As far as 7.2, one important change will be that 7.2 will leverage SAP HANA.  This should facilitate a much easier and more efficient infrastructure for reporting. SAP Solution Manager is a complicated system within itself because it has an ABAP layer, a JAVA layer, BI (business intelligence) content, CRM (customer relationship management) content, so hopefully with the shipment of SAP HANA we’ll see more efficiency overall.

In regards to ChaRM and ITSM (IT Service Management), look for overall UI improvements, new KPI dashboards and better reporting capabilities. Change Management will include an IT Requirements Management scenario (which has been long awaited) and more capabilities to support the concept of Release Management.

Perhaps the most exciting innovation is the updates planned for Solution Documentation. It is anticipated that the SOLAR01/02 view we are used to will be overhauled. Also the concept of “Pragmatic Business Process Management” will be introduced and will have a critical impact on how customers can document and model their solution, without the limitations we see in today’s infrastructure.

Keep in mind these are just a few highlights of what we can expect in 7.2.

Q: What has been the adoption curve for ChaRM and Service Desk since about 2013, when you authored a book about it?

NW: There has been an uptick in interest and momentum that I’ve only seen recently. When compared to best-of-breed third party tools SAP Solution Manager can receive the perception of lagging behind a little bit with a lot of the functionality. It often takes a while for the market and customers to get up to speed or have the interest in implementing the latest functionality. For example, ChaRM from 4.0 to 7.0 – In 4.0 it worked, it could manage your transports, but it wasn’t very flexible and didn’t have a very good UI. A lot of companies who implemented it – at least in the US – weren’t successful because they didn’t have the right people implementing it for them, and it typically got a bad name or it was perceived negatively.

Then 7.1 was released, and ChaRM is now considered a best-in-breed tool, even though initially customers were still timid to adopt it because of that perception. The book helped give people some good documentation, and step-by-step soup-to-nuts configuration but that takes a lot of time to absorb and circulate in the market. Regardless of the book, there’s been much more demand for ChaRM and as I mentioned before that’s what I’ve been busy because of the new functionality in 7.1.

Today, the innovations in SAP Solution Manager are aggressively being deployed. New tools and functionalities are continuously being released or improved with an equally aggressive support package release schedule. This is great as a platform, but makes it harder for the customer to stay ahead of the adoption curve.

Q: In 2005, when I started with Solution Manager in Argentina, it was a tool (not a platform) and it belonged to the Basis and technical organization. Today, we have a platform. How does an organization manage the ownership of the different functionalities?

NW: That’s a difficult question to answer when you actually have to put it on paper because when you see a new project has an org chart with a Program Manager, Project Manager, and work streams and then you have your Solution Manager resource, so where do you put that resource? It’s hard to answer because the common thing to do is to put them on the Basis team. But a lot of times if you’re starting on the project you have a lot of functional decisions to make and functional tools that you’re trying to implement that a Basis person might not be able to drive.

Lately I’ve seen companies map the SAP Solution Manager resource to an integration role. It can be an integration team, in the project management office, or even in the Basis team. It’s difficult where to map the role, but the key thing to know is that SAP Solution Manager is a platform, not purely a Basis tool. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t important Basis functions in Solution Manager, because the technical component is critical. For example if you’re implementing ChaRM, Basis doesn’t go away by any means, but it is a platform. You have testing, job scheduling, issue management. It’s not a tool that specifically belongs to the Basis team. An integrated platform requires input from a lot of teams.

Q: We currently use Urgent Corrections currently for all of our transports, and we’d like to move to a strategy where we use Normal Corrections. What is your recommendation for the right way to go about this?

NW: Without even implementing the normal change, you can begin to operate like you are utilizing normal changes. So the first step is to get to where you’re clicking import to production only on Friday. Discipline is everything, because when you implement normal changes it’s just another transaction type, it’s just another document. You have some functionality with transport of copies that helps you, but the first thing is getting your business to understand that if you have 10 urgent transports, they’re only going in on Friday. That’s the first step. Before investing the resources of implementing this, that’s one thing you can do now.

Q: How can we use ChaRM to document and manage changes that are non-SAP?

NW: Out-of-the-box, Solution Manager provides the General Change workflow. We’ve talked about Normal Changes, Urgent Changes, there are Admin Changes that are for SAP changes that are non-transportable, so for example a parameter change in RZ21 but general changes are available for non-SAP systems, and that works but there is no real automation for the objects. It’s just a documentation. SAP’s answer is you can do it, if you have enterprise support you can manager your non-SAP systems with ChaRM using the General Change workflow.

Q: My organization is using tools like the HP suite for IT processes. Have you seen a technical or functional integration in which level you put Solution Manager in HP ALM (Application Lifecycle Management), HP PPM (Project and Portfolio Management). Have you seen this situation?

NW: I can’t speak to HP PPM because I haven’t integrated that, but the scenario I’ve mainly seen is integration between Solution Manager and HP Quality Center for Test Management. That’s always been somewhat of a challenging strategy to define, because if you’re not using the test workbench in Solution Manager, HP ALM is obviously a best-in-breed testing tool, so if you’re not using test component in Solution Manager and are using the test component in HP ALM, customers often ask what the value is in integrating the two tools and having a process that governs that? I believe the value always gets back to Solution Manager as the single source of the truth, it’s the central platform for support. You always want to have the results that end up back into Solution Manager because when the project goes live, or new personnel comes on they should be accessing Solution Manager. In the integration scenario, HP ALM is your execution tool and probably your reporting tool, but it’s important to have the strategy always go back to Solution Manager as the single source of the truth.

Q: Have you seen companies evolve SAP Solution Manager toward Business Processing Monitoring functionality? What are you seeing?

NW: Business process monitoring (BPM) is interesting, in the US at least it’s a function of Solution Manager that is not widely used and I don’t know why that’s the case. It has been around since version 3.2, it’s mature, it’s robust and it’s something you can implement quickly and see immediate value. As Esteban mentioned, Solution Manager out of the box delivers over 1000 standard KPIs across multiple scenarios.

Last year I did a BP MON project with a large CPG company as they were going through an SAP implementation, and they had a requirement for a report that was going to take approximately 1,000 hours to develop, and the IT director wondered if it was something we could extract from BPM and sure enough there were about 20 KPIs that we identified that could satisfy what this report would give. It wouldn’t be exactly what the report was, but we went with it because it answered the question and it was standard. This was for the order-to-cash scenario. We demonstrated in a proof-of-concept quickly that BPM works and is relatively easy to implement. The prerequisite is always the challenging part, because in order for BPM to work you need the business process hierarchy. But the good thing is, if you wanted to implement a small piece of BPM you are doing that for a mission-critical business process if you want to monitor it, so you really only need to document that one process – that’s if you want to get away with the bare minimum.

Q: We know SAP says Solution Manager is available with no additional cost with an existing SAP license. But it requires a lot of hardware and set-up costs for Solution Manager to work properly. What is your recommendation of the proper balance? We’ve found Solution Manager is very expensive regarding hardware resource and human resources.

NW: Yes, Solution Manager is included in your license and maintenance service costs you’re paying for support – whether that’s standard support, enterprise support, SAP MaxAttention – Solution Manager is covered in that. That covers the licensing. That’s big, but hardware and resources for any of the scenarios to implement, whether your require support from SAP, a system integrator, a strategic implementation partner, or even if you’re doing it in-house, there are dollars involved. Nothing is ever free when we’re talking about implementing a tool, ever.

On the other hand, where your savings are and if you want to have Solution Manager as a priority, if you’re going to be pragmatic about it and compare Solution Manager with another tool that offers similar functionality, both are going to require some kind of resources, but with Solution Manager it is included (in the license) so the support is there so there is a huge business case to go with a tool that is already provided and supported by SAP.

When SAP does need to work with you, their time to resolve your issue is shortened; this serves to explain why SAP is focusing so much on Solution Manager as well, because it makes it easier for SAP to support their customers when it’s implemented the right way.

Q: In this region there is a tendency for many consulting firms to do fixed-price projects, and as part of the request for the project is to use Solution Manager. Perhaps it’s used for the minimum, and they generate at most a blueprint. What is your recommendation for new customers or new projects – should Solution Manager be a part of the main consulting firm, should it be a separate project? What is it like in the US?

NW: In the US it’s a mixed bag and it depends on the integrator. For some big companies, they may have their own methodology and tools they’ve invested in and built from scratch that is part of their delivery plan that is not Solution Manager related. Sometimes there’s a pushback, and sometimes those integrators might not have that resource in-house. On the other hand, you might see system integrators with a Solution Manager practice, and this is becoming more common, to have large companies develop within their methods and tools area Solution Manager consultants. That’s positive, and the way that SAP is going with Solution Manager and the value it provides, these integrators can no longer avoid Solution Manager or talk negatively about it. That’s not an option anymore. The problem is, these resources are limited. So you have major consulting companies with outstanding Solution Manager resources, but the company and their customer base is enormous and it’s hard to deploy those resources, and customers look for niche companies to help them. Not only help them implement Solution Manager, but perhaps to be the liaison between the client, the system integrator in more of a QA kind of role because they know that these smaller companies are proponents of Solution Manager and know Solution Manager, but it is also for a strategic and advisory role. That’s common in the US, to have a small handful of companies that specialize in Solution Manager and larger companies reaching out to work with them.

Q: What do you recommend customers as far as a timeline for upgrading from 7.1 to 7.2?

NW: As long as you have a roadmap and a plan to expand and hopefully take advantage of Solution Manager you’re on the right track. So when we hear about integration with SAP TAO and CBTA and ChaRM, and a whole new version coming out it can be intimidating and overwhelming. So there’s no rush to go to 7.2 when it comes out. If you want to go there you can do it, but if you’re still on your roadmap and going through a ChaRM implementation for example and trying to document your business processes, you can stay on 7.1. SAP just released SP13; it’s still current, it’s still being supported until 2017 I believe. In my perspective there’s no major rush with the exception that you will have a better view with which to document your business processes (in 7.2). If you are going through a new implementation or you’re documenting your business process hierarchy that may be the exception with the better functionality. But there is plenty to do in 7.1; the important thing was the transition from 7.0 to 7.1 the imperative was to go immediately. The pressure isn’t necessarily the same with 7.2.


Nathan Williams

 Nathan Williams, a Solution Manager expert and consultant, is the author of the SAP   PRESS book IT Service Management for SAP Solution Manager.



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