In the past year, Sabre Holdings has upgraded to SAP ERP 6.0, changed its operating system, and converted to blade hardware. Although the potential technological benefits of this transformation are huge, planning and implementing such major technical changes was a daunting task — even for an industry pioneer like Sabre, creator of IT solutions for air travelers, travel agencies, airlines, and hotels.
“The travel industry has many unique features, and there isn’t a single industry solution for us,” says Ken Gravenor, Solution Architect for Sabre. “We have to select and customize functionality from many industry solutions.” The complexity involved in meeting this challenge was a major reason why Sabre elected to stick with SAP Enterprise Support last year, rather than downgrade to a standard support package.
Furthermore, Sabre looked to SAP Enterprise Support to help it exploit the advanced functionality that comes with SAP ERP 6.0, particularly SAP Solution Manager. As a result, the company created better ways for its employees to manage expense reporting, travel booking, and other business processes. See the sidebar below to see how Sabre is benefiting from — and maximizing the value of — its SAP software.
Harnessing the Full Value of SAP Solution Manager
Although Sabre has been an SAP customer since 1995, the SAP ERP upgrade project was the first time the company’s IT professionals had used SAP Solution Manager. “I think that a lot of organizations, when they upgrade to SAP ERP 6.0, look at using SAP Solution Manager just to get the software license keys needed to complete the installation,” says Gravenor. “We wanted to see how we could use SAP Solution Manager to get the most out of our SAP software. The support advocates guided us through that. First, they helped us initially get the solution up and running and connected to all of the other systems in our SAP landscape, and then we took advantage of some of the components that other organizations may overlook to help us achieve application lifecycle management.”
Of particular value was the Service Desk functionality in SAP Solution Manager, which the project team used to track issues that arose during the upgrade and to escalate those issues to support advocates when necessary. This functionality was vital in regression testing of programs new to Sabre with SAP ERP 6.0, such as programs that support resource-related billing. Automated updating of tasks, something not available with other project-management software, helped reduce the project overhead.
Another tool that proved valuable for the project team was a third-party service that performed SAP system analysis and integrated the results with SAP Solution Manager. According to Gravenor, running this service prior to the upgrade told the project team exactly which transactions were being used and how often — information that enabled them to weigh transactions by importance. This analysis, in turn, helped shorten the extensive regression testing required for this project.
“The travel industry has many unique features, and there isn’t a single industry solution for us. We have to select and customize functionality from many industry solutions.”
— Ken Gravenor, Solution Architect, Sabre Holdings
Implementing On Time and Under Budget
Sabre needed these labor-saving tools because the goal of its transformation went well beyond completing an SAP ERP 6.0 upgrade. The company also wanted to replace rackmount hardware with HP blade technology and migrate to a Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system.
In order to re-platform within budget, Sabre found early on that its in-house team would need to run the project, which was a departure from Sabre’s usual practice of having its hosting partner initiate upgrades. This is where SAP Enterprise Support services were particularly helpful.
For example, Sabre took advantage of the SAP GoingLive Check service, which organizations run in new SAP implementations to confirm that hardware and software configurations can handle functionality changes. The Sabre development team decided that because the company was changing its platform and operating system, it made sense to use SAP GoingLive Check post-upgrade as a way of validating what amounted to a new system environment.
By leading the project itself and using advanced scoping and test-planning tools, Sabre cut implementation costs dramatically and went live 30 days earlier than its original nine-month window. Performing the go-live checks helped ensure a smooth deployment, although users did experience an expected 72-hour outage because of the SAP ERP upgrade and hardware migration.
Nurturing the Support Relationship
Sabre’s IT professionals consulted regularly through SAP Enterprise Support during the project — and this communication continues. The SAP Enterprise Support Advisory team offers Sabre guidance on how to use the latest SAP functionality and discusses strategies for overcoming pressing enterprise-wide issues that affect IT.
One such issue is business process monitoring. Sabre has many processes that are integrated with a number of systems. Through services recommended by SAP Enterprise Support, Sabre was able to successfully implement SAP NetWeaver Business Process Management (SAP NetWeaver BPM) and meet its integration monitoring challenge.
Interaction with the support advocates is helping Sabre’s IT professionals in several other ways — for example, by:
- Introducing components of the Run SAP methodology to exploit SAP Solution Manager’s capacity for end-to-end solution support
- Harmonizing the way new software and hardware works with products from all of Sabre’s technology providers
- Prioritizing solutions to determine which ones will deliver the biggest benefits in the shortest time, and which functionality might not be worth the effort needed to deploy it
- Reviewing and updating security functions, such as authorization profiles that were originally designed in 1995 and require some re-design to enable SAP ERP 6.0 functionality
Harmonizing Application Lifecycle Management
For many organizations, and even for longtime SAP customers, enlisting vendor support for IT implementations starts when users describe specific problems through mechanisms such as service desks and escalation centers, and ends when those individual problems are solved. In contrast, Sabre has been working over the past year with SAP Enterprise Support to develop a more proactive relationship. The goal has been to explore broader implementations that support strategic business goals, and to manage projects in ways that harmonize the support provided by internal IT, hosting partners, and SAP.
“Some organizations struggle with large projects because implementation issues are frequently on the critical path. When those issues are only addressed by customer messages, it can cause project delays,” says Gravenor. “With SAP Enterprise Support, we can talk through business problems, look at how components can help us address those issues, and also learn how to work with all of our solution partners uniformly.”