If your approach for implementing an application that will be accessed primarily by business function users is the same one you’d take to deploy a back-end IT system, you might want to rethink your implementation strategy. Business users need to be more involved in the configuration and design of the systems they will be using, and the onus is on the IT organization to get that involvement early — even if it means pulling those business users away from their daily responsibilities.
“To ensure a project is a success, we suggest adding temporary resources to the operational team in order to get the bandwidth required,” says Tristan Colgate, who is uniquely qualified to provide such advice. “The benefit of doing that certainly outweighs the cost.”
Colgate is Head of Planning and Performance Management at Bluefin Solutions, which is both an SAP customer and an SAP consultancy that specializes in helping its clients achieve greater business performance by optimizing SAP technology.
And Bluefin has been running its business on SAP solutions since 2004 when it first adopted SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW). The company has since rolled out SAP ERP, SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM), and SAP ERP Human Capital Management (SAP ERP HCM).
This year, Bluefin is implementing version 10.0 of SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management solutions (SAP BusinessObjects EPM solutions), a business user-focused suite of applications — putting its user buy-in strategy to the test once again.
Never Underestimate the Value of a Strong Business Case
Every SAP project needs a clear, strong business case or it will not succeed. Perhaps no one knows that as well as Bluefin. “Although we are an SAP consultancy, we don’t just implement new SAP solutions because our customers run them,” says Colgate. “We always make sure there’s a valid business case behind everything we do. That sounds obvious but, as consultants, we’ve seen companies implement solutions and struggle with design questions because they don’t have a robust business case to guide them. The right business case will influence and guide all of the steps you take throughout a project and help determine what’s important and where you should focus your resources.”
Bluefin’s business case and roadmap for implementing SAP BusinessObjects EPM 10.0 solutions was based on several key drivers. For starters, as a rapidly growing company due to geographic expansion and acquisition, Bluefin’s spreadsheet-based financial close process had become more complicated and cumbersome. This led the business to embark on an implementation of the SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation application, specifically for its financial consolidation capabilities.
But Bluefin’s primary driver for implementing SAP BusinessObjects EPM 10.0 solutions is much more closely tied to its core business. “As a service company, one of our most important KPIs is utilization of our consultants,” says Colgate. “A small percent change in utilization can really affect the profitability of the company.”
Traditionally, it has been difficult for Bluefin to forecast those utilization rates to determine its expected revenue and profitability each quarter. It currently tracks engagements and current utilization with a spreadsheet that lists data for all the company’s engagements and estimated rates.
The SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation functionality will allow Bluefin to perform detailed scenario planning based on SAP CRM data to determine which opportunities are most profitable and where it should focus its consultants going forward. Bluefin’s resourcing department will be able to see the exact rate that each consultant is working on for a given project, and then compare that rate to the cost for the engagement to more accurately predict profitability of engagements.
“Having insight into where to divert our attention in order to maximize our profitability is one of the most important things we can do as a business,” Colgate says.
Bluefin also plans to use SAP Business-Objects Strategy Management to better communicate goals and objectives and more effectively manage initiatives, which it currently handles with spreadsheets. “We’d like to map some of the initiatives we develop at strategy meetings,” he says. “We want to capture those strategies and properly monitor their execution.”
Taking Its Own Advice
With the business case and roadmap for SAP BusinessObjects EPM 10.0 solutions clearly defined, Bluefin has been focused on implementation. And Bluefin’s consulting experience brings a number of key lessons the company is applying to its own implementation this year.
“You can’t take the same approach to implement an SAP BusinessObjects EPM solution as you would, say, a back-end ERP system,” says Colgate. The reason, he explains, is that most back-end IT projects employ “waterfall” implementations, where IT specifies the requirements and gets sign off from the users, including some who may not fully understand the requirements or the system.
“Then, when the solution is implemented, users are quite often surprised with the final product and say it’s not what they were expecting,” says Colgate.
This issue is more common with business user-focused applications such as SAP BusinessObjects EPM solutions because they offer more flexible configurations for end users. “The goal of these solutions is to provide insight to users in a very intuitive way,” he says. “They offer a number of different configurations and options, so if you don’t involve the users in the configuration and show them what they’re going to get, then the system won’t be very intuitive — and the end users won’t benefit as much.”
“Having insight into where to divert our attention to maximize our profitability is one of the most important things we can do as a business.”
— Tristan Colgate, Head of Planning and Performance Management,
He adds that involving users doesn’t mean simply gathering requirements in a document. It needs to be more visual, including showing users the prototype screens and getting their input as they walk through the screens. And, of course, that kind of review takes time — time that end users busy working don’t have to waste — but spending a little time up front with a visual representation helps gear the system more to what users want, and users see immediate benefits.
When the business has users assess the new system, the review sessions should be conducted at an off-site facility for two reasons: First, it can minimize the distractions users will have during testing and expedite the process. Second, it emphasizes the importance of the project to the users and tells them the sessions are not just software “training.” Users are participating in the system design, which will eventually help them do their jobs more efficiently. And hiring some temporary staff to handle the more routine business operations during this period helps lighten the load for the users participating in the process.
“The fewer surprises for end users at go-live, the smoother the entire project will go,” Colgate says. “Sometimes that means you have to physically take people away from their distractions. And the benefit of doing that certainly outweighs the cost.”
And when Bluefin goes live with SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation in November, you can bet its users won’t get any surprises.