From its modest beginnings in a small warehouse in Tarrytown, New York, nearly 30 years ago, Westcon Group, Inc. — a global value-added distributor of category-leading unified communications, network infrastructure, data center, and security solutions — now has more than 20 facilities and 100 offices in 58 countries to support its vast logistics and supply chain operations. In recent years, Westcon has expanded its offerings to include unique partner programs focused on training, consulting, business development, and marketing.
As a company rooted in distributing off-the-shelf IT products and programs, Westcon knew it needed to maintain an SAP landscape that could provide the flexibility its evolving business model required.
That landscape was growing. In addition to running SAP Business Suite for order-to-cash, procurement, financials, and logistics functionality and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse (SAP NetWeaver BW), Westcon’s project plans involved globally rolling out SAP Global Trade Services for legal control and customs declarations; implementing two SAP solution extensions by Vistex for promotions/agreements and paybacks/chargebacks; and integrating its order processing with an eCommerce platform that is linked to the SAP system to track online customer transactions. The landscape complexity will increase further when Westcon completes its planned integration of SAP Extended Warehouse Management (SAP EWM) and SAP Advanced Planning & Optimization (SAP APO) with its global SAP ERP 6.0 system. A critical component of future rollouts and upgrades will be guaranteeing that everything is configured correctly, both to maximize business processes and to ensure Westcon doesn’t miss unforeseen opportunities for innovation.
The optimal way to achieve these goals, Westcon decided, was to adopt SAP Solution Manager 7.1 and view its functionality as the single source of truth for its complex IT organization. This functionality includes Projects, Solutions, and Business Processes Documentation; SAP IT Service Management (SAP ITSM); Change Request Management; the Test Management suite; and System and Business Process Monitoring, which allows users to monitor at both the technical and process level. For example, the monitoring functionality integrated with SAP ITSM can trigger the incident management process by alerting users that an exception in the solution requires analysis and correction.
The concept of implementing SAP Solution Manager as an integrated command center would help ensure the flexibility Westcon desired. For help, the business turned to the SAP Active Global Support (SAP AGS)
organization and SAP ActiveEmbedded services — a premium support partnership that helps customers use SAP Solution Manager as a collaboration tool for monitoring and supporting SAP environments from development through implementation, operations, and innovation.
“We knew one thing for sure in our SAP deployment: There was more that we didn’t know than what we actually did know,” says Peter van Burgel, Westcon’s Global Director of Enterprise Performance Management. “We needed to get more visibility and a better understanding of what’s happening in the system and what changes we are moving into the system — and do all of that in a controlled fashion.”
“We knew one thing for sure in our SAP deployment: There was more that we didn’t know than what we actually did know.”
— Peter van Burgel, Global Director of Enterprise Performance Management, Westcon Group
SAP ActiveEmbedded, as the name suggests, embeds a support team in an organization and uses SAP Solution Manager as a support and management suite to help deliver continuous business innovation by working with customers around the implementation, operation, and innovation life cycles of their systems with the help of the Run SAP Like a Factory (RSLF) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) methodologies. The ALM methodology provides processes, tools, governance and best practices, and services to manage SAP and non-SAP solutions throughout the complete application life cycle. Those following the RSLF methodology can use SAP Solution Manager to achieve IT operations excellence with factory precision and create an SAP Operations Control Center at customer sites.
Westcon recognized that much of the SAP Solution Manager 7.1 functionality could help the business, specifically with its testing and change request management environments. Of course, one reason to engage with premium support services is to discover what specific functionality could help drive innovation that the IT organization or business may not have thought of. This also holds true with the implementation of new solutions, new functionality, or process changes.
Westcon’s major pain points, according to van Burgel, were three-fold:
- There was an evident knowledge gap with the full SAP platform and how Westcon was using it within the business. This included system setup, interaction and integration of modules, and how one configuration affected another configuration.
- There was too much overall change to the SAP system. With a phased regional deployment approach requiring frequent adaptations to systems and processes, there was a constant stream of new fixes. Westcon hoped a more scheduled release of functionality would lead to better stability.
- The business relied too heavily on manual processes, especially in its testing environment.
Building a Trusted Partnership
“When we realized we were struggling, we went to SAP and asked for help, and that’s how we became involved with SAP ActiveEmbedded,” van Burgel says. “This level of support has provided a constant arm around our shoulders to help us through all of these processes and making sure that we’re just as people-driven as we are process-driven in maintaining our SAP environment.”
The “arm around our shoulders” van Burgel describes is SAP’s Technical Quality Manager (TQM), the embedded support engineer and point person responsible for managing an organization’s SAP life cycle and handling customer concerns. If a question arises outside of a TQM’s area of expertise, SAP AGS maintains a mission control center where the question can be routed to the right personnel, leveraging real-time collaboration for support.
SAP ActiveEmbedded recommends that the TQMs embed in the IT organization so they can build a trusted relationship with the customer. The goal is for the TQM to be more than a consultant or a project manager, but have a role of a true partner, a solution architect, and a functional expert who can help guide customers through their SAP operations. And because the TQM understands the technical landscape of the customer, he or she understands the unique business challenges that the customer faces and can help prioritize these challenges by collaborating on an operational roadmap. In Westcon’s case, this entailed focusing on the testing environment and aligning people and processes.
Testing was an especially key step for Westcon because of its production model, where any new configuration or optimization enhancement can become part of the global template throughout a phased rollout. Additionally, Westcon’s testing environment was important in articulating return on investment for the software adoption and aligning key performance indicators (KPIs) with its implementation blueprint.
“A lot of manual effort, eyeballing, and elbow grease was involved in testing,” says van Burgel. “Only by manually looking at the configuration changes could we figure out if we were doing the right thing. This was not the most time-efficient method, because if we found defects through testing, we would have to go back, reconfigure, and retest. So we were truly thinly spread.”
Proactive Support and Guidance
Taking advice from the SAP ActiveEmbedded support team, Westcon put off focusing on its testing environment until it first addressed its documentation. To create a central store for solution documentation, Westcon utilized the SAP Reverse Business Process Documentation (RBPD) service. This step would determine if Westcon’s IT landscape was aligned with its original blueprint, which would then enable the business to make the necessary modifications to its testing environment.
“This was the basis for everything moving forward,” says van Burgel. “This service gives you a frame of reference that you can map back to your design and see if what you designed is actually being used within the production system. We used this to clean up our configurations and documentation.”
According to van Burgel, Westcon’s TQM was instrumental in helping the organization prioritize how to roll out the SAP Solution Manager functionality. Had documentation been off prior to re-engineering a testing environment, for example, testing would have suffered.
“In our initial discussions with SAP, I think we misunderstood SAP ActiveEmbedded’s true purpose — if we couldn’t figure it out ourselves or with a partner, we’d fall back on SAP to help in a support fashion,” van Burgel says. “But we quickly started to understand that the service was much more proactive in scope and a truly embedded approach, and we really started to see the true value of the service.”
Within the testing environment, that value was no more evident than it was with the SAP Business Process Analytics feature, where SAP ActiveEmbedded helped Westcon see, in real time, what was happening within various business processes. For example, users can monitor not just how many sales orders are going through the SAP system, but they can see the value of the orders as well as the status of what is happening at any given moment.
By leveraging SAP Business Process Analytics at Westcon, IT is able to quickly demonstrate benefits to the business, with SAP ActiveEmbedded monitoring KPIs in a newly created dashboard that had been created by an operational vice president.
“Because we already had some KPIs set up, we could demonstrate to the VP right away what was happening within the system and the pain points he should be looking at,” van Burgel says. “That’s an example of where we’re truly looking at the process efficiency together with the business to identify ways to change the system to create more efficiency. Because of SAP ActiveEmbedded, if there were inefficiencies in the process, they could point them out, where even if it didn’t require a system change they could still help the process become more efficient. SAP Business Process Analytics will also be a key differentiator with the regional SAP deployments as it will compare the newly cutover regions against the production base line to quickly identify issues in productivity during the initial period after go-live.”