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SAP consulting versus SAP support for upgrades

Michael Doane
Organizations readying for an SAP upgrade or migration are often confused by the options available for outside help. Do they need consulting? Do they need SAP support? Do they need both? The answer will vary depending upon a given organization's start and end points, but there is a clear distinction between what consultants provide and what SAP support staff provide.

In short, consultants provide strategic direction and planning as well as direct expertise in "build" activities such as systems integration, whereas SAP support staff provide continuity after go-live and, as such, are downstream service providers.

SAP consulting

In SAP upgrade and migration situations, SAP consulting will almost certainly be required in any of the following cases:

  • The proposed upgrade is steep (e.g., from 4.2 to ECC 6.0).
  • SAP is heavily customized and the customizations may not be upgradeable.
  • The upgrade is accompanied by either the addition of extended applications or a migration/rollout to other sites.
  • SAP systems are heavily interfaced to other internal business applications.
  • SAP systems are heavily interfaced to external (client/supplier/bank) applications.

The level to which consulting is required is largely dependent upon an organization's internal SAP expertise and past experience. An organization that has already undergone two or more upgrades will be better positioned than one that has never upgraded.

In most cases, SAP consultants

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are engaged for a fixed period of time, typically for the duration of an implementation project. Consultants provide the following core services, which can be chosen on an a la carte basis, depending on the organization's needs and experience:
  • Strategy
  • Business process design
  • Configuration of SAP software
  • Team training and end-user training
  • Technical development

The cost of outside consulting ranges from roughly $120 per hour for Basis help to $300-$400 per hour for strategy help. Systems integration work (not including remote or offshore work) costs from $140 to $200 per hour, depending upon the sophistication of the expertise sought. For example, Master Data Management consultants charge more than FI-CO consultants.

SAP services

SAP support personnel are engaged for a continuous period, typically for as long as the client is live with SAP. There are three types of post-implementation SAP support:

  • Support services: Basis support, continuous user training, help desk, break/fix, and, in some cases, hosting/security.
  • Application maintenance: Maintenance functions on basic applications hosting/operations, break/fix, debug, backup, etc.
  • Application management: Maintenance functions plus a level of application improvement, upgrade, and/or business process transformation. Application management contracts usually include upgrade assistance, whereas the other types of support do not.

Basic SAP support services may be sufficient for a technical upgrade, i.e., an upgrade designed to maintain current functionality. However, for a functional upgrade (in which system complexity may be reduced and operations streamlined) or strategic upgrade (in which new and optimized business scenarios and a higher version of SAP software are installed), the two higher levels of SAP services should be considered.

The choice between using only SAP support or looking to a third party such as a consultant hinges on the amount of heavy lifting required. If the level of strategic, business process, and technical change necessitated by an upgrade is low, and your in-house SAP staff have already been through an upgrade, SAP support could suffice. Otherwise, consultants will be required.

Michael Doane is Consulting Director for the VSS SAP practice and author of The New SAP Blue Book, A Concise Business Guide to the World of SAP. He can be reached at michael.doane@vss-inc.com.


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