SAP shops are increasingly looking beyond the basic functions of SAP ALM and instead turning to the toolset’s change management and issue management capabilities, according consultants in the field.
“Early adopters I saw tended to use it as a document repository for requirements, functional and technical specifications, and test documentation,” said Tim Cooper, a principal with DataXstream LLC, a systems integration and consulting firm that focuses on SAP technology. “Now we see more clients asking about the other capabilities.”
SAP Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) is the collection of tools within SAP Solution Manager that allows companies to manage both SAP and non-SAP applications, including design and implementation, business process automation, upgrades, and ultimately, decommissioning.
However, most of the companies coming to DataXstream for help with SAP ALM are looking for ways to manage the changes they have “flowing” through their development, QA and production systems without any real structure or consistency, Cooper said.
Because those changes aren’t dealt with in a systematic way, many aren’t thoroughly tested before they’re passed into production.
“It introduces instability to the environment,” Cooper said.
SAP ALM allows companies to aggregate and organize their changes into bundles, which means the system is down less frequently and follows a more predictable process. That’s important given the complexity of the SAP environment, where any given change can have wider repercussions.
“If you change one thing there, you change three things in other places [within the SAP system],” he said.
Bundling changes into more regular, comprehensive packages also reduces downtime and keeps the IT department from having to tell business users that the system is going to be down for hours without giving them enough time to prepare.
“If you tell people that,” Cooper said, “some will have a cow over it.”
‘There used to be so much conflict’
ALM’s change management features have also made a difference for Pratima Taunk, a senior workflow expert for PepsiCo Inc., located outside of New York.
Her team, which works on the company’s master data management operations, recently began using ALM for change management. The employees found it helpful in tracking when more than one developer is working on changes but not communicating about how and when the changes were to be moved through the landscape. Those miscommunications often led to system transport failures when the changes were not handled correctly.
“There used to be so much conflict,” Traunk said. “It’s easier now; [we can do it] with less effort.”
SAP Solution Manager 7.1
SAP shops haven’t always used the ALM tools provided in the Business Suite in the past, according to Marc Thier, senior vice president for SAP ALM.
That’s changing, he said, because the tools themselves are easier to use, and integration with third-party applications has improved.
The upcoming general release of Solution Manager 7.1 will include more agile integration with third-party software and the ability to implement third-party IT management tools. It will also have more uniform user interfaces, Thier said.
SAP ALM for database management
Other customers are looking to SAP ALM for help with managing their database size, according to Tony De Thomasis, the SAP NetWeaver practice lead at Acclimation, an IT consulting firm in Sydney, Australia.
In one case, Acclimation used Data Volume Management (DVM), another SAP ALM tool, to help a company reduce the size of its database, which was tipping the scales at a whopping 7 terabytes and creating a drag on the system, De Thomasis said. DVM allows users to easily pinpoint what the top 10 or 20 largest databases are and what might need to be archived or deleted, he said.
It can also be used for data avoidance, he said. “Maybe the data shouldn’t be written into the table to start with.”
Companies ready to move beyond ‘essential’ projects
More companies are looking into SAP ALM in part because the global economy seems to be improving, De Thomasis said.
Many companies gave SAP ALM short shrift in the past because they were only spending money on projects they saw as “absolutely essential” to keeping the system running. Companies on firmer financial footing are now looking to ALM to help reduce the total cost of their SAP system by improving performance, he said.
“ALM is a great way to improve the bottom line by actually reducing spending on things that you shouldn’t be spending on, like unnecessarily large databases,” De Thomasis said.
However, other companies are hesitant to use SAP ALM, Cooper said. They may have processes or tools of their own they’re already comfortable with or just feel overwhelmed by having to deal with even more tools and processes on top of an SAP system that is complicated to begin with, he added.
“Companies just think, ‘Geez, just keep piling it on. How much of this do I really need?’” Cooper said. “[ALM is] not the most intuitive thing to use.”
While the cost and time involved in implementing ALM can be different for each company, due to its own roadmap and set of priorities, Cooper advises that companies start small when it comes to ALM.
“Starting small, you can pick off discrete chunks of functionality and smaller groups of users to limit the impact and, frankly, the level of dissent you may encounter,” Cooper said. “For example, getting the Basis team involved in system monitoring and patch application with [ALM] impacts a smaller audience than unleashing trouble ticketing for a large user base.”