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CHICAGO -- Running SAP software is sort of like driving on a long highway with no exit ramps. To have a smooth ride, you've got to fill the tank for the entire trip.
Yet many companies only gas up for the first few miles, heavily funding the burdensome implementation and then moving on to other projects once the software is in place. That's why it's no surprise that as many as 80% of all shops installing SAP's complex ERP package complain that users aren't comfortable working with the applications and that the software doesn't deliver the intended benefits.
Calling SAP "a marriage and not a wedding," two analysts from Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc. urged attendees at The SearchSAP.com Conference not to "take their eyes off the ball" after making the software live.
"The investment is such that no one is getting off [SAP] for 25 years," said Michael Doane, a Meta vice president. Still, Doane said organizations often fail to put metrics in place to measure return on investment or to continuously update their vision for how the software should pay dividends over the long haul.
Beyond disappointment, botched SAP implementations often make executives delay investments in other software projects "until you've cleaned up the ERP garage," Doane said.
In fact, in a quick survey of the several hundred decision-makers at the conference, only a few raised their hands when asked whether they drew up a business plan to help guide their SAP implementations.
Doane and Meta senior vice president Barry Wilderman said that a key to maximizing an SAP investment is forming a center of excellence (CoE), an internal group responsible for supporting the software, optimizing systems usage and training end users.
The CoE should also regularly update business improvements stemming from the software and run analytic reports detailing the implementation's benefits.
It should be made up of IT and business staffers who served on the implementation's project team, the analysts said.
Marj Garrean, senior manager of SAP new business processes for the connectivity solutions division of Avaya Inc. in Omaha, Neb., credits the CoE she runs with "saving millions of dollars in a given year."
Garrean said that the 20 trainers, help desk employees, and staff members responsible for configuration and working on the CoE provide continuous process input on SAP R/3 performance, which has helped the company maintain production levels despite severe job cuts.
As a result, her company is more than satisfied with its implementation and continues to see benefits three years after going live.
Wilderman stressed staying committed to SAP after the implementation as a key differentiator.
"Training should be continuous, and new practices should be made part of the [CoE] documentation," he said.
The analysts also said that the CoE could be a virtual organization rather than a physical department.
That's what technical analyst Raj Devluk helped create at his company. He is one of four people serving on a center of excellence at a Schaumburg, Ill.-based chemical manufacturer that went live with R/3 4.6 six months ago.
Since then, Devluk has set up an intranet for all SAP-related issues. Whenever he updates the site with new content, he automatically e-mails key end users to highlight the changes.
"Users gain more confidence," Devluk said. "They know exactly what needs to be done."
Chicago-based manufacturer and distributor Oce-USA Inc. has what it calls a "competency center" for its SAP R/3 software, but it isn't staffed with IT employees.
Carmaine Pollack, manager of information systems, calls the center "poorly defined."
Ten months after implementing SAP R/3, Pollack said the center still struggles with its identity. "Who will it report to, business or IT? What's its role? Who do you get to manage it?" she asked.
Though experts recommend combining help desk functions into a center of excellence, Oce-USA keeps them separate. As a result, end users often turn to the competency center to troubleshoot problems, instead of going to the help desk. The result, Pollack said, are solutions that "aren't always technically sound."
The analysts said that it's best to create a center of excellence before the implementation is done and to introduce the CoE support functions during end user training. Yet they said it's never too late to form a team and start realizing benefits from the software.FOR MORE INFORMATION: