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How can I limit SAP custom development?

Extensive customization leads to fewer realized business benefits of an SAP implementation. Here's how to make sure you customize only what's necessary.

A desire for SAP custom development is natural. During implementation (and thereafter) users of the new ERP system will seek customizations to reports, user interfaces (UIs), business process workflows and more. However, since customization entails changing the system's coding or programming logic to meet specific or unique business needs, too much customization will significantly undercut the intended business benefits. On the other hand, despite SAP's robust selection of generic and industry-specific options, each industry or country has unique business, legal or operational requirements that the standard offerings cannot fulfill, and thus a certain degree of SAP custom development is to be expected. Facing that reality from the outset and proactively taking measures to limit customization to only what's necessary is crucial. Here are four tips to doing that.

  1. Allow for adequate time to select the right ERP system. Companies must commit to spending enough time, effort and resources to ensure they choose the ERP solution that meets maximum business needs, with minimal customization.  As part of this, be sure to prepare a list of all business critical processes that the new ERP system should offer. In addition, creating criteria by which to judge and rate systems will be important. Part of that can be as designating potential options  as "a great fit," "partial fit," "requires customization" and "not supported," based on selection criteria. Such designations can provide a common ground for discussion in deciding which potential ERP system will work.
  2. Create customization control and governance guidelines. Spend time creating strong control and governance policies that you can use to manage customization requests during the SAP implementation. Such policies should include processes everyone should follow, judging criteria and so on. For example, during the SAP implementation project, each request for customization should be fully supported by facts, figures and the business benefits it can ensure. The objective of this step is to discourage business users from coming up with endless requests to customize the ERP system just so that they can avoid work or additional steps required of the new system. This issue is bound to come up and leads to another -- users' natural aversion to change.
  3. Develop a change management program. Users will need to adapt to the new system, and that can be difficult. It's natural for business users to consistently compare their existing system and processes with the new system. Learning that they have to punch in a few extra keystrokes or that they have to follow new business processes often leads to requests to either bypass or customize the system. Instead of waiting for users to react to a new system, proactively develop robust change management and training programs to help ensure that they will be more open to the new system and will adopt it quickly once it's fully implemented. As part of this, the appropriate leaders should consistently communicate to business users that customization requests will not be accepted (outside of governance guidelines). Moreover, users should be assisted in finding ways to create best practices, standard features and solutions.
  4. Keep abreast of enhancements and upgrades. SAP consistently comes up with upgrades and enhancements that require almost no customization. For example, discrete manufacturers have long asked for an option for process data input, and SAP eventually offered it through Execution Steps (XSteps). Knowing your ERP vendor's roadmaps for enhancements and upgrades can significantly cut down on customization.

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