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City gets help in managing SAP enhancement pack testing

The Canadian city of Nanaimo went looking for help when it didn't have enough IT personnel to cover the testing of SAP enhancement pack upgrades.

The seaside city of Nanaimo in British Columbia has a lot of things going for it: a picturesque port, loads of parks and a signature dessert called the Nanaimo Bar. But what the municipal government doesn't have is enough resources to manage the testing infrastructure for its SAP enhancement packs and other upgrades.

It's a problem that eventually led Nanaimo to Panaya Ltd., a software company that offers a portfolio of tools used for properly updating ERP systems.

For an organization our size, that was just a complete

Abe Lang,
senior application analyst for financial systems and reporting, city of Nanaimo, B.C.

"Our entire SAP team is two and a half people," said Abe Lang, senior application analyst for financial systems and reporting for the city of Nanaimo, located on Vancouver Island. "It's a very small team."

The problem came into focus when the city began looking at deploying the SAP Employee/Manager Self Service HR portal for its roughly 130 employees. The city's IT team discovered they needed the latest enhancement pack -- SAP Enhancement Pack 5 -- to run the latest version of the human resources software.

Previous attempts to install support packs were less than successful, Lang said, largely because the team had relied on out-of-date test scripts left over from the city's SAP ERP 4.6 implementation, along with a hodge-podge of updates from the ECC 6.0 upgrade. SAP does not include test scripts in its upgrade documentation, because they are dependent on the end-user environment.

"[We're] using testing scripts that are a decade old, a completely different operating system, and that's all we've got to go with," Lang said.

Exploring options

Lang and his team evaluated several tools that manage testing, including HP's Quality Center software.

"HP QC was kind of the first place I checked, and quickly it became obvious that it was massive," Lang said. "For a team of two and half people, we would have to hire someone just to manage that. For an organization our size, that was just a complete no-go."

Aware of the city's existing investments in SAP ERP, Lang's team considered using SAP Solution Manager to get a handle on test environments. But that application was pretty big and unwieldy, too, and the team lacked the expertise to run it properly.

The team also briefly looked at IntelliCorp LiveCompare software, according to Lang. But the company came up short on the customer service end. "Two and a half weeks in, and I couldn't get a working demo," he said.

What it does

Lang said they chose Panaya's Software-as-a-Service-based SAP enhancement pack upgrade tool for its simplicity and for the relatively low overhead involved.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's a Web page," Lang said of the Saddle Brook, NJ-based software company's technology. "I know there's a whole bunch of back end [stuff,] but there's [very little] set up on my side."

Using the tool involves installing two simple applications, including an extraction tool which determines the company's usage history, configuration information, version information, and what modules the organization is using.  A day or two after that's uploaded, the customer receives a report detailing where the customer should spend his time testing based on where the majority of the changes are and what parts of the ERP are most used.  Suggested test scripts are also included.

"It tells you what you need to test. It also tells you what you don't need to worry about. For a group our size, that's huge," Lang said.

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The second application from Panaya essentially records employees' actions within the ERP program as they do their job. The software uses this information to determine if there are additional areas within the system that need to be tested. The application also flags processes that tend to run into bugs, so they can be fixed at a later time.

In addition, Panaya has a bug fix service that is capable of fixing many issues, Lang said, but the bugs they ran across were caused by custom code. For that, Nanaimo turned to Open Business  Process consulting out of Calgary, Canada for ABAP help, as well as Basis consultants from group:basis, a firm located in Oak Creek, Wis.

One side benefit of monitoring employees' actions within ERP is that the recordings can be exported into a Word document and used for future training purposes. They can also be used to share institutional knowledge, according to Lang. "Now you've got documentation on how everybody does their job," he said.

Glitches in the system

Lang said that the information that Panaya had provided end up being an accurate analysis on what items needed to be tested.  That said, the tool that records employees' processes didn't always work smoothly when it came to items that required using a mouse to perform, like within SAP Report Painter.  Those processes had to be tested outside of the tool. 

"It wasn't perfect, but it was a huge improvement over what we had before," Lang said. 

The problem has since been fixed, according to Panaya.


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