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SAP systems integrators' strengths align with project success

Accenture, Deloitte and IBM approach SAP implementation projects differently. Knowing those differences could help companies save on costs and time.

SAP implementation projects, especially those involving a move to S/4HANA, can require organizations to engage the services of an SAP systems integrator.

But not all systems integrators are right for every project. In fact, sometimes mismatches between organizations, systems integrators (SIs) and implementation projects lead to increased costs and result in outcomes that don't meet the client requirements, said Len Riley, IT sourcing and commercial advisory leader at UpperEdge LLC.

UpperEdge compared three major SAP systems integrators -- Accenture, Deloitte and IBM -- and the research shows some clear differences in their strategic approaches as well as their methods for managing and completing an SAP implementation project.

Len RileyLen Riley

"When you buy SAP, you get tons of material on how to get the most out of SAP, but if you hire an SI like Accenture, Deloitte or IBM, they don't come with a user manual," Riley said. "So we effectively act as our clients' user manual to maximize the value they get out of those SIs."

UpperEdge, based in Boston, advises companies on enterprise application engagements, with practice areas for SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and other enterprise vendors. The firm has two main focus areas: Its commercial advisory practice focuses on the relationship between companies and systems integrators, including contract negotiations and the process of sourcing initiatives; its project execution advisory practice works with clients after they sign deals with their systems integrators, monitoring the project until completion.

UpperEdge's mission is to provide companies that engage systems integrators with data that helps them get the most out of their relationship, according to Riley.

"We benchmark the rates, contract terms and conditions, and financial structures; we look at the staffing allocations both internal and external; we look at the risk profiles," he said.

John BeldenJohn Belden

For its comparative analysis on SAP systems integrators, UpperEdge aggregated and analyzed data from thousands of customer interactions with Accenture, IBM and Deloitte, said John Belden, project execution advisory services leader. He added that UpperEdge has no commercial relationship with the three systems integrators.

Four phases of implementation

The comparison looked at four stages of an implementation project:

  • Phase 0 or building a business case for the project needs to justify the value of an implementation to the organization. This phase takes into account data like the system's capabilities, risks, costs and expected benefits.
  • RFP breaks down the proposals from the systems integrators, taking into account information like their approaches to staffing and the number of hours they will devote to the project.
  • Award to explore examines the SI's approach to events like the project launch and how it will handle value decline because of scope creep, structural change orders or not living up to terms of the contracts.
  • Delivery looks at the project as it progresses, which includes information on how change orders are managed and how the project status is reported.

It's important to evaluate the SIs throughout the lifecycle of the project, from how they manage the business case to how they perform as the project work is done, Riley explained.

When you buy SAP, you get tons of material on how to get the most out of SAP, but if you hire an SI like Accenture, Deloitte or IBM, they don't come with a user manual.
Len RileyIT sourcing and commercial advisory leader, UpperEdge

"You have to look at the SI's performance across these four major phases, because we see variances between how they perform," he said. "You have to know the criteria that you're measuring during each of these individual phases. But this isn't about just a scorecard, this is about measuring their capabilities and their performance throughout the lifecycle."

Know the tendencies of SIs

All of the three systems integrators can deliver on SAP projects like an S/4HANA implementation, but they also exhibit tendencies that customers should consider during the selection process, Riley said.

For example, for overall strategic vision, UpperEdge found that Accenture tends to focus on the roadmap journey of the implementation project while Deloitte focuses on meeting the business case goals and IBM focuses on the technical aspects of implementing the platform, according to Riley. The report noted that there are differences in their levels of participation in the project work. Accenture tends to have more control, Deloitte tends to work more with clients and IBM tends to have the clients do more of the work.

"Essentially, Accenture's going to do it to you, Deloitte's going to do it with you, IBM's going to do it for you," he said.

One area of similarity between all three SAP systems integrators is in estimating what the implementations are going to cost, according to Belden. All of the vendors provided legitimate estimates of their project costs, but all of the estimates were at the lower end of the spectrum for what would be expected for implementation projects like these.

"This was a little bit surprising because most of the time we're dealing with a competitive scenario where these guys are in competition and they know price oftentimes wins," he said. "But this even happens in sole source engagements where we've seen these big firms offer a lower reasonable price for what's going to be required to put this in."

Belden explained that the vendors may offer these lower estimates as a way to get projects launched.

Different SIs for different projects

The different approaches should influence organizations to select an SI based mainly on the type of project that they are doing, Belden said.

"If you've got a very experienced SAP team and you're trying to move from ECC to S/4HANA, you would be more apt to go with IBM, who's going to act more like an order taker who delivers exactly what the client needs," he said. "If you're looking to do a transformation where you're trying to fundamentally change the organization and their business processes, Deloitte and/or Accenture are most likely going to be better choices."

The ultimate differentiator in any implementation project is the quality of the talent that the SI makes available to the organization, Riley said. The organization also has to take an active role in the process to make sure the job is done the way the organization wants it to be done, which could mean negotiating uncharted territory.

"You can have the greatest methodologies and the greatest organization, but unless you get the right talent for your particular situation, you're going to end up having a lot of issues," he said. "A lot of onus on this is on the client, because, quite honestly, they don't know how to do it the right way, and the vendors end up navigating through that process in the way that's most beneficial to them. There's a tremendous amount of responsibility for the clients to take on how they orchestrate this and how they execute on the process."

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