SAP is putting a greater emphasis on its Solution Manager, a set of diagnostic and maintenance tools that many...
customers have been reluctant to adopt.
Customers upgrading to mySAP Business Suite 2005 and all future versions must use the Solution Manager, which comes free of charge with the Business Suite package, for all future maintenance updates and software upgrades.
SAP will release SAP Solution Manager 4.0 in January. By April, maintenance updates will be completely tied to the package of diagnostic tools and documents. Customers will not be able to conduct maintenance manually.
"Our goal is that all SAP solutions in the world, with the exception of Business One, [be] handled at customer sites by Solution Manager," said Matthias Melich, director of project management for SAP Solution Manager. "And we're seeing a steady acceptance of Solution Manager in the market."
A maintenance optimizer feature within the Solution Manager automatically detects the appropriate patches for an installation and is a step forward in making it easier to handle support packages, Melich said. Currently, many SAP customers must manually detect and choose the appropriate packages.
Solution Manager helps SAP customers look at the long-term viability of an SAP implementation, according to Derek Prior, a research director at Boston-based AMR Research Inc. Customers who use the software are less likely to think of SAP as a series of projects and take a more holistic view, he said. Customers with the best support practices, such as an SAP competency center and a strong help desk and support framework, appear to be having the most success with their SAP implementations.
"If we think in terms of ERP and SAP lifecycles generally and not short-term projects, we can end up with a best-practice, long-term view for lifecycle planning," Prior said.
Companies using Solution Manager are seeing improved efficiencies from their support teams and a reduction in time for the SAP Basis team, Prior said, adding that customers are also reporting a faster implementation time and a reduction in system management time.
The rise of service-oriented architectures (SOA) and SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture model will add to the complexity of SAP systems. Support tools, including the Solution Manager, will be part of best practices around SOA, Prior said.
"As we move more into the world of ESA and service-oriented architectures, we know that system landscapes will be more complex," Prior said. "There is more of a need to have a lifecycle support system in place now, before we really start deploying ESA in a big way."
Still, many firms are using alternative products. A major feature within the Solution Manager, a help desk feature, is similar to many competitive products used by SAP customers. Analysts at AMR Research Inc. estimate that there are only about 10,000 installations of the software among SAP customers.
Some SAP customers are using only part of SAP Solution Manager because the software overlaps slightly with other system management frameworks from IBM and Houston-based BMC Software Inc. The software does a good job of monitoring the SAP solution stack overall, Prior said, but SAP may be taking too rigid an approach.
"Busy customers need to be persuaded and convinced of the benefits of Solution Manager, rather than told they have to use it," Prior said. "There's a pretty comprehensive suite of capabilities here to help manage the implementation process and the performance of SAP applications."
AMR recently conducted a survey of about 50 Solution Manager users. Firms are reporting high satisfaction rates with system monitoring and early watch alert features within Solution Manager, Prior said. Many firms also plan to use the Solution Manager for change request management and diagnostics.
There are some costs associated with implementing and configuring Solution Manager, Prior said. An SAP customer would need to install a small amount of local hardware and also possibly hire an independent consultant or an expert from SAP consulting to get the software properly configured. The costs involved depend on the complexity of the SAP architecture.
"If customers have multiple applications and multiple NetWeaver systems," Prior said, "it's a no-brainer to put it in."