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MySAP ERP upgrades: Users are the key to success

Upgrading mySAP ERP can be a long process, presenting many challenges to the company. Communicating closely with users is essential.

Those who have been down the road to a mySAP ERP upgrade have a suggestion: Don't forget the user communication.

In the midst of a large software project like a mySAP ERP upgrade, it can be easy to get lost in the many details. Technical challenges aside, one key to a successful project is communicating with users, according to presenters at the Americas' SAP Users' Group mySAP ERP Upgrade Symposium.

For the Ottawa-based Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Canada's public broadcasting network, user communication started on day one.

"We made sure that everybody knew exactly what to expect throughout the process, so the users knew they were part of it from the get-go," said Stéphane Rivest, director of financial systems, processes and training for the CBC.

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User communication can have many facets, and for the CBC, change management throughout the project was of particular importance.

"Change management is going to be the key," Rivest said. "There is no other component that is going to be more important in the process."

CBC will expand the number of SAP users from its current 950 to all 10,000 employees once the upgrade to mySAP ERP 2005 is complete. Rivest felt that change management and user communication were especially important on a project involving SAP.

"The perception out there is that SAP is not a user-friendly system, and we are fighting against that with every SAP project here as well," Rivest explained. "So we started out with a killer change management program that we're building on for the next activities."

Donna McCormick, supervisor of IT training at SaskPower, a Regina, Sask.-based utility company that supplies most of the electricity for Saskatchewan residents, also said user involvement is a key to upgrade success.

"[As] we get business [more] engaged [in SAP projects] and get partnerships built within our own company we'll be much more successful," McCormick said.

SaskPower installed SAP in 1999. The company upgraded in 2001, purchased the mySAP suite in 2003, and upgraded again in 2006. It employs about 2,750 people.

"Users were saying, 'When is this going to stop?' " McCormick said. "Every time they turned around, there was another change to the system with more and different functionality."

With all these changes, keeping users trained on the system was very important, and difficult to accomplish. McCormick echoed Rivest's thoughts that SAP projects, especially, require close collaboration with users.

"Contrary to popular belief, SAP is not intuitive. People do have some trouble figuring out what they should be doing," McCormick said. "We have to find ways to let them know that the SAP system is what we have and it's powerful -- it can do anything we need it to."

SaskPower had its functional team conduct a comprehensive analysis of the system changes and issue a report that detailed what the old system and upgraded system looked like and described each business transaction where changes occurred.

The functional team then reviewed the report with the training department, walking through how a transaction would be completed on the upgraded system compared with the old system.

"That was really valuable in the training process," McCormick said. "Then we knew how to train each piece, and we could make it as simple as possible for users."

The company is also constantly looking for and developing ways for users to locate the information they need, without necessarily having to ask someone.

SaskPower is open to any product that will help in that endeavor, according to McCormick.

She agrees that a comprehensive change management plan is crucial but says that following through on that plan is where an upgrade can be made or broken.

"From a communication perspective, it's one thing to put a plan together, and it's another to follow it," McCormick said. "Some people might have thought that we over-trained or over-communicated. My feeling is: How can you do that? I would rather hear that we over-communicated than didn't communicate enough."

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