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Common pitfalls of SAP systems integration projects

SAP implementations can be large, complex projects. Part 2 of's system integrators series looks at some common pitfalls of SAP implementations and how to recover from them.

SAP systems integrations are often lengthy and complex projects, so there are bound to be bumps along the way.

Hidden costs are the most common problem in SAP systems integration projects, research from Peachtree City, Ga.-based Performance Monitor has found. Although this problem doesn't have a great deal of impact on project delivery and goal attainment, it can hit the pocketbook pretty hard. SAP projects are expensive enough to begin with; having additional -- and unexpected -- costs can eat into the ROI.

Work items that weren't originally included in the project plan are typical hidden costs that were mentioned. These include custom modifications, applying more resources to areas of the implementation that were outside the project plan, and travel expenses.

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The good news is that most systems integrators will work with customers to address this type of issue. They may not drop all of these costs, but most are willing to come to terms with their clients. In Performance Monitor's research, three-quarters of clients that brought these issues to their SAP systems integrators were able to come to some type of resolution.

A word of caution regarding fees: When project scope expands, clients are rightfully on the hook for additional fees. Thus, mastery of the engagement's scope at the outset of a project is extremely important, and clients should not presume that unspecified scope will be covered by the systems integrator.

The wedding and the marriage

The New SAP Blue Book talks about the "SAP wedding" and the "SAP marriage." The wedding may take 12-24 months, but the marriage will last 20-30 years. The lesson is that it is important for clients to look beyond the cost of the wedding (the implementation process) and to plan for the marriage (the post go-live environment).

This is sound advice, because two of the more common problems are that customers didn't plan well enough for post-implementation and that their users did not receive sufficient training.

Customers said these types of problem had to do with either the integrators' lack of experience in training people or the lack of any training at all once the systems were in place. Both issues are often driven by budget constraints -- organizations that experience budget over-runs will often dip into the training budgets without realizing the impact this has on marital bliss.

Planning for the post-implementation is often overlooked, not so much for budgetary reasons as the fact that people are ready to get on with the project. The trouble with marching ahead without strong consideration of life after implementation is that the repercussions can be long lasting. One client noted that nearly a year after implementation was complete, they were still addressing issues that could have been resolved by proper planning.

Most frequently resolved problems
Insufficient post-implementation planning

Hidden costs

Insufficient knowledge transfer to users

Deficient process or scope management

Problem resolution

There is no one best practice that can be applied to ensure that your SAP project will run smoothly, but establishing clear lines of communication with the systems integrator is important. Only about 5% of clients report that their systems integrator failed to partner with them, a strong sign that integration partners want clients to succeed.

If and when problems do occur in projects of this magnitude, having good communications with your integration partner can go a long way toward problem resolution. Performance Monitor research shows that SAP systems integrators make a considerable effort to resolve client problems and that most clients are not shy about raising issues when they occur.

In total, this research measured the frequency, impact and resolution of 14 common problems during SAP systems integration projects.

Most frequently unresolved problems
Failure to partner

Unfavorable contract terms

Integrator not knowledgeable about customer's business

Deficient process or scope management

The most interesting finding is that "deficient process or scope management" is a frequently resolved -- and frequently unresolved -- problem. Many customers noted that the responsibility for these problems fell on the project manager's shoulders.

In one instance, the systems integrator replaced the project manager in response to a client's raising its concerns -- a good indication that the integrator was serious about helping resolve client problems to ensure the project's overall success.

SAP projects are long and can be frustrating at times -- for both the client and the systems integrator. Neither wants there to be problems and, most of the time, issues can be resolved by working through them. Maintaining good communications and having formal processes for escalating issues can be critical for improving the implementation experience.

This is the second part of's series on SAP systems integration delivery. The first installment looked at some critical factors in choosing a systems integrator for SAP projects.

Paul Reynolds is chief research officer of Performance Monitor, an independent research firm that monitors the field performance of the leading service providers. He is a contributing author of The New SAP Blue Book.

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