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Few SAP customers using SAP Solution Manager to full potential

SAP Solution Manager isn't as popular in the SAP world as it should be, according to AMR's Derek Prior, who outlines five strategies for leveraging the tool.

SAP Solution Manager comes with every SAP license agreement and can help companies better manage their application lifecycles, but few companies use it to its full potential, according to a recent AMR Research report.

SAP's lifecycle management tool can help customers with upgrades, new implementations or to better track application performance, said AMR's Derek Prior.

"The one word which sums up all SAP customers is 'busy,'" said Prior, research director at Boston-based AMR Research. "And if the customers are so busy, I think they need help freeing up their teams. SAP Solution Manager can really help you and reduce pain and take away cost for you."

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Most SAP customers know SAP Solution Manager as the central support satellite system that monitors their SAP landscape and interacts with SAP Global support. Some, however, don't know it very well at all because it didn't exist when they did their initial SAP implementations five to 10 years ago, Prior said. SAP never gave it a high profile in the sales, consulting or support field organizations.

Companies performing upgrades to SAP ERP 6.0 can use the SAP Solution Manager Upgrade Roadmap to help. It includes best practices and templates for project, functional and technical management. It also includes ASAP methodology work packages, activities, deliverables and tasks and a predefined upgrade project template and accelerators.

Those who have already upgraded to ERP 6.0 can use SAP Solution Manager to help with change management involved in fixing problems or implementing new functionality, according to the report.

For example, implement the SAP Solution Manager Change Request Management module to handle the change administration, project management and change logistics tasks within the change management process, Prior suggests. It generates documentation and central transport requests for specific projects after they have been approved in accordance with an ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) set of best practices for IT management.

Companies that choose this strategy can look forward to "a gem" that will be available at the end of this month, Prior said. The Business Process Change Analyzer module provides proper impact analysis of SAP changes and has the potential to help customers focus on where to test and where not to test.

In addition to adopting the change management modules, companies that have lifecycle business value delivery challenges should evaluate the new projects center enablement modules, Prior said.

For example, some companies have implemented the Blueprint and the Configuration modules to keep track of all complex application settings in order to better manage projects.

This can be challenging for SAP customers who don't have a holistic approach to project portfolio management (PPM) because it's difficult to retrofit existing SAP application configuration settings into SAP Solution Manager, Prior said. But there are some products from pure play vendors that will help -- including IBIS's RBE Plus and Intellicorp's LiveModel products, which automatically analsyze existing live SAP production systems and populate the relevant application configuration into SAP Solution Manager, according to the report.

Companies looking for help better monitoring complex SAP landscapes can opt for modules that help with performance management optimization, as well as support center enablement.

Customers must deploy a production instance of SAP Solution Manager to track all installed business suite applications, and a development instance for product maintenance, according to the report. In turn, the System Landscape Directory makes it easier to track the version and patch levels of every single SAP software component, plus the underlying infrastructure.

Once the system landscape has been configured into SAP Solution Manager through the support enablement strategy, the Central System Administration module can generate component- specific administration tasks across the landscape. Customers can also centralize ABAP systems' performance monitoring through the Central Monitoring System function, according to the report.

One challenge surrounding SAP Solution Manager is that like any other SAP product, it must be configured. And while it's getting better, there's a shortage of people who know how to configure and deploy it, Prior said. Look to your hardware vendor or to system integrators like Alpha Sirius Inc. for experts, and put pressure on SAP to provide more of them, Prior suggested.

Better exploiting SAP Solution Manager can really help in times when the recession demands that IT refocus from delivering successful projects, to proving the business value from those projects, Prior said. Plus, SAP will use the tool to deliver enhancement packages, incremental updates and enhancements that SAP promises will end traditional upgrades.

"In the current economic times, we all need to be better at business value management and tracking the business value which comes from SAP activities," he said. "It's vital to know how much business value is flowing from all these costs we're writing our checks for."

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