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SAP implementation partners fall short in industry know-how, workforce continuity

Customers gave their SAP implementation partners high marks overall but ranked them lower in industry-specific know-how and workforce continuity.

SAP customers gave their SAP implementation partners high marks overall, but they want better industry-specific knowledge, sharing of best practices and a more stable workforce, according to a recent Forrester Research report.

Customers were satisfied with their implementation providers' overall work on the projects, their SAP technical knowledge, and transparency when it came to pricing and cost.

Companies choosing an SAP implementation partner should take the time to set good interview procedures for consultants and establish a contact for scope changes early in the RFP process to help mitigate concerns, according to Liz Herbert, senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

"Find a provider that's going to have a cultural fit, [is] a little flexible and able to have more of a relationship with you, and is not so rigid in going back to the contract all the time," she said.

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Forrester surveyed 154 clients of 19 SAP implementation providers. Forrester's full Wave report -- which analyzes the providers in several criteria to help customers evaluate and choose them -- will be released soon, but companies that did particularly well include Accenture, IBM, Capgemini, Deloitte and Fujitsu.

Still, Herbert found that customers working with SAP implementation partners ran into the same problems. They didn't feel that their consultants were proactive enough when it came to scope changes or additional requirements, and they were unclear on whom to take up the problems with in the first place.

"Clients blamed their implementation providers when problems arose down the road for not notifying them of potential problem areas," the report said.

It may help to address business-focused outcomes rather than deadlines in the contract. Putting key performance indicators in the contract is a good way to accomplish this.

It's something Herbert sees more of her clients doing. For instance, she recently worked with a phone manufacturer that put KPIs concerning inventory turns in its contracts during an SAP implementation.

"Both parties are working toward the same goal, rather than being so hung up on the contract," she said.

In turn, make sure to detail cost escalation paths and lay out up front whom to talk to if a project goes beyond the intended time frame, cost or scope, she advised. In a lot of cases, providers can actually name a person in the contract. In other cases, it's more likely to be a title -- like the project lead.

Many customers also complained about gaps in industry-specific knowledge. There's a lot of demand for skills around software designed for the oil and gas, healthcare, and life sciences industries, as well as the public sector, Herbert said.

Some customers said SAP implementation partners provided only one person with experience in their particular industry on a project. Problems also arose because people were based in different geographies, and it cost more and took longer to bring them in. Some customers indicated that delays in getting work permit and visa issues sorted out for consultants caused project delays of several weeks.

Turnover was also a challenge, according to the report, and this led to a drop in expertise as new consultants brought in took time to get up to speed on the project.

To make sure the right people will work on the project, ask the SAP implementation provider how many people with experience the company has in the modules, how many projects they have handled in this field, and what relevant SAP certifications they have in this area, Herbert said.

Companies working with smaller implementation providers may want only people who are certified by SAP in the specific modules to work on their projects.

"I think it can be helpful, and I've encouraged clients to put in RFPs in some cases," Herbert said. "I think it can be helpful in dealing with vendors less known and in areas that are less mature."

Don't expect certified consultants when hiring some of the leading systems integrators, however. Firms like Accenture have taken positions against certifying their consultants because they say they don't need certifications to show the consultants are qualified, Herbert said.

She recommended that companies may want to contract a small specialty provider to work with the main implementation provider to provide specific skills.

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