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SAP Safeguarding First: Can it limit SAP project failures?

Is SAP Safeguarding First the answer to stemming SAP project failures like that in Marin County? In this column, contributor Colin Sparkes takes a look.

Editor's note: This column has been modified from its original version, due to disputed quotes attributed to Mark Miserak.

In my last column, I encouraged organizations to hire an ERP Watchdog in order to avoid SAP project failures like that in Marin County. SAP has since indicated to me that the new SAP Safeguarding First (SF) for partners program would provide insurance against future project failures.

But does it? Safeguarding First complements a partner’s program, with the average engagement costing a customer around $300,000. SAP provides technical risk mitigation services aimed at reducing the complexity-driven risk associated with implementations, upgrades, and ongoing mission-critical operations. The objective of a Safeguarding First engagement is to reduce the number of technical problems in a project, thereby reducing customer risk. SAP’s SF Web brochure can be found here.

I spoke with Mark Miserak, SAP Global Program Director for Safeguarding First, for more information. It is a new program, consisting of eight partners.

According to SAP’s Web brochure, one of SF’s goals is to maximize customer success by having a successful on-time implementation.

That sounds good.

But Miserak emphasized that Safeguarding First mitigates only technical risk, not organizational or human risk.

In a quest to figure out the magic behind SF, I turned to AGS and was disappointed to note that it too lists consulting services that have been around since the 1980s: a single point of contact for the customer, global support, online help and workshops and so on.... Yawn. I dug deeper and found it includes integration validation – tools and services for data transfer and validation, help with upgrades – Unicode conversions and so on, and help with operating services, i.e., RunSAP.

Ahah! RunSAP! Thinking I had finally discovered the Holy Grail, I scanned the fine print. There were glossy graphics about Solution Manager, interface monitoring, best practices templates, NetWeaver administration and transport training and certification, change request management, data volume management, job scheduling, and custom code management.

Still old technology! Even the bit about “integration validation” sounded suspiciously like stealth selling of SAP MDM (master data management), Business Objects XI, Adobe interactive forms, Open Text archiving and other data management tools.

I concluded that SF is useful only for customers who a) have exceptional technical complexity and b) cannot rely on high-quality SAP technical support at market rates.

Would SF have prevented the Marin County payroll fiasco?

Absolutely not! The lawsuit alleges that the crisis was caused by fraudulent claims made by Deloitte Consulting in their sales literature and implementation contract, including inexperienced consultants sold as experts, a superficial business requirements analysis, and flawed test procedures.

Deloitte allegedly knew that there was a risk of a payroll system crash but decided to stick to the planned live start in order to get their millions of dollars of consulting fees paid on time. SF addresses only “technical” risk. The crisis could have been avoided only by consultants and super-users who understood the business risk of inadequate requirements analysis and testing and who had the personal integrity to resist pressure from the project management and their own bosses to continue.

Colin Sparkes has worked around the globe as both  quality controller and project manager for SAP AG Germany. He was later director for PricewaterhouseCoopers  USA and president of IREX (Integration and Re-engineering Experts) in Korea before starting his own business in Vancouver, Canada. In his most recent SAP work, he specialized in data quality and governance systems as Senior Director at Utopia Inc. He can be contacted at


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