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Few SAP shops are fully using Solution Manager, but why?

SAP Solution Manager is the centerpiece of SAP’s strategy to help customers lower TCO. So why have so few extended its use beyond mandated service-related tasks?

SAP has long had a reputation that its software can be costly, difficult to implement and run.

Solution Manager, an application lifecycle management tool that helps customers optimize their SAP implementation through, among other things, systems monitoring, administration and connecting with SAP support, is supposed to change all that.

The tool kit, which comes free with every SAP on-premise license agreement with the exception of Business One, is the centerpiece of SAP’s strategy to help customers lower their total cost of ownership (TCO). And many say it holds that promise -- if only customers would use it.

“If customers fully implement Solution Manager, they have a very powerful set of tools for lifecycle management, and maintenance and support," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal, Enterprise Applications Consulting. "But [SAP] has not made a strong business case for fully implementing Solution Manager.”

For most SAP customers, Solution Manager is simply a tool that SAP mandates they use in order to download support patches and manage service-related tasks.

While around 70% of customers have installed Solution Manager for this purpose, only 5% are using it for more than the most basic tasks, according to Ajay Vonkarey, SAP Solution Manager Lead for Alpha Sirius, a consultancy that specializes in Solution Manager implementations.

Solution Manager is much more than support patches and services tickets (see sidebar), but challenges remain in convincing SAP shops that large Solution Manager projects are worth the effort.

What’s holding up Solution Manager application lifecycle management?

SAP’s goal is to get all of its customers to use Solution Manager as a central repository -- “a central source of the truth” -- for full application lifecycle management. All of the information required for implementing or managing an SAP application is accessible to the customer and SAP. Customers like Colgate and Valero are two companies that have made the full investment -- having basically adopted all of Solution Manager’s functionality for requirements, design, build and test, deploy, and operating and optimizing the installation, according to Matthias Melich, vice president of SAP application lifecycle management.

The most current release is Solution Manager 7.0. It’s the same product as Solution Manager 4.0, but it was renamed to draw a closer link with NetWeaver 7.0, Melich said. All customers get Solution Manager 7.0 as part of their SAP licenses, but Enterprise Support and MaxAttention customers are entitled to more functionality than those on Standard Support.

In order for Solution Manager to work the way SAP envisions, it has to be fully implemented, Greenbaum said. Yet to cash- and staff-strapped organizations, Solution Manager starts to look like a big IT implementation, requiring hardware, skills and a senior management buy-in, Vonkarey said. And turning on each piece of Solution Manager’s functionality is a project in and of itself.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in this regard is populating and setting up the system, according to Phil Avelar, SAP practice lead at Advanced Solutions, an SAP consulting firm. Customers need to document the entire installation in order to leverage Solution Manager’s full functionality. It’s a lot of work, it takes reserves to undertake such a project, and SAP has not justified its benefits.

User resistance is also emotional. Because Solution Manager is so closely tied to Enterprise Support, customers started out with a negative attitude toward it, Melich said. Enterprise Support contracts grant full access to Solution Manager functionality, but they also mandate that customers use Solution Manager for downloading support patches and other maintenance-related functions.

Finally, Solution Manager was introduced in a market where best-of-breed application lifecycle management tools already exist and are well established in SAP shops, Avelar said. For instance, if a company is going to choose a change management tool, it often questions whether it should go with Solution Manager or an established tool that supports more than just SAP products.

SAP is aware of this, and Solution Manager plugs into dozens of best-of-breed tools -- either by adapters, open interfaces or original equipment manufacturer (OEM) agreements. The goal is not to replace the best-of-breed tools but to pull the data into one central location -- so customers don’t have to log into 10 different systems to get the information they need.

How do I overcome these challenges?

The perception that Solution Manager is hard to consume in any way but a big bang approach isn’t necessarily true.

It’s important to remember that Solution Manager is “like a toolbox,” said David Dobrin, founder of B2B Analyst Inc. “If you buy a toolbox from Sears, and it has 92 parts, the percentage of use of the toolbox in the first year is going to be small. Understand that it’s a grab bag, set up at different times, for different purposes.”

For instance, at the Walt Disney Company, David Hull, SAP platform architect and longtime Basis administrator, maintains a list of functionality in Solution Manager he’d like to turn on. He reaches out to folks on the application side and the director of SAP at the company and lets them know what he’s planning next, aligning his request with the two times a year when they roll out new functionality, or support packs. So far, Disney has turned on functionality for, among other things, IT service reporting and separate monitoring of the Java-based and ABAP applications.

In turn, SAP has launched several initiatives to make it easier to implement Solution Manager, Melich said.

For one, most of Solution Manager’s basic Service Desk functions now come preconfigured -- functions such as patch management, download of enhancement packages and EarlyWatch Alert. The latest release includes wizard-based configuration.

Customers can also use SAP’s Expert Guided Implementation services. SAP offers a one-week service accessed remotely through a dial in. Experts tell customers how to configure a certain piece of the Service Desk.

To help customers with the business case problem, SAP is getting ready to roll out its Roadmap Services. These services aim to guide the customers on what pieces to tackle first, providing them with an individual roadmap that helps them tackle the “low-hanging fruit,” Melich said. There’s no single sequence in which all customers should implement Solution Manager functionality.

Right now, these are free but available only on site. The plan is that by next year these roadmap services will be available remotely. They are already in MaxAttention contracts and will be provided to Enterprise Support customers in the coming year.

Finally, so-called learning maps are accessible through the Service Marketplace in the Ramp-Up Knowledge Transfer section. They’re updated with every functional release of Solution Manager and give customers a chance to drill down into specifics and filter to get the most relevant information by their job roles.

While the onus is on SAP to educate customers about Solution Manager, it’s important to remember that the responsibility for the lack of uptake also rests with the user community, Greenbaum said. Application lifecycle management (ALM) takes long-term planning and vision, and a good ALM strategy outlasts the average tenure of the CIO, rendering it not the most attractive project.

“There has not been a systematic, comprehensive appreciation for the value of strong application lifecycle management techniques,” Greenbaum said.

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