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Speaking SAP in any language

Researchers urge SAP customers to identify national and local cultures and adjust business processes to address them before major SAP implementations.

LONDON -- SAP customers planning global implementations should identify national and local cultures and change...

business processes to address them, according to a study released by the Center for Human Computer Interaction Design at City University in London.

HCI Design head Neil Maiden and his colleague, Marina Krumbholz, last week encouraged conference attendees to adjust their SAP implementation processes according to where in the world they're working.

Their argument was based on academic research, conducted at a company with Scandinavian, German and British subsidiaries. Their results were presented at the conference, which was attended by 200 SAP decision makers.

"What we found is that national and local cultures do have an impact on the efficiency of the SAP implementations,'' Krumbholz told the audience.

However, many attendees were skeptical, saying that implementation problems are the result of flawed business processes, which remain the same no matter what language the IT team is speaking.

In its simplest form, the debate can be boiled down to one question: Is the warehouse worker in Boston so different from one in Brussels? If both workers are reluctant to adopt a new SAP module, for example, then can't they both be addressed with the same change management?

That's how Augustine Sebastian, an SAP professional at Gatwick-based CP Ships, views the issue.

"This sounds to me like a change process, a problem with implementing change, and not an issue of cultural styles,'' said Sebastian, echoing the sentiments of many of his peers.

The researchers, though, cautioned that the issue is not so clear-cut and that local cultures and customs lead to misunderstandings and frustrations during some major SAP implementations. In response to these issues, the research team suggested an evaluation method called CAREs (culturally aware realization of ERP systems).

The aim, said Krumbholz, is to predict the reaction that a specific population is going to have to a large SAP implementation. After using the CAREs methodology to interview and observe IT teams in various countries, the outcome, she said "is a list of cultural predictions that describe the level and nature of reaction of this agent -- depending on her/his national culture.''

SAP professional Dirk Surmount, as they say in America, wasn't buying it.

"What I heard them talking about was motivation and, to tackle motivation, you need change management," said Surmount, an SAP consultant based in Brussels, Belgium, who has worked with large American companies such as Compaq and ExxonMobil.

Surmount said that "some involvement, training, and a coffee bar can make the difference'' during an implementation effort -- no matter where it's occurring. "Just train someone the right way, and they are motivated,'' he said.

However, Surmount admitted that he has adjusted his attitude depending on where his clients are based. "In a European company, you do have to express yourself in a more diplomatic way,'' Surmount said. ''It seems that I am rather straightforward; one interviewer told me that.''

That's just the type of thing the CAREs method was designed to figure out, though. The research team said the CAREs method can identify such a problem before an IT manager unknowingly alienates everyone working in a call center at the outset of a large SAP implementation.

The CAREs methods seeks to inform SAP implementation teams about the culture-related problems as they arise.

In part, Sebastian said, the argument comes down to semantics, and no one disagreed that company cultures can provide big challenges for SAP implementation teams.

''It's just that, around the world, wherever you go, you will find those same challenges,'' Sebastian said. "Unfortunately, they will follow you."


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