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Lessons learned: Best practices for an SAP CRM implementation

Satish Subramanian, an MIS manager and CRM project manager at Varian Medical Systems shares how his project team overcame a challenging mySAP CRM project.

Struggling with slow customer service under its SAP R/3 system, Varian Medical Systems, which designs and manufactures equipment and software for treating cancer with radiation, knew it had to improve its processes.

Varian executives hoped that the addition of mySAP CRM was just what the company needed to improve service to its software and hardware customers. The company's project team first viewed a demo of the mySAP CRM 4.0 system in August 2004. It had to overcome some hurdles to get it in place, but by December 2005 all dispatch agents and helpdesk agents were live on the system across the U.S. and Canada.

The mySAP CRM system included the SAP Industry Service add-on and an IC Web client, which enables customer service representatives to search customer history immediately when a customer places a call to a help desk location. The software also allows help desk agents to pinpoint answers based on a customer's unique problem as well as schedule a field agent when necessary.

Varian officials said that help desk agents are now able to respond to more calls, reducing time and the cost per call. Satish Subramanian, MIS manager and CRM project manager at Varian, recently shared with the lessons learned by the project team during the implementation. Satish will present these points at SAP's CRM conference, February 15-17, in Las Vegas.


  • Have a focused approach and implement mySAP CRM in small pieces.

    MySAP CRM is a complex system serving many facets of customer-facing organizations, from service to sales and marketing. Determining and prioritizing business requirements ahead of time will make the project run smoothly, Subramanian said.

    "We prioritized our requirements and focused our implementation on the features that were really needed for an initial go live," he said. "We decided to focus our CRM implementation on building a good helpdesk solution. It is important to think big, to have a good vision and a holistic view of the end solution. But it is practical to start small."


  • Get key users involve very early, preferably during sandbox testing

    The Varian team struggled in the initial stages of their project especially as they moved into the prototyping stage. They realized that it would have been valuable to have key users engage the system and see what SAP has to offer ahead of time.

    "We kind of got started on the wrong foot," Subramanian said. "It is important that key users understand features like actions and alerts – [then] key users can come up with detailed requirements to meet their needs."


  • Establish direct communication with SAP product developers -- especially in a ramp-up scenario

    Working with IC Web Client, which was a new technology at the time of the initial implementation, Varian needed additional support, Subramanian said.

    "When you are at the cutting edge, you realize that the folks who can really help in bottleneck situations are the product developers at SAP. Nobody knows the technology better than them," he said.

    In the initial stage, Varian senior developers made their own enhancements to the system, but they were stuck with some bugs in the redesign screen. They recruited an SAP Product Developer from SAP Labs in nearby Palo Alto, who visited their office and helped them out of the bottleneck.


  • Pilot with smaller group if possible to mitigate risks

    Employing a small group of users at the time of go live means the implementation team has fewer users to support and there is lesser chance of any business disruption, Subramanian said.

    If anything goes wrong with the new application, the majority of the users are still on the legacy system. Subramanian also pointed out that pilot users at Varian provided valuable feedback on issues and bugs that could be fixed before bringing all the users onto the new system.

    Varian used four users in the pilot deployment and the group was able to resolve all system bugs within a month. Then they rolled out the system to 2 to 3 agents at a time until all 23 helpdesk agents in North America were live. They used a similar method with the dispatch agents.

    "We also need to consider that most of our helpdesk agents are home-based in North America and dispatch agents work out of four offices in North America," Subramanian said. "The Pilot deployment made it easier to plan training schedules for all the users with the new application."

    No system will be perfect when it goes live, he said.

    "No matter how much testing we do, we will never be able to catch all of the bugs [on the system]!" he said.


  • Get the right people on the bus

    Varian chose key internal employees from the IT department to work full time on the project, including three business employees and two consultants. Subramanian was the project manager and the group chose consultants to augment the knowledge of the internal team.

    "We looked at [a number of] consultants, but we decided on Srini Katta [independent consultant] and Casper Kan [SAP consultant] because both were experienced and had been involved in several previous implementations. We used these two for expertise and knowledge that we did not have at the beginning of the project. Their role was to help us come up to speed with the applications," Subramanian said.

    By the end of the implementation, the internal Varian IS team was autonomous. Srini Katta worked with the team until just three days after the initial go live and Casper Kan until a few weeks after the go live, according Subramanian.

    "We have been live successfully for eight months now and have been completely self-sufficient," he said.


  • Relieve the core team of users from their daily jobs so they can dedicate their time to the project

    "We realized pretty early on that in order for us to make progress in this initiative it was important for us to have the business team committed to the project," Subramanian said. "But it is also important for the core user team to play with the sandbox system to come up with detailed requirements and identify the gaps in the system ahead of time. This is clearly a full-time job."

    In addition to the IT team, Varian's business team appointed a project manager and one former helpdesk agent and dispatch agent who were dedicated full time to the project. This group evaluated out-of-the-box functionality, identified gaps, came up with detailed specifications and completed testing. They also communicated with the rest of the users and were responsible for creating training materials and executing the training sessions for all end users.


  • Have dedicated project managers from the business and IS teams

    "The project clearly needs to be business driven and should not be IT driven," Subramanian said. "We had a project manager appointed by the business side as well as an IT project manager, and both had a lot to accomplish. It is important to have a successful partnership and they need to complement each other well."


  • Use Best Practices for CRM for SAP

    This SAP-authorized guide on best practice scenarios can be accessed online at

    "We follow [this guide] step-by-step to accomplish good connectivity and downloads from R/3," Subramanian said. "The best practice guide to middleware connectivity to R/3 [has been] especially helpful for our team."


  • Use the IC Web Client Consultant's Cookbook

    The Varian team used this guide, which offers development guidelines and enhancement tips, for many projects on IC Web Client, including adding fields or views, hiding or renaming fields, creating view sets and configuring alert services.

    This text is an invaluable resource for any project that involves enhancements to IC Web Client, Subramanian said. The guide is available at

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