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ERP II & ERP III – SAP Business IT Revolution

October 31st, 2011 by
Business Systems

Business Systems

The day after I released my last post (SAP IT Governance – Achieve Business IT Engagement) techrepublic.com published a review of the CIO future direction. While I do not agree with all of the Gartner conclusions they published I certainly agree with the “new CIO manifesto” (TechRepublic: Get drastic: 15 IT best practices to kill). Reading through the comments left on the TechRepublic post was enlightening, most of the comments focused on the details of one or two points of disagreement while missing the focus of the entire message.

Denial of the purpose of any IT initiative, especially SAP business solutions, will only lead to significant levels of outsourcing. IT areas and functions that become more like “commodities,” or, as one commentator calls these functions “taxes” on the enterprise are quick to be outsourced. While these “taxes” are necessary infrastructure components (such as e-mail, phone, wide area networks, and even PCs or laptops), other areas are starting to be seen as commodities subject to significant cuts.

SAP Consultants Must Get Serious About Customer Focused Value (or find another career)

Unless more functional SAP application consultants get serious about understanding business and helping stop the fakes then enterprise applications will become a commodity as well. This isn’t just idle speculation. Those of us who have been around SAP for 10 years or more (and some of us approaching 20 years or more) remember the days when ABAP skills were sky high–, now they are a commodity which is frequently outsourced to India, Malaysia, or China. The same commodity status is true of SAP Basis–, it is outsourced overseas or to hosting providers. Without real value SAP (or Oracle, MS Dynamics, etc.) are soon to follow.

The Coming SAP Business Technology Revolution

The TechRepublic post hit on a key theme which is the focus of this site–, helping business realize (and recognize) value from their SAP projects. Under the subtitle “New CIO manifesto” TechRepublic notes:

“information [may be] more important than information technology” and the majority of IT spend will be used to “measurably improve… financial conditions of an enterprise” by supporting “revenue generating rather than expense related business processes.”

This manifesto is more aligned to sales, marketing, and innovation. These areas of the enterprise are in line with CEO priorities (see e.g. What is the Proper Relationship for the CIO, CEO, and CFO?). The TechRepublic post then goes on to note that:

“IT has to stop thinking of itself as a business utility and start seeing itself as a business catalyst. In order to do that, it’s going to have to think in business terms and economic impact for everything it does…”

What Can Skilled SAP Consultants Do to Prevent Becoming Commodities?

FIRST do what you can to educate clients around consultant screening (for details see Protecting Yourself from SAP Consulting Fraud). For example, if you find out a client is looking for consultants ask them if they have received that candidate’s references from their last three projects and whether they directly asked for confirmation of experience from those references?

As clients continue to see marginal or substandard results from so many of these frauds they will consider you the same and rate pressure will quickly move you to commodity status. Worse still, you may be on a project where you have to do so much clean up and correction behind an incompetent consultant just to get your own area working that you do not have the time to deliver on real value that will set you apart.

SECOND make sure you focus your consulting efforts on delivering value to your clients. When I say value I mean in terms of business benefit and return on what you are being paid for. Don’t just do some configuration because that is what you are being told, or because that is what is in scope. Do it in such a way that it helps the client long term. For example, just because SAP supports a particular type of functionality the ongoing maintenance after go live may not be in the client’s best interests. Carefully consider the short and long term effects on your customer of what you do. If you take this approach you may lose out on a little extra billable time in the short term, BUT you will stand out to them as someone who looks out for their interests. When it comes time to upgrade or add on additional functionality a call from you could land you a direct client without the middle man staffing firm. You can avoid competing with so many of the frauds the staffing companies try to place which may destroy a client project and damage the value you can add.

The choice is yours. You can start working to be more client and customer focused to generate value or you can watch the marketplace move you to commodity status. In the end no matter how good you are as the marketplace erodes your value in it does as well. It’s time to start acting like a consultant, a paid advisor to give your client the best possible direction you can and in doing so you also help to protect your own future as well. For more insight on delivering SAP enterprise value focus on the components of ERP II or ERP III (see ERP vs. ERP II vs. ERP III Future Enterprise Applications).




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Outsourcing Your SAP Application Support

March 20th, 2010 by
SAP outsourcing

SAP outsourcing

I believe it was Peter Drucker who opined about outsourcing and then wrote a book on the subject. The original premise was that low level administrative functions, which were not a key or core focus of the business (like mail rooms) could be outsourced.  Fast forward several years and business has learned that virtually all “non-value add” functions can be outsourced.

IT infrastructure was value add as long as something new or better could be developed to provide cost savings, efficiencies, improvements, or as many commentators note “better, faster, cheaper” solutions. Now that the “last mile” of technology is becoming more costly with lower returns IT departments are moving into full blown maintenance mode. They are becoming the modern day “mail rooms” to be outsourced for lower cost to focus on more fundamental or core business requirements.  IT departments have allowed themselves to become a type of “administrative” overhead and a key target for cost reduction.

This outsourcing trend has focused primarily on infrastructure tasks like network monitoring, database administration, e-mail system maintenance, OS and Office application rollouts, etc.  With all of the hype around “cloud” computing, or what used to be referred to a few years ago as “ASP” (Application Service Providers), or application hosting this trend will accelerate.  

I see this same trend beginning to occur in the business application space as well. The business application functions are moving into maintenance mode and are slowly being outsourced. Those functions which support the supply chain at many companies have automated, streamlined, and process improved (i.e. “better, faster, cheaper”) so that they are now mature.  With that maturity the last mile of improvement becomes cost prohibitive with little payback.  For more insight on this topic please see the following posts:

Competitive Pressures and Value Propositions, Is Lean the Answer? 

Business and IT Alignment – Integrating Technology and IT Spend with Business

Operational technology adoption generally follows a fairly consistent adoption model:

  • Implement
  • Stabilize
  • Improve
  • Maintain

As soon as maintenance operations begin to stabilize, and as the processes and support requirements are finalized the IT area becomes a prime target for outsourcing. 

Future IT Application Alignment and Trends

The next few years of the application space will see a MAJOR separation of consultants, vendors, applications, and solutions around operations, sales, and new products / services.  Forward looking IT organizations will be those who can move into the “value add” areas of the enterprise to support and automate sales, marketing, engineering (i.e. innovation functions), etc., the losers will be those who continue to focus on operations after the initial “low hanging fruit” has been picked. 

For those in IT areas, lead, follow, or get out of the way (or you WILL be run over!)

As an IT leader if you want to avoid obsolescence and outsourcing then it is important to retool your organization with the best and the brightest to begin focusing on the customer and innovation portions of the business.  Once operations are well underway the next phase for the successful IT leader who does not want to face outsourcing their department, and possibly their own job, is to partner with the sales, marketing, and engineering sides of the business for long term success.

The Operational CIO must Become a Strategic CIO

The past business application focus has seen a focus on finance and operations.  Key metrics in the past have included improving month-end close times, reducing various supply chain cycle times, and overall view of operational and financial data in real time.  These are all the lagging indicator side of the business which is focused on the CFO / COO side of the business.  It is time for application vendors like SAP as well as consulting companies to begin focusing aggressively on the sales, marketing, and innovation / engineering portions of the business.  Or, in business terms, the leading indicator portion of the business. 

The successful CIO of tomorrow will be the one who can build a bridge with technology solutions between the CEO and the CFO / COO. Those CIOs (and by proxy their subordinate IT leaders) who are able to make that transition to covering the holistic business will see their career prospects flourish. Those who don’t will be marginalized, stagnate, and find tremendous budget pressure slowly collapsing their organizations.  I’ve penned a few things on this topic as well which explains the changing dynamic for the CIO and the future of the application space.  Here is a short piece that explains that new relationship in more detail:

What is the Proper Relationship for the CIO, CEO, and CFO?

A permanent change in today’s business and consumer landscape is leading to a permanent change in IT staffing and project work in SAP and all other commercial applications.  You can either plan for it, adjust to it, and then learn to work within the coming paradigm or you can be run over by it.  Global economic conditions and the near financial collapse have created a permanent change in how businesses operate and customers purchase.  Financial institution regulatory controls have closed the door to many of the previous credit holes that allowed some of the out of control speculative and self-indulgent spending by consumers.   That trend is not likely to change for many years.  It is even less likely to return to the heady days of free flowing credit and consumer spending binges which fueled so many speculative bubbles. 

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In Support of Strategy

March 2nd, 2010 by

Business and IT strategyWhat’s with all the “strategy bashing” of late? How could sound strategic planning possibly be a bad thing? Things have spun so far out of control that I recently had a CEO ask: “Is strategy still relevant in today’s business world, and if so, what role does strategy play in the overall make-up of a CEO’s duties and responsibilities? Let me begin by stating that strategy has never been more relevant than it is today. With all of the current emphasis on tactical execution I guess I understand how a question like this could be posed, but wow, what a sad commentary on the state of executive leadership when a CEO asks whether or not strategy is relevant. In today’s post I’ll examine the role of strategy in business, as well as the CEO’s responsibilities therein…

Strategy vs. Tactics, Instead Try Strategy AND Tactics

Let me be as blunt as I can – The issue should not be strategy vs tactics, but strategy and tactics. While separate functions and disciplines, one cannot prosper without the other. Strategy is what provides the tactical road-map, and it is tactical execution that validates and delivers strategy. The noise attempting to lift one up above the other is simply more unneeded rhetoric. The best strategy cannot succeed without tactical execution, and tactical execution is much easier to achieve with the clarity provided by a sound strategy.

With all of today’s emphasis on pleasing investors by meeting short-term financial expectations, it is not at all uncommon for many executives to press for better execution when what they really need is a better strategy. Conversely, other executives change strategic direction when what they should do is demand better execution. The truth of the matter is that a sound strategic plan can be executed with a high probability of success, whereas a flawed strategy is almost impossible to execute profitably.

The CEO Has the Ultimate Responsibility for Assuring Strategy Delivery

The emphasis for CEOs needs to be on creating long-term sustainable value for shareholders without sacrificing short-term tactical interests. While in most cases a sound strategy will allow a CEO to have his/her cake and eat it too, if you must sacrifice one over the other, you would be well served to place long-term interests above short-term objectives. History has shown us on many occasions that it is quite possible to win the battle and lose the war. CEOs must learn to fight the battles that need to be won, and not just the ones that are easy to win.

Please read the following statements very carefully…The CEO is often times the chief architect of corporate strategy, and has the ultimate responsibility for assuring the delivery of a strategy, which is consistent with the corporate values and vision. One of the primary duties of the CEO is to communicate, evangelize, and lead the company in the implementation of the corporate strategy. Absent an over abundance of blind luck, a company’s strategic planning process will be critical in the eventual success or failure of the enterprise. CEOs must view themselves as being completely accountable and responsible for the corporate strategy, regardless of whether they were the original architect.

While executives must learn to view strategy and execution as being inextricably linked, they also must come to understand that strategy should always drive tactics. The tendency for some CEOs to let tactics determine the strategy is the classic example of reactive vs. proactive leadership. It also represents a great illustration of letting the tail wag the dog. A lack of strategic focus in dictating tactical initiatives is a ready-fire-aim approach to leadership and will result in higher costs, a perpetual state of chaos, and places a higher emphasis on activity vs. productivity.

There is so much focus on execution these days that it is not uncommon for me to receive a few e-mails each week with headlines that read: “Screw Strategy” or “Tactics before Strategy.” While I’m all for exploiting trends, and I appreciate a good marketing hook as much as the next person, these e-mails from so-called business experts can be both misleading and dangerous to those readers who don’t possess the savvy to understand that they are just being pitched on a product and not being given sound counsel.

As much as some of my direct marketing friends wish it weren’t so, there are certain inevitable truths that do exist in business. Listen, I have no problem with creating velocity and leverage, but as fluid as business is today, most of the “short-cuts to success” being marketed today constitute form over substance. You see business is much like an algebraic formula, in that while there are certainly formulaic short-cuts that can be taken to solve an equation more quickly, the one thing that will provide an incorrect solution 11 times out of 10 is when the order of operation is skewed.

The Successful CEO Strategy Model

The following visual is one I developed more than 20 years ago, and the interesting thing is that it’s applicationally as sound today as it was back in 1988. The orange horizontal line that cuts the image in half is what I refer to as the leadership line. When working above the leadership line you are working “on the business in a true leadership capacity, and when working below the line you are working “in” the business in more of a management capacity.  While all good leaders spend time on both sides of the line, the most effective leaders spend as much time working above the line as possible. Follow this methodology and the ambiguity surrounding the “why” and “where” to spend your time will start to clear itself up. 

CEO Strategy

For those of you familiar with my work, you’ll see that I have consistently espoused that a bias toward action and tactical precision are essential to achieving sustainable success. However, I am also clear in my belief that misguided and ill-timed/advised tactics can also create huge problems for any business. The bottom line is that strategy matters, and that as a CEO, strategy is your responsibility. The challenges associated with leading corporate strategy initiatives are not easy, but neither is the burden of leadership. If you’re not up to task at hand you don’t deserve the title of CEO…it is harsh but true.

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Re-posted with author Mike Myatt’s permission, he runs a great blog at http://www.n2growth.com/blog/ and the original source for this post can be found here:

http://www.n2growth.com/blog/in-support-of-strategy/

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