Business Solutions with SAP

Tactics, Strategy, ROI, TCO and Realizing Business Benefit from SAP

August 26th, 2009 by

Tactics, Strategy, ROI, TCO and Realizing Business Benefit from SAP

When implementing or upgrading SAP too often I encounter back yard mechanics who changed the oil on someone’s cars and checked the tire pressure–, somehow they think that qualifies them to do engine overhauls on Formula 1 race cars.

And just in case the analogy doesn’t seem to make sense, why again do you expect old-style implementation vendors and consultants to transform your business into a competitive powerhouse by only addressing cost-focused ROI and TCO methods?

What About SAP and ERP Cost Savings for ROI and TCO?

Sure, cost-savings and process improvements are critical today, and they can not be ignored or dismissed on any ERP project, but they can NOT be the key focus of the project either if you expect your company to gain any marketplace competitive advantage.

No wonder survey after survey shows C-level executives disappointed by the return on their ERP investments. If you want Formula 1 results in the marketplace, use Formula 1 approaches, methodologies, vendors, and consultants on your SAP implementation or upgrade. I must warn you though, most consultants and vendors are clueless at how to do anything but take you down the same old tired cow paths to marketplace obscurity.

A cost based ROI or TCO implementation or upgrade approach will never make you a winner in the marketplace.

It’s certainly important to save you a few bucks and reduce some of your overhead, but you can only squeeze so much out before something else has to give. There is nothing about it that makes you unique that can’t easily be copied by all of your other competitors in the marketplace. Worse still, sometimes when you are the first to implement all of these new process improvements and automation methods your competitors get your lessons learned on what worked and what did not when it comes time to modify their own processes.[FN1] You pay the R&D premiums for the trial and error which they receive the benefit of in lower costs and reduced time. Sure, they may lag a little behind but in today’s world I can assure you they are not that far behind.

With today’s globally competitive environment focusing on cost-based metrics alone will not make you win in the market unless that cost decrease is a game changer. Many of today’s modern companies are in the last few miles of business process improvement in system design–, the last few miles of “better, faster, cheaper” ways of doing business. The drive to reduce cost has become so extreme that to squeeze the last few pennies out of products and services companies now outsource entire factories, plants, and operations to Third World countries. But now everyone is doing that too.

Except for some game changing process transformation (which is not likely) the last few miles of process improvement yield the smallest gains at the highest cost. ALL of these ROI and TCO methodologies use lagging indicators to measure success. And lagging indicators will not provide you with the forward business benefit you need to win in the marketplace.

Dusty Old Trails – Why ERP Implementations Focused on Cost

The herd mentality is alive and well with ERP implementatoin vendors. Marching down the ROI and TCO road all I find are the same old worn-out cow paths cut in the brush that everyone wants to follow. In the technology arena, known for innovation, cutting edge transformation, and forward thinking, these old dusty paths are silly. Sure, these implementation vendors try to re-package their offerings, try to suggest a focus on ROI, but they only understand cost-based lagging indicators because they don’t truly understand business.

The Perfect Lagging Indicator of Cost Control

Here’s an extreme example of why these methods are dangerous, unless there is a significant improvement in cost without a significant impact in operations or marketplace competitiveness.

It is the PERFECT lagging indicator or the “perfect” accounting scenario. It is a set of perfectly balanced books, with no deviations, no discrepancies and no risks. It is the model of absolute simplicity. The books close immediately with no lag, and they always balance to the penny. It is the company with no employees, no inventory, no products, no services, no buildings, no assets, no expenditures, no shareholders, no nothing. It is an empty, hollow shell. But that is the “perfect” lagging indicator of accounting and financial performance. It’s also an extreme illustration of some of the silliness in the marketplace around ROI and TCO for an implementation.

Cost savings are an important part of any implementation or upgrade. But unless the cost savings are dramatic, unless they provide you with a major improvement in the “operational excellence” value proposition, they are often hardly worth the effort. Using lagging indicators such as cost-based measures of implementations or upgrades does little to alter a company’s competitive landscape.

The last few miles of process improvement (i.e. cost reductions) yield the smallest gains at the highest cost.

So why won’t it work? Unless you have huge process improvement gaps either as an industry, or compared to your competitors, you just don’t gain that much from process improvement initiatives alone. Should you avoid it? Of course not, it would be both silly and absurd to suggest you should not take on process improvement initiatives. Every little bit helps, there’s no denying that. But without dramatic changes most process improvement initiatives are little more than tactics when your business needs strategies to address your competitive pressures and revitalize your value proposition. And then this needs to be translated into your SAP ERP or CRM implementation–, you need solid, strategy-based IT solutions!

SAP’s Rarely Used Tools and Techniques for Strategic ERP Implementation

It’s always shocking to me to find out how many vendors, consultants, and sales people have no idea about the value and strategy tools and resources SAP provides. And of the few that do, most of them have little idea or understanding on how to use them because they are not experts, they are merely technicians. Along the way they’ve found or developed their one or two “wrenches” and they’ve found “cool” ways to convince you their tire pressure gauge is the best at working on your race car. They’re not Formula 1 mechanics they are oil changers.

With so many vendors and consultants who are not aware of the SAP value and strategy tools, or how to use them, how can SAP customers be aware of them? Few vendors or consultants understand business strategy, competitive pressures, value propositions, and how to integrate them into an SAP implementation of the ERP package or CRM. They know how to change oil and and show you their cool tire pressure gauges. Sure, they’ve got slick presentations to try to convince you their wrench or pressure gauge is really a super-secret James Bond gadget that can do magic, but if that were the case there wouldn’t be so many frustrated C-level executives over the lack of ERP results.

Now that SAP is a very mature product with significant market penetration the focus of the conversation is changing. CIOs, CFOs, and CEOs are now starting to cut back on their SAP budgets, ignoring upgrade requirements, running to alternate support vendors, and generally have little or no desire to go through a painful upgrade process. And the number one reason why this is all happening is because C-level executives are not seeing the return promised by all those implementation vendors.

For over 10 years that I know of many of these tools and techniques have been available freely to customers and vendors in one form or another. Even though they are not used nearly as often as they should be, SAP continues to develop and invest in them but somehow they keep getting missed. While all of those consultants and implementation vendors are out there tuning up their oil changing techniques, and trying to build better tire pressure gauges, the market marches on and C-level executives continue to challenge the ERP paradigm.

The Future of SAP is in Leading Indicators of Business Success Like Customer Acquisition, Customer Retention, and Revenue Generation

Surveys of CIOs routinely show that top priorities for their IT department spend is to focus on business related issues like customer acquisition, customer retention, profitability, etc. And implementation vendors are unable to articulate how an SAP implementation or upgrade can enable that to happen. SAP provides the tools and resources to make that happen but no software company can change the skills, talents, and abilities of the implementation vendors or their consultants. That is up to the educated ERP consumer to ensure they are actually getting what they are paying for.

Significant SAP and ERP Success Criteria will not Change Until Business DEMANDS that Fakes and Frauds are Removed from the Marketplace

Business must become more savvy at “looking under the hood” of their implementation vendors. Vendor claims must be more carefully evaluated and the skills of the consultants they provide more thoroughly vetted.

To this day I’m still shocked by the number of resumes I see which show some 5 – 10 years, and 3 or more full lifecycle implementation projects in a country where the individual making these claims can barely understand or speak the language. Again I have to ask how did they lead the requirements discussions sessions to know what needed to be set up? And how do they lead meetings and discussions related to markets, company direction, or required processes to support your business? And who wrote their portion of the blueprint or logged their issues or resolved complex process and integration problems that came up during the project? Just exactly how does someone who barely speaks the native language of the company they are performing the work for take care of the communication intensive knowledge transfer and change management activities? Are you getting the picture here? [FN2]

In other words, do you really have to wonder why your implementation didn’t deliver to your expectations when so many of the consultants you bring onto your project can hardly understand the language?

It’s a testament to SAP’s ability to deliver methodologies like ASAP, Best Practices, and other materials that there aren’t more lawsuits for all of the outright fraudulent “consultants” with completely fake resumes in the marketplace.

Is it any wonder there is little genuine business awareness on what tools and techniques SAP offers to take your business to the next level?

Too often these vendors and their consultants are just like the carnies at the County fair on the midway hawking their “better, faster, cheaper” midway games to the unwary. And just like those carnies, they’ve got lots of slick marketing, slick packaging, and supposed unique methodologies and approaches to solve your problem and deliver to you cost-reduction based ROI.

They replace your legacy transaction systems with future legacy transaction systems in the form of your SAP implementation. But they have no idea on how to use the tools and techniques SAP provides to realize value based on a strategic implementation method.

SAP Tactics, Strategies, or Both?

So here we are, back to the old back yard mechanics, the ones who checked their tire pressure and changed the oil on a few cars but want to overhaul a Formula 1 race car engine. Good luck!

Doing research for an upcoming book on using a strategy based implementation or upgrade approach to SAP I’ve read probably thousands of pages of academic articles, research information, and company websites about “ROI” with IT systems, and more directly, “ROI” with ERP implementations. Maybe one percent (1%) of the material I read contains any substance about strategic options for ERP. This seems to be a “mystical subject” where the Formula 1 mechanics can’t be found so companies continue to rely on tire checkers and oil changers to overhaul their race cars.

Companies undertaking an ERP implementation will continue to be disappointed until they begin to demand the Formula 1 teams and realize they may cost a little more than the backyard mechanics. They will be disappointed until they begin to demand real business consultants from the marketplace who understand and can communite about competitive pressures, value propositions, and change management about the SAP application in terms of:

  • Knowledge transfer
  • Change management
  • Competitive pressures
  • Marketplace performance
  • Supply chain integration with the customer
  • Customer experience
  • Customer or sales conversion
  • Product or service innovation
  • Niche markets
  • Joint venture opportunities
  • Product or service portfolios

and a whole host of business issues that the application can enable. That list contains BUSINESS issues, not application issues. How is a company going to achieve real breakthroughs in SAP or ERP implementations or upgrades with-out focusing on business reasons for the system? And even if you do, you still need to find the vendors and consultants who understand how to translate these business-centered strategic initiatives into application solutions.

Why, why do you buy a Formula 1 race car and then bring in backyard mechanics to work on it?

Some of the research I read is plainly misplaced, it is more like marketing material for the backyard mechanics claiming they have the answer to working on your Formula 1 racer. One research piece that tried to make the case that just improving processes alone “supports” goals of revenue and profit growth. Sure, that’s a marginally true statement, but business doesn’t just need the “support” that process improvement offers (unless there are large improvements), business needs a new IT focus.

That same research paper went on to explain that business should not be cutting back on ERP IT spend during tough economic times. And while I agree, it is for an entirely different reason. ERP IT spend should be preserved, but with a new focus and direction. That direction is on strategic implementation and upgrade directed at business benefit along with the tactical cost-based process improvements. [FN3] In other words, IT spend should be focused on producing business centered solutions and results, not just replacing transaction systems with cool new best practice processes.



[FN1] Change How You Look at SAP to create ROI

[FN2] Screening methods to find the right SAP consultant

[FN3] Why SAP Projects Fail to Deliver ROI (and how to change it)

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Using SAP to Improve Revenue and Profitability

January 17th, 2009 by

SAP ROI - Increasing Revenue and Profitability

For years CIOs have been under pressure to help cut costs, improve operational efficiencies, and automate the enterprise; CIOs implementing SAP have largely been effective at streamlining the back-office. They’ve also succeeded at optimizing the extended supply chain because SAP is well-suited to supporting execution activities, and therefore have been a good fit for reducing costs. However, times are changing.

 To successfully move IT and SAP in the direction of revenue and profitability growth it is important to understand where technology fits into the puzzle–, technology is not magic. When SAP is considered in its proper context as a “change enabler” or “change lever” rather than a “change driver” it is easier to understand how and where it can properly fit into a revenue and profitability context. In other words, technology works best when the rules, metrics, criteria, and the means to acquire, process, or analyze information which supports revenue and profitability are understood and defined. Organizations take on large projects like SAP or any other ERP system to achieve several business benefits, often those might include:

* Revenue growth
* Profit margins
* Customer acquisition and retention
* Sales conversion
* Customer profitability
* Product / product line profitability
* Incentive programs and monitoring
* Market penetration / market share
* Marketing program performance
* “Smart” growth (i.e. “good” customers vs. “bad” customers)
* Time to market

And even though these are the expectations companies have for their ERP or SAP implementation, upgrade, or other applications they rarely achieve these goals because they are looking at the application and technology investment in the wrong way.  They are looking at the technology as if somehow it will cause these things to happen rather than providing the key insights and information that management needs to enable them to happen.  Even though that is not said, when companies invest millions in SAP that is the underlying assumption that somehow the technology will just “cause” revenue and profitability increases.

For example, no amount of technology is going to make your sales people sell more if they are paid on salary, without commissions, and do not have objective sales targets and other performance measures. This comes back to the old adage of “what gets measured gets done” and it is no different with the sales force. However, depending on how you structure your sales and marketing programs SAP contains a number of tools, reports, resources, and other data analysis methods as well as bolt-ons like CRM to facilitate a change in sales and marketing programs and strategies.

In other words ERP, SAP, CRM, APO, BI, and all of the other technology tools must be driven by business needs, and to provide key information relevant to business decisions and processes to ensure success.  And even though that seems self-evident it is still not occurring even to this day at many organizations who implement these technologies.  They often start out with that ideal, however they usually get caught up in the technology and lose sight of the business drivers. 

Since doing SAP project work since 1994 I can only recall a couple of projects where the client spelled out the business drivers, and then communicated and reinforced them to the project team and the larger organization throughout the project.  If the project team performing the implementation does not know the underlying business drivers, or the reasons for the investment, how will they build those expectations into the technology?

What are the CIO and SAP Roles in Revenue and Profitability?

It is healthy that C-Level sponsors are beginning to press IT in the direction of supporting revenue growth and profitability, however, SAP by its nature is part of the execution processing and post-execution analysis process. This is where the expectation of driving revenue and profitability with SAP has to be decoupled from corporate planning and execution. The business side of the equation must be defined first, this supports the business case which in turn drives the technology in the direction of enabling necessary change.

The senior management discussions for the this global ERP system must be focused on what information and processes the organization needs to make the right management decisions, to be more competitive, to focus on the wider marketplace.

In many implementations the reason SAP works to reduce costs is because the reductions are based primarily on improving and integrating operational and accounting execution activities. Using SAP to drive revenue and profitability growth requires building another layer of data collection, data analysis, “tools,” and processes on top of the operational data that is processed. To work correctly this new revenue and sales support layer must be built on well defined sales and marketing programs and strategies that are then converted into processes with clear performance metrics and KPIs. A focus on process improvement, business process automation, efficiency gains, cycle-time reductions, and other business process management related issues is not enough.

Sales and marketing must do their part in integrating their strategies into clearer plans, programs, metrics, KPIs, and other measurable criteria that can then be executed on with IT / SAP supporting these processes. ERP systems like SAP do not exist in a vacuum; they are dependent on data from plans, strategies, and historical analysis based on some concrete or perceived KPIs and business metrics. Until a company’s customer touch points (sales, marketing, customer service, shipping, etc.) are able to provide quantifiable plans, goals, metrics, and KPIs for what is important, it is difficult for SAP initiatives to directly affect revenue and profit.

I’ll bet many C-level executives in SAP shops didn’t know that the ERP application contains standard functionality to integrate sales planning, sales forecasting, marketing expenditures, and product or service execution with financial budgeting and multiple dimensions of profitability. For example, over the years I’ve worked on clients that have used one or more of the following methods from standard or enhanced SAP functionality (and there are many, many more possibilities):

· Points loyalty program (ERP pricing and SIS or CRM)
· Trade Promotions Programs (CRM, bolt-on, or custom ERP app)
· Marketing Effectiveness (CRM, custom reporting, BI/BW)
· e-sales with catalogs and configurable products (R3 Internet Sales or CRM – they use the same backend)
· Sales or Marketing program budgeting (ERP CO and internal orders with SD user exits)
· Sales forecast to actual (ERP Sales and Operations planning, CRM, BI/BW)
· Order templates (Generic quotes as templates, ERP, R3 Internet sales, CRM)
· Potential Planning (customer potential buying and planning against marketing plan – ERP, CRM)
· Ticklers, Marketing, Sales activities and campaigns (limited ERP functionality or with CRM)
· Customer churn (standard ERP functionality, custom report, BI/BW, or CRM)
· Customer $$ sales growth, month over month, year over year (SAP ERP functionality, custom report, BI/BW, or CRM)
· Order frequency trends (standard SAP functionality, custom report, or with CRM)
· Upselling, cross-selling, product allocation, substitutions, free goods (standard SAP ERP functionality).
· Web based reports and mobile device sales support (ERP mobile device functionality or CRM)
· Commissions and incentives (SAP ERP functionality or CRM).

One of the things the companies that have implemented these solutions and others had in common was there were already reasonably well defined sales and marketing processes and programs in place. As a result, the SAP technology was used as a change lever to enhance and improve those existing processes and programs to achieve a measure of revenue growth, profitability, and competitive advantage.

Where to begin with a business and market centered approach to SAP?

  1. Develop your longer term business plans, define marketing and competitive pressures along with current and future value proposition(s).
  2. Define the business strategies to support them.
  3. Determine the goals that support those strategies.
  4. Derive your KPIs for those goals. To be successful these KPIs must include both lagging indicators (financial) and leading indicators (pointing to growth).
  5. From those metrics and KPIs determine which business processes and departments will be affected, sales, customer service, shipping, marketing, etc.
  6. Define the necessary reports that will be needed to report on those goals and KPIs. These reports should use both leading and lagging indicators.
  7. Operationalize the strategy by defining the processes that will support them.
  8. Assign responsibility for the reporting requirements to the proper department heads.
  9. Create an internal progress communication process.
  10. Implement the necessary technology solution(s) to support the new paradigm (SAP BI, SAP CRM, SAP ERP functionality, etc.)

By following these steps you will see business centered results that are enabled or empowered by technology, not the other way around. Below are some examples of key ideas for defining strategy, processes, and technology to help with revenue growth and profitability. While in no way comprehensive the following outline provides some steps to begin on this journey. Some type of plan or steps to produce metrics which can be turned into an IT and CIO supported system strategy for revenue and profitability growth are listed.

1. Senior executive sponsorship is needed to drive integration of sales, marketing, and customer service processes. Many of them can be very difficult to “pin down” on key measures for sales and marketing drivers. Without C-level direction here it will be difficult at best to achieve and impossible at worst.

2. Set clear expectations of cooperation between those processes which “touch” the customer.

3. Determine how baselines and benchmarks for KPIs will be determined. The best baselines, benchmarks, metrics, and KPIs will require interdepartmental support. Some of the KPIs, though not all, should be outside of the silo. For example, some of the KPIs should cross over sales and marketing together. Some should cross over sales and customer service, or shipping, etc. The more the KPIs are structured within a silo the more possibility there is for finger-pointing and deflection. It has to be everyone’s job to promote revenue and profitability.

4. Senior level sales and marketing managers must set specific KPI’s, strategies, and plans around customer “touch points” as they relate to revenue generation and profitability. For example:
  a. What processes or sales functions require your sales force to be in the office rather than in the field? How can these be automated or delivered remotely?
     i. Web based?
     ii. Hand held?
     iii. E-delivery through automated e-mail notices or text messages?
  b. What are important new markets and how do you conduct pilots or rollouts to new markets?
     i. Do you have preferred customers as partners who would be willing to cooperate and “pilot” new product or market rollouts?
  c. What about new products?
     i. Do you know what your concept to engineering to market to customer cycle times are?
     ii. Where are the bottlenecks in each of these sub-processes?
     iii. How can they be streamlined?

5. How will you measure customer retention, customer loyalty, and most of all, conversion of retained or loyal customers to actual sales? (after all, what difference does it make if you have retained and loyal customers if they don’t buy more of your products, or pay for premium services or products?)
  a. Do you have (or need) some type of metrics around defining “good” customers (high revenue or sales compared to the cost of doing business) vs. “bad” customers (low revenue or sales compared to the cost of doing business).
  b. How do you measure customer “churn” or attrition of “good” customers?
  c. How do you measure sales growth into the existing customer base?
     i. How do you segment or stratify that data, by product line, by geography, or by customer sales volume?
  d. How do you target new customer acquisition?
     i. In spite of what some salesmen may say, companies do not sell “everything” to “everyone,” so what are your target markets?
     ii. What are your key criteria to focus your sales efforts on your target markets?
     iii. Where are your “invest” opportunities for sales growth and how do you measure the effectiveness of that investment?
     iv. How do you integrate marketing, sales, and customer service into customer acquisition?

6. Define processes and reporting points for each of the key customer “touch” points, whether it is sales, marketing, service and support, or new product / new market entry.

7. What is your strategy for getting company knowledge about products or services closer to the customer?
  a. Are you tracking service or repair trends?
     i. Do you have standard defect codes or service delivery categories?
     ii. Do you have a solution database?
  b. How is engineering, R&D, or new product development integrated into the sales, marketing, and support feedback cycle?

8. What tools do you need to capture customer intelligence based on contacts, visits, and other information traditionally maintained in CRM systems?

9. What external data sources and information do you need for customer acquisition?

These and many, many more questions must be answered within your sales, marketing, and customer service organizations to drive strategies, plans, programs, and ERP investment opportunities for increasing revenue and profitability.

Once you define your revenue and growth plans and strategies, determine the key metric for how performance will be measured by developing a set of KPIs. From this set of KPIs, and from the plans and strategies that are developed, take the time to prioritize them based on a simple cost / benefit analysis. What costs the least (in terms of time, cash, resources, etc.) and has the biggest payback? Depending on your business, you may weight some of the cost factors differently, but try to keep the priority process as objective and clear as possible by creating some type of scoring protocol. Using some type of objective method to prioritize will help to keep the politics, personalities, and emotion out of the process. The approach may not produce a perfect result, but it will be focused on results rather than personalities.


Please see the article on Screening Methods to Find the Right SAP Consultant. This type of process analysis, business strategy, and help with development of the best possible plans for implementing your SAP solution is exactly why SAP consultants with real experience are necessary.

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