Business Solutions with SAP

Creating a Knowledge Centered Learning Organization

April 16th, 2012 by
R3Now Knowledge Management

R3Now Knowledge Management

This is a continuation of Business Transformation for IT Leadership and is part of a journey around Organizational Change Management Inside the IT Support Organization .  To achieve an active, vibrant, knowledge-sharing learning organization requires some baseline understanding of what your goals are.  You need a culture that produces, organizes, disseminates, applies, and then refines information (see the image to the left).

This leads me to the next key point of which few people who call themselves “knowledge managers” have much understanding of –, information management is NOT knowledge management.  But both information management AND knowledge management are critical components of a learning organization.   

Information is the vehicle, knowledge is the destination

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is the application of information, in a particular context, coupled with experience -–, it is NOT in some system.   Information is stored in systems, knowledge is stored in people.  Bill Wood, 2006.

Creating a Knowledge Centered Learning Organization is Really Exciting! (In the Sales Material)

Lots of folks get excited about the idea and even the prospects of creating a learning organization.  Achieving a vibrant learning organization with a knowledge sharing culture can reap huge rewards for a company’s competitive position in the marketplace.

Even the Harvard Business Review has gotten on board and sells a few “knowledge products” of their own.  Their pitch suggests that creating a learning organization leads to competitive business advantage.  After all, when you have a workforce which learns and applies new knowledge, new techniques, new methods to addressing the marketplace you are creating competitive advantage.  It is more than a pitch however and can in fact make a significant impact on your business and organization.

A learning organization requires a social component (people), delivery architecture (technology), and a structured method to share information (process).  By transforming your SAP / IT Organization into a learning organization you are taking the first steps to bridge the gap between an enterprise focus and an external market or customer focus.

A learning organization requires motivation

The Wheels Fell Off My Learning Organization Bus

You’re excited about the possibilities, you announce your thoughts to your leadership, and you can hear a pin drop.  Except for Joe the brown-noser no one is jumping on your bus! Why should they?  It sounds like another fad, another task, something else to monitor.  It sounds like you’re talking about one of their worst fears and frustrations–, you’re talking dynamic cultural transformation and they’re hearing social media and more work.  Your managers are thinking “Have you lost your mind?  How do I manage all this social media stuff when I have to meet my other goals?”  My employees are already frayed, I have 2 employees going through a divorce, one of the two cries half the day and the other is despondent.  Their emotional weight and negative energy are dragging down two of my departments and now I have to play policeman around social media junk?

Get the Employees ON the Bus First (BEFORE You Start to Drive!)

Before you start promoting the idea of creating a learning organization it is important to do this in manageable and incremental steps.  The key is in making sure the key resources are ON the bus before you try to make the trip.  Otherwise it might be a pretty lonely trip with an empty bus!  It is important to get the broader business community in a more accepting posture for your SAP / IT organizational changes by using Change Management Strategies and Knowledge Transfer Processes for a Successful SAP Project 1

Lasting Change Begins at Home

As part of a 3 tier process for transforming your SAP or IT support organization you might begin with Change Management Strategies and Knowledge Transfer Processes for a Successful SAP Project 2 so the business gains greater application maturity.  As part of that internal focus it is just as important to address the How To Steps in the SAP Business Transformation Journey within your SAP IT organization.

The Right Information Right Now

The goal for the first phase is the right information right now within the SAP/IT Organization.  After the internal IT support organization is immersed in information sharing it can then be rolled out systematically to the other two key areas of the Enterprise and then to the broader marketplace.

Build the infrastructure to support a learning organization first

The right approach consists of three tiers which look like concentric circles.  These consist of creating a learning environment within the IT organization itself.  This must include both push and pull tools for collaboration and information exchange.  From there, the ability to build ad hoc and dynamic groups for decision-making, skills use, process insight, and other resource needs become the focus. 

This collaboration approach is the first step to ERP III – Is the Integration of Collaboration the Future of Enterprise Applications?  The three key phases to this organizational transformation include:

  • Make use of collaboration and social media tools within the organization
  • Deploy both push and pull information tools to leverage information resources
  • Create an internal employee skills base (like an internal LinkedIn)

Once the information sharing infrastructure is in place, then you can focus on creating an information consuming culture within your SAP or IT organization.  In other words, build the infrastructure to support a learning organization first!

High Level Steps to Build a Knowledge Based Learning Organization

  1. Build out the push / pull information infrastructure
  2. Make participation part of the goals / review / bonus structure
  3. Pilot this inside the IT organization
  4. Roll out to the entire IT organization
  5. Scale up and modify push / pull infrastructure.
  6. Pilot within a BU or business organization (i.e. begin to converge IT and the business)
  7. Capture lessons learned and adjust then roll out to the broader business community.
  8. Repeat the steps to roll out to the customer base…
  9. Repeat the steps to roll out to broader (possibly targeted) market segments

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Organizational Change Management Inside the SAP IT Support Organization

April 2nd, 2012 by
SAP Business IT Convergence

SAP Business IT Convergence

The last few weeks have focused on the path for IT leaders to become strategic business partners.  Academic research shows that for Sustained Business Value from SAP Business Software you must focus technology implementation efforts on business benefits.  This includes metrics to determine if business goals were achieved by the software implementation effort.

Achieving Business Value from SAP Investment was about case studies which evaluated organizations which applied a business benefits approach.  These case studies determined the business benefits focus also requires organizational change management.  Several years before these case studies I wrote about SAP as a Change Enabler which provides a good summary of what the authors found in their 35 page study. 

On this journey to SAP Enabled Business Transformation for IT Leadership we reviewed some of the senior leadership work by CIO Magazine and their 3 stage competency model of:

  • Internal Focus
  • Enterprise Focus
  • External Focus

Insight and activities to address the Internal Focus area were provided in the How To Steps in the SAP Business Transformation Journey and the Phase 6 RUN SAP ASAP Methodology.  This post will offer insight on taking your SAP or IT organization to the next level.  The focus now is on the Enterprise area with additional efforts to prepare your SAP IT support organization for External focus.

Making SAP About Business Transformation and Business Benefit

To move your SAP organization to the next level means your efforts must take SAP IT Convergence Beyond Business to IT Alignment.  As previously discussed, the Internal Focus in this maturity model is about “keeping the lights on” with your enterprise systems.  The next level requires a deliberate focus on convergence by IT leadership because SAP IT Convergence is About Business Focused Integration–, it is NOT about IT!

IT leaders must be deliberate about working through a full IT competency model–, there are no shortcuts! 

There is no “magical formula” for suddenly transforming your SAP or IT organization into a market and customer focused powerhouse.  It is a methodical path driven by an internal (senior level) champion to move the entire IT organization through the preliminary steps before arriving at the external market / customer / business competitive pressure focus.  Here is the ugly reality, no matter how smart, talented, diligent, hardworking, dedicated, or committed your IT staff are, or how hard you work as a leader, until you gain a trusted peer relationship with the business any externally focused efforts will not be well received.  The good news for many SAP organizations who provided great business resources for your SAP project is that you have a lot of talent to tap into to help bridge the business gap for an Enterprise Focus.

Some of the Steps to Achieve SAP IT Convergence require deliberate efforts at internal SAP support organization transformation.  A few maturity characteristics of that enterprise focus are:

  • SAP and IT staff communications, internally and externally, are more in business language rather than technology.
  • Proactively seeks out new business opportunities.
  • Able to interpret, and then implement, business marketplace requirements by turning them into technology solutions.
  • Adapts to business market conditions.
  • Not worried about the latest “techie buzz” like social media (Twitter, Facebook), cloud, etc. unless there is a direct business marketplace connection.

To be effective you must work at Integrating Business Stakeholders as Part of SAP IT Convergence.  I call a “converged” SAP or IT organization a “Center of Excellence” because it goes far beyond the SAP Center of Expertise.  The SAP Center of Excellence concept should not to be confused with SAP’s “borrowing” of the term in some of the sales literature.  Generally when SAP refers to a “Center of Excellence” they are talking about their “lights on” support oriented “Center of Expertise” where you as the customer take care of some of the support you pay them for.  To achieve this you need continued and ongoing Steering Committee Governance for an SAP Center of Excellence.

Organizational Change for the SAP and IT staff

One of the key arrangements I have seen over the years, which some of the commentators are beginning to explore, is a dual IT organization.  One part focuses on day to day support (“lights on”) while the other part addresses key business needs in the business environment.

1) Create a solid internal “anchor” focus with emphasis on bridging the business perception of any “capability/expectation gap” (Louie Ehrlich, President, Chevron Information Technology Company, and CIO, Chevron Corp).

That capability / expectation gap is related to taking care of the “lights on” IT functions in such a way that IT is effective and reliable.  The internal focus is where IT operates almost like a utility, the electricity is on but we really don’t think about it unless it goes out and then it is a big disruption because it is generally so reliable.

2) Try to develop more internal employee “exchange programs”.  This is an effective approach to build bridges between business and IT.  But it really should go both ways.  Not just IT embedded into the business, but certain business stakeholders embedded into IT.  This is one way to “be deliberate” integrating your IT organization into the business.

Work to create a “converged” IT organization RATHER than an “aligned” IT organization. 

As my previous post on ERP II & ERP III – SAP Business IT Revolution, from a article:

“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…”

Creating a Learning Organization Through Collaboration and Knowledge Management

Another key phase which we may visit in the future is about creating a “learning organization” first within the circles of the SAP IT organization, and then within the broader business community.  This collaboration network will serve as a critical foundation for the third stage, or the “external” focus.  In ERP III – Is the Integration of Collaboration the Future of Enterprise Applications we take a look at Learning Organizations, Knowledge Transfer, and Knowledge Management (rather than information management). 

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Change Management Strategies and Knowledge Transfer Processes for a Successful SAP Project 1

June 24th, 2010 by

Change Management and Knowledge Transfer

Why SAP Process Understanding, Troubleshooting Ability, and Knowledge Transfer Techniques are Missing in SAP or ERP Projects

Because an ERP system like SAP has a single database or a single instance of data, a full process chain of dependencies is developed.  Every organizational function becomes dependent on the process steps before and after it no matter what department or area is responsible (Kallinikos, 2004).  Because of these dependencies, a data error is no longer contained in a single isolated system as in times past.  Each data error, or each problem that occurs has both upstream and downstream consequences and the corrections cannot be made in isolation. Improper configuration or system design can have huge impacts on the amount of effort to correct the data and to maintain the system in an ongoing fashion (Sia and Soh, 2002).

A good consultant’s role on an SAP or other ERP project is to guide the company through design decisions and make the system settings to support those design requirements.  This is usually called the “implementation” process.  During this process they should be focusing on knowledge transfer as well.  However, many of the “consultants” who implement SAP or other ERP systems have little process or troubleshooting understanding (see A Cautionary Tale About SAP Knowledge Transfer).  As a result of this lack of consulting experience, or of the number of fakes in the marketplace, knowledge transfer is usually not sufficient.

Speaking in technical terms may make a consultant SOUND smart or knowledgeable, but it does not mean they ARE smart or knowledgeable. The mark of experience, intelligence, and knowledge is the ability to make the complex or technical seem simple or at least understandable.

For long term business benefit and ROI your implementation vendor must provide consultants with solid overall process understanding.  Without this process understanding, as well as their module specialization, those consultants will not  be able to achieve a process oriented implementation.  If they do not have a process understanding how will they help you realize any process efficiencies or improvements during the design process?  Without the overall process understanding how can they guide your company through the change management process needed for competitive business transformation?

If you fail to demand that the SAP implementation vendor provides strong end to end process consultants your company will struggle with day to day operations after the consultants are gone.  Without those strong end to end process consultants your transition to proficiency with the system will take much longer and be more difficult.  In the end any increases in productivity, or in business value will take much longer to realize, if you ever realize them.

SAP systems are typically implemented for business transformation.  That transformation generally is related to process improvements, automation, and customer focus; to address competitive pressures and business value propositions.  One of the most important components of that business transformation effort is the change management and knowledge transfer (however you describe those activities).

Achieving SAP Maturity by Using the Correct Knowledge Transfer Techniques

Business transformation and change management techniques are often described by many different names:  knowledge transfer, learning organizations, sustainment, production support, knowledge management, agile enterprises, etc.

There are a number of quality change and training programs available for SAP projects but few of them achieve a level of competence needed for an SAP Center of Excellence.  As the next post lays out, Change Management Strategies and Knowledge Transfer Processes for a Successful SAP Project 2, change management and knowledge transfer for business transformation requires several activities.  A more complete list of knowledge transfer methods includes:

  1. Transactional processing (typical keyboard training).
  2. Business process understanding (some projects use this method with transaction flowcharts for showing dependencies).
  3. Master data dependencies (few projects do this level of end user training because it is generally the implementation consultants who have this level of understanding).
  4. Operational processing (fewer projects still do this type of training because this is the production support “troubleshooting” type of training that requires seasoned consultants to be on site long enough to help users work through the issues).
  5. Ongoing knowledge transfer activities such as ad hoc troubleshooting meetings with all affected users (work through problems as a group in a conference room).
  6. Continuing communication about tips and tricks after the system is live.

For long term success in the marketplace, beyond the operational excellence proposition, a continuing change and transformation program needs to be undertaken after the system is live.  This requires post production support efforts to begin evaluating real areas of opportunity in the marketplace.  Organizational and business change is no longer an option, as Mike Myatt notes, it is an imperative in today’s global economy (see Leading Change and Change Management

Poor Knowledge Transfer Planning or Methods and Implications for Long Term System Support and Cost

One of the biggest workforce readiness problems with any SAP implementation is that the consultants who implement the system rarely have any significant production support experience.  Without that production support experience, and the end to end process understanding, it is impossible for meaningful knowledge transfer techniques you need for long term success.  Without the understanding of support they are unable to address items 4, 5 and 6 listed above.  And without that complete level of knowledge transfer organization maturity takes much longer.

That lack of production support experience (and I do not mean the month or two after go-live, but longer term support) means these consultants don’t know how to design a solution that avoids some of the “lessons learned” from the past.  They do not know how to prevent you from “driving off the road” with your solution after you go live because they have never had to live with the decisions and “solutions” they have provided.  Most of the consultants who come to these projects do not understand how to untangle, resolve, or fix problems that occur in the system when it is productive (cf. Scott and Sugar, 2004).  Because they aren’t even aware of what to expect in a live environment they don’t have any basis to transfer that knowledge of troubleshooting techniques or methods to you as the customer.  As a result your support pains may be far greater and last much longer than you anticipate.

This same lack of consultant experience with post-production issue resolution prevents them from being able to transmit operational understanding to you, the client.  In other words, consultants without deep and broad experience are not capable of ensuring you have a relatively smooth go-live.  So not only do they fail to design solutions that are more streamlined or automated, they have little ability to ensure you have a smooth go-live experience.  When you combine this lack of support experience with the number of outright fakes and frauds in the SAP consulting space it is no wonder there are so many unhappy ERP customers (see Screening Methods to Find the Right SAP Consultant Part 1).

My experience has been that consultants who lack this broad and deep experience with production support rarely know what needs to be tested before the system is live.  And without adequate testing you can expect to find ongoing data and system design or setup problems for some time after you go live.

How Do You Remedy the SAP or ERP Knowledge Transfer Plans and Methods to Support Change Management Processes?

  1. If the consultants speak in overly technical terms, have a language barrier, or if there is a lack of overall process understanding ask your SAP implementation vendor to replace them (see Screening Methods to Find the Right SAP Consultant Part 2).  Speaking in technical terms may make a consultant SOUND smart or knowledgeable but it does not mean they ARE smart or knowledgeable. Baffling the uninitiated with technical jargon is a classic smokescreen to mask inexperience and incompetence. The mark of experience, intelligence, and knowledge is the ability to make the complex or technical seem simple or at least understandable.
  2. Communicate to ALL internal company project members before the project begins that they will be responsible for long term support and training of end users.  Let them know that they must immediately notify project management if any consultant(s) have significant barriers to transferring knowledge or understanding.  This must be communicated early in the project because by the time the knowledge transfer for training begins it will likely be very disruptive and risky to make the needed resource changes.
  3. If you need to remove a consultant don’t wait until the timeline is so tight it would create a significant project risk. Include a contract provision that if a consultant is replaced for lack of skill, language barriers, or other reasons related to skill, performance, or ability to ensure knowledge transfer that a credit for at least the prior 4 week’s billing is due (four weeks is reasonable for you to discover the problems and is not unreasonable to insist on a credit).
  4. Avoid customized or technical solutions for anything except mission critical requirements or for solutions that directly address business goals and marketplace competitive pressures (see SAP Implementation Focus, Software Engineering or Business Process Engineering?).
  5. Use the RFI and RFP process to solicit comments, methods, tools, and resource examples of how knowledge transfer will be handled.  Be sure to leverage a Request for Information process and the RFP process as an educational experience (see Breakthrough Project Success: 3 of 4, Vendor Selection and Contracts).
  6. Use the RFI process to ask for sample consultant resumes, and the RFP process to insist that final resumes for the actual project must be submitted.  Note in the RFP that any non-response may disqualify the vendor.  SAP is mature enough that there is no reason an SAP implementation vendor should have problems providing key resources.
  7. Check with client references from the consultant’s resumes who are submitted (and not the sales pitch references) for application skill, ability to do knowledge transfer and for change management skills.  Learn about  Protecting Yourself from SAP Consulting Fraud.
  8. Construct your services contract with an expectation of knowledge transfer (which I define as “operational independence”) or with a penalty for failing to do so.    For some ideas on how to structure a contract agreement to cover this see the section titled “Operational Independence is the Key Success Criteria or Measure of SAP or ERP Knowledge Transfer” toward the bottom of the post  A Cautionary Tale About SAP Knowledge Transfer.
  9. Be ready for a drop in productivity right after the system goes live.  However this should be a temporary situation and the better the knowledge transfer and change management has been the less pronounced and shorter the duration will be.  If done successfully there should be an improvement in overall productivity after a short (and shallow) initial drop.
  10. As you move into support mode after going live then begin to document the transaction processing steps necessary for fixing, resolving, or troubleshooting problems that arise.  Conduct weekly or bi-weekly training and knowledge transfer sessions to internal employees and provide different tips, tricks, or techniques for problem solving.  During the production support period helpful fixes, reports, or tools will come up to resolve issues.  These should be more broadly communicated.
  11. Monitor progress within each process area and continue to keep the communication program going within the company after the system goes live.


Kallinikos, J. (2004), “Deconstructing Information Packages. Organizational and Behavioral Implications of ERP Systems.” Information Technology and People, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 8-30.

Scott, J. and Sugar, D. (2004), “Perceived Effectiveness of ERP Training Manuals.” Proceedings of the Tenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, New York, pp. 3211-3215.

Sia, S. and Soh, C. (2002), “Severity Assessment of ERP-Organization Misalignment.” Proceedings of the Twenty-Second International Conference on Information Systems, New Orleans, pp. 723-729.

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