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As more companies engage with providers of SAP managed services, a number of practices and parameters are emerging to define what is, and what isn’t, a good customer experience. Occasionally, the service provider is incompetent and the service delivery is an utter failure. Most of the time, though, the difficulties are more subtle, but still potentially serious. Alternatively, a provider can know what it’s doing, but still fail as a business partner.

As an SAP managed service provider, we have seen how things can go wrong. Many times, customers come to us after a disappointing experience elsewhere. Specifically, SAP Managed Services fails customers in three ways: poor customer support, lack of proactive monitoring as well as communication and project management issues.

Why Companies Opt for SAP Managed Services

Before getting into the causes of failure, it’s worth taking a moment to review why companies opt for
SAP Managed Services in the first place. There are two main drivers of this trend. One is complexity. The other is cost. Together, the cost and complexity of maintaining an SAP landscape on-premises can be overwhelming.

High costs for self-managed SAP come from factors like specialized personnel, dedicated hardware and software licenses. Skilled SAP Basis administrators are hard to find, in any event. Data management, application integration, backup and disaster recovery, among many other factors add to complexity and administrative overhead. Moving SAP to the cloud and having a trusted managed service provider (MSP) take over the heavy lifting of running the landscape starts to make a lot of sense.

Learn more about SAP Managed Services in this free SAP Basis survival guide

Common Pitfalls of SAP Managed Services

Your SAP MSP is, or should be, more than just another vendor. That’s the basis of the relationship, of course, but in order to achieve success with SAP Managed Services, the MSP must be a true business partner. You are running your business on SAP. The MSP must treat the responsibility for managing your SAP landscape with the utmost seriousness. The pitfalls we see in SAP Managed Services are technical in nature, but most of them are rooted in a breakdown in that sense of responsibility on the part of the MSP.

1.     Insufficient support and sub-optimal SAP IT service management

If you see a flexible, smooth-running SAP landscape in the cloud, you should know that a team of people are working hard to make that a reality. Little details matter. A seemingly minor issue can explode into a system-wide outage in a few hours if the MSP is not providing adequate support.

Unfortunately, many SAP managed services providers still rely on the call center model for customer service. Here, untrained operators handle incoming support issues and escalate them to a small crew of SAP experts that is consistently overburdened. Low pay and poor employee morale exacerbate an already problematic situation for the customer.

Call center support, which is based on “queuing theory,” is a common way to handle things like a credit card account or PC help desk tickets, but it’s totally unsuited for the kind of business-critical issues that can arise with SAP. After all, SAP tends to be highly customized. On top of customization, you then have complicating factors such as multi-tiered hybrid clouds, legacy data, custom apps, Business Process Integration (BPI) and on and on.

Under queuing theory, your issue will be assigned to a random SAP consultant, who has no idea what your system looks like. Even a skilled SAP consultant might need hours just to become familiar enough with your system to solve whatever your problem happens to be. The consultant, trying to stabilize your environment, might do a “Band-Aid” type fix that fails to address any root causes. This will only delay the onset of an inevitable follow-on problem.

If you work with an MSP for SAP, it’s necessary to find one who is as serious about customer service quality as it is about issues like hardware sizing and SAP Basis support. Minimally, the MSP should provide direct, round-the-clock access to qualified SAP consultants. Ideally, these consultants should be familiar with your specific SAP landscape.

2. Reactive monitoring

SAP managed services providers who wait for a ticket to appear and then scramble to meet a service-level agreement (SLA) are not doing what it takes to keep your system running right. This is known as reactive monitoring. It’s hard on the support staff, as they are often scrambling trying to fix problems that appear out of nowhere. It’s also bad for you. You could be experiencing outages and slowdowns.

A better approach is to work with an MSP that reviews your system health regularly (i.e. daily/hourly) to review and troubleshoot potential issues before they cause real problems. They might want to assess capacity reports and usage trends. This way the SAP managed services provider makes recommendations before alerts are triggered, and spot things alerts won’t show. This can include demand surges indicating the need for more capacity, or performance deviations that indicate developing hardware failures or to avoid an outage.

3. Poor communication, planning and project management

Delivering SAP as a managed service involves a great deal of communication with the customer. It also means working together to plan changes to the landscape and then managing the change process itself. All three of these areas create vulnerability to the failure of SAP deployments.

This is where the MSP needs to think like a business partner, not just a vendor. ERP decisions are nothing less than strategic business decisions. They rely on customer satisfaction, revenue, productivity and more. Given their importance, the MSP has to communicate effectively—and honestly—with the customer.

Ideally, the MSP will communicate effectively with each level of the customer’s organization. With SAP Basis managed services in particular, the MSP’s client managers and technical consultants should understand how the customer’s business processes interact. They will then configure an ERP landscape that enables competitive advantage.

When it comes to managing change projects in SAP Managed Services, we see difficulties across several key areas, including:

  • A lack of a strategic plan – This scenario might include problems like plunging into a project without thinking about the results of similar efforts in the past. It might mean starting a project without input from major stakeholders, minimizing complexity of various processes involved and so forth.
  • Poor time estimates for project completion – MSPs who know what they’re doing can usually provide a comprehensive schedule for the project. Failure-prone MSPs, in contrast, base estimates on guesses, or even wishful thinking, without consulting key people or previous experiences.
  • Insufficiently defined project scope – A project’s scope is the amount of work it will take to achieve the planned objectives. Scoping errors arise from a lack of definitions and clarity, a lack of project team leadership and unplanned changes in scope. “Scope creep” is a common problem in
    SAP Managed Services. For example, if a migration calls for keeping an existing legacy database, but a decision is suddenly made to migrate to SAP HANA at the same time, that represents a major “creeping” of the project’s scope and the addition of a lot of extra work—which needs to be scheduled and budgeted for.
  • Not enough risk management SAP Managed Services projects come with risks. That’s just reality. An effective, professional MSP helps identify risks, assess their likelihoods and impacts and devise ways of mitigating them.
  • Insufficient testing – Testing is an absolute requirement for a managed SAP landscapes. Everyone tests new configurations, but not all MSPs do a robust enough testing regimen. This means providing (i.e. paying for) sufficient testing resources, hiring the right kind of testers and documenting the results before moving to production.

Working with an SAP MSP

The right SAP managed services provider does more than just run your ERP. The MSP runs a helpline. It manages incident response. It serves as a consultant and a strategic partner. This is a role we have played many times, and continue to play with clients in a variety of industries.  Click here to learn more about how Symmetry can help you achieve success with SAP Managed Services.

Curtis Gaska - Solution Architect

Curtis Gaska is a solution architect on Symmetry's expert SA team, delivering complete SAP® technical solutions from upgrades to complex landscape implementations. Curtis pairs his sound SAP technical expertise with sales skills to knowledgably advise clients, and prospective clients of Symmetry’s services and product offerings throughout each stage of the sales cycle.

Curtis has a unique ability to deliver technical knowledge to create customs solutions per the client requirements, by not only taking the technical specifications into consideration but also the business drivers particular to that organization in turn creating an optimal SAP environment. This skilled approached includes scoping, planning, and execution of various projects including Migrations/Upgrades/Installs, Hosting and ongoing Managed Services. He also stays abreast of the latest technologies such as road mapping solutions for client’s to leverage SAP HANA® in their current environment to then be hosted in Symmetry’s state-of- the -art Datacenter.