Feb 01

SAP Information Interchange OnDemand: Why Your System Integrator Matters

This post is third in a series on SAP Information Interchange OnDemand (SAP IIOD).  The first post covered why SAP IIOD’s model is a better solution than your existing EDI solution.  My previous post covered the steps involved in an SAP IIOD implementation.  In this post, I will explain why it is important to have a qualified system integrator working with you on your SAP IIOD implementation project.

I’m going to be candid with you, dear reader, and give you a peek behind the curtain that ordinarily hides my blog-writing process.  You see, originally this post was going to be entitled, Why First-Mile Integration Matters.  I was going to discuss how the SAP Business Network brought a lot of stability to the EDI on-boarding process because they were experts at what they do (i.e. B2B communications is all they do).  From a macro-economic standpoint, it was a perfect case of specialization. Finally, I was going to postulate that the same logic regarding specialization should apply to the team performing the first-mile integration.  This last part was going to be where I snuck in a sell of DataXstream’s SAP IIOD First Mile Integration Services.  Pretty great idea, right?

Well, a funny thing happened when I started writing this post.  Every opening I wrote, every angle I tried to take, and every graphic I sketched out wasn’t specific to just SAP IIOD First Mile Integration projects.  They applied to every ERP project in which I’ve been involved.  That is when I had an eleventh-hour epiphany  (actually, it was a thirteenth-hour epiphany since I’m writing this sentence a couple hours past my deadline) and decided to insert this post in the narrative.  Don’t worry, I’ll specifically address first-mile integration soon.

The Purpose of a Software Implementation Project

In the most generic of terms, the purpose of almost any software implementation project is to bring computer-based automation to an organization’s business processes.  The driver for such projects usually involve increased productivity (accomplish more), increased capability (accomplish new stuff), reduced costs (do it for less), or some combination thereof.

So, let’s look at a Venn diagram contrasting your company’s business processes handled by the software and the domain of features presented by the software to be implemented.

Logically, the intersection of the sets are the business processes that your organization does that are supported directly by the software.  This is the so-called “low-hanging fruit” of the project because it requires very little change to the business processes and no changes to the existing software functionality to receive any/all of the benefits of software automation.

Unfortunately, there are always some processes that fall outside of the intersection.  Rectifying these exceptions is where the bulk of the software implementation cost and effort is spent.  The ERP Implementation Project arrow at the bottom of the diagram represents the coming-together of a company’s business process requirements and software functionality.  Let’s look at two methods for resolving these gaps:

Business Process Change

The software vendor’s mythical “perfect customers” are the companies whose business processes are perfectly aligned with the software’s delivered functionality.  Whenever you hear of or read a white paper or “success story” about how great a software implementation was, I guarantee you, either the company’s business processes already perfectly matched the functionality provided by the software, or the company modified the way they operated to match the software.

This implementation project is too vanilla (and too unrealistic)

The problem with this Venn diagram is that most companies have a business process or two (or 200) that don’t match the software vendor’s offering and, moreover, are unwilling to change the way they do business.  In some cases it is impossible for off-the-shelf software to accomplish the required tasks due to some highly novel requirements.

Custom Software Development

Enter the other option for reconciling the difference between business process requirements and delivered software functionality: custom software development.

This implementation project has too much custom development

The great part about custom software development is that the resultant software functions exactly the way you need it to.  The problem is that changing the shape of the Venn set (i.e. customizing off-the-shelf software) is quite expensive and risky to do.  A lot of the expense and risk comes from the fact that the custom development is, by definition, a one-off proposition garnering neither the cost savings nor risk reduction that accompanies the commoditization of a technology.

A Hybrid Approach

Truly successful software implementation projects are the ones that strike a balance between business process modification and software customization.  An organization needs to identify the business processes that deliver a competitive advantage and modify and/or create the software to accomplish them.  All other business processes should be modified to fit the best-practices laid out by the software.

Goldilocks Software Implementation Project

But, striking the balance between what business processes to keep and which ones to change is a difficult decision that is best handle by subject matter experts that have been through the process before and are not emotionally attached to the outcome.  That is where a qualified system integrator comes in.

System Integrators Matter

So, based on this analysis, what should a system integrator offer a software implementation project:

  • Knowledge: Your system integrator should have a familiarity with the technology and should be able to demonstrate a proficiency in said technology.  The SI should be filling the gaps in knowledge and expertise that your company has.  Too often SI’s operate as glorified “body shops” that offer little more than a faceless drone that will be shipped off to another project in short order.
  • Wisdom: A good system integrator will provide the wisdom garnered from accumulated experience.  While much of technology has been commoditized, the wisdom of how to appropriately apply technology (e.g. when to modify the process vs. when to modify the code) is something that will never truly be able to be commoditized.
  • Skill: Customers need to demand excellence from their system integrators.  “Good enough” should not be good enough.  A lack of competence cannot be tolerated.
  • Cooperation: The best system integrators work with their clients to craft the best-fit solution.  Too often SI’s are too interested in SLA metrics and profits when their number one priority should be the success of their customers’ endeavors.
  • Integrity: Finally, your SI should be able to stand for what is right, and not just what makes sense on their balance sheet.

If your system integrator brings these skills to the table, it is very likely that a successful software implementation will follow because they will be able to help strike the balance of business process change and custom software.  And when custom software development is warranted, you can feel secure in the knowledge that your SI has the necessary competence to deftly create the custom code for you.  If your SI is lacking in one or more of these areas, my guess is that your software implementation project is less than successful.

Why First Mile Integration Matters

If you made it this far, I want to thank you for your perseverance.  This discussion on why system integrators matter has been a necessary detour to lay some groundwork for my next blog post.  In the next post, I will expand on the software implementation concepts covered in this post and discuss specifically why first-mile integration matters in an SAP IIOD implementation project.


About The Author

Former Partner and Senior Consultant at DataXstream, Craig Stasila played a key role in developing DataXstream. For current information regarding Craig Stasila please see his Linkedin profile.

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