The Sherlock Holmes guide to SAP Advice
I spent 19 years as an IT Analyst working for Gartner in their ERP Business Applications team and I was 100% focused on SAP.
To handle the 400+ client telephone inquiries and write my 20+ SAP-based research notes each year I felt just like Sherlock Holmes: digging out and analysing all sorts of useful SAP information.
But the SAP ecosystem is huge - with everyone shouting to be heard. So where should SAP customers go to track down the best SAP information today? Well I think that Sherlock would very-likely suggest the following.
The modern-day Sherlock Holmes
Today of course good old Inspector Google has neatly filled the shoes of Sherlock Holmes.
The problem with Google is that we can find tons of stuff – but there’s no guarantee you’ll find quality information.
So what would Sherlock do?
Well he’d suggest that you start your search at the best source for each of the following information types:
- SAP - best for product and service information
- Analyst Companies - best for independent vendor selection advice and high level guidance on practices
- Big Systems integrators - best for SAP project implementation (build) advice and industry experience
- Managed service provided - best for ongoing managed service (run) advice
- Software tools & vendors - specific tools for build and run problem areas
- SAP user groups - general best practices and detailed product advice
- Independent and specialist consultants - focussed, independent advice and detailed best practices
So, “Let’s briefly investigate each one, Watson”.
Should you trust SAP for SAP ECC & S/4HANA advice?
SAP needs no introduction, as it’s the hub of the whole SAP ecosystem.
But SAP’s acquisition trail has resulted in an incredibly broad range of products (“Solutions”, in marketing speak), consulting services, and support services.
SAP customers and consultants alike have always complained loudly to me about SAP’s frequent renaming of these (“Remake, remodel”, to quote Roxy Music!).
This ever moving terminology makes it difficult to distinguish new and important product information from the marketing spin.
The other classic problem is that, in a dynamic market, SAP often changes its product roadmaps, making customer roadmap and life cycle planning incredibly challenging.
SAP.com and support.sap.com are just two of the bigger, most-established, customer portals but there have been many others.
To simplify this, SAP recently announced a new, single entry point for all customer product, license and support information. This “digital companion” is called SAP for Me, me.sap.com.
What all this means is while SAP might be a good starting point for your research, it’s always worth getting a second opinion.
Analyst Companies - A good source of high-level SAP and S/4HANA advice
For analyst companies offering independent research and advice, (e.g. Gartner, Forrester, IDC) SAP-related issues form a significant part of their client activity.
But in my experience, Analysts are much better at some of these issues than others.
Analysts are excellent for predicting future direction and trends of IT, e.g. cloud adoption, AI/ML use cases and the impact of digital transformation.
And, they are very effective when the SAP customer has to do any form of vendor selection, especially application software, integration software, BI, infrastructure as well as service providers for Build or Run type activities in the SAP life cycle.
Analysts provide some high-level life cycle best practices to SAP customers, but they are not effective at advice for the many detailed issues and challenges experienced in the SAP life cycle.
Big SAP System Integrators - Your only choice S/4HANA migration or SAP ECC projects?
System integrators (SIs) are experts at guiding SAP customers through big, risky, implementation (Build) projects. This is especially true for customers new to SAP.
SIs have their own methodologies for handling really difficult issues, such as organizational change management, business case formulation and industry-specific functionality.
SAP acts as an SI itself sometimes, typically for their largest customers, often for joint or custom developments or brand-new product implementations. SAP MaxAttention is the premium service portfolio from SAP to tackle these engagements.
In my opinion SIs are not good for smaller projects, e.g. rollouts, business process improvements, etc.
This is because they are motivated to sell as many man-days as possible, to maximise their SAP practice utilization.
Be aware of this limitation when reviewing your information type requests.
How to use Managed Service Providers to Run Your SAP and S/4HANA solutions
Managed service providers (MSPs) provide expert outsourcing services to Run the customer’s SAP applications, Basis or infrastructure for a given duration.
Their focus is keeping these SAP assets running reliably and with good performance, as well as resolving end user support incidents.
MSPs can include either a private cloud, or a public cloud hyperscaler infrastructure (especially AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud). Some SIs can also provide an MSP service.
Equally, most MSPs try to sell improvement projects to their customers.
Client feedback that I receive is very mixed about the real ability of an MSP to do small SAP enhancements and improvements reliably or quickly.
Increasingly, clever SAP customers are bringing the important aspects of running their solution (the things that drive competitive advantage) back in-house , and use MSPs just for those functions that simply wouldn’t be cost effective or necessary to-do themselves.
While the 2000s saw offshoring and MSPs become the industry standard, today it’s important to be much more shrewd about what you hand over to these useful, but by no means perfect, service providers.
SAP Software tools vendors for ECC and S/4HANA
There are many software tools vendors in the SAP ecosystem that have spotted a niche in the market, where they can address one or more specific nitty-gritty problems experienced by customers in the SAP life cycle.
I have always called these the SAP “Cool tools” vendors, which customers are usually completely unaware of.
These problems include testing, test data management, archiving, change management, license management, mobile device app development, Basis operations automation, etc.
But, if you are aware of these Cool Tools vendors, then you can quickly focus some of your specific information type requests.
One such cool tool is FusionGraph - a new product which can help you with your ERP roadmapping.
These tools are great for solving specific problems and supporting your wider programme.
SAP user groups - crowdsource S/4HANA and ECC advice
SAP user groups are already very well known, e.g. American SAP User Group (ASUG), or the UK & Ireland SAP User Group (UKISUG).
They provide meetings, collaboration forums and many webinars, which are usually geared to detailed SAP product best practices and industry issues.
They offer excellent value for money, but by necessity are very generalised.
If you are good at networking, many of your information type requests can be addressed through an SAP user group channel, but it can be a slow process.
Independent, and Business-side SAP consultancy - specialised ECC and S/4 programme advice.
I thought I would save the best bit till last…
In my experience we have always been very fortunate here in the UK to have a number of highly experienced SAP application and technical experts who simply don’t want to work for a large organization.
They want to help SAP customers solve some of their most difficult SAP lifecycle challenges, but in a genuinely customer-centric way (without maximizing man-days).
Some of these experts choose to operate as contractors, but many prefer to work for a specialist SAP consulting service provider, so that they can collaborate and develop their career.
Many of your really challenging information type requests can be addressed through specialist consultants.
The benefit of choosing a specialist SAP consultancy is that they are often truly independent. By this I mean they don’t sell SAP or other ERP software licenses. Their only interest is providing you with the best information.
Also, these kinds of consultancies will often specialise in a certain area of expertise - meaning they are often world leaders in what they do.
The compromise of course is that these independent SAP consultancies probably won’t be a one-stop-shop for all your SAP needs like a Systems Integrator.
It might take a little more research and effort on your part to find the perfect smaller independent partner, but in my opinion it’s almost always worth it in the end.
Get the SAP advice you need, completely on demand
Since putting my Gartner Analyst days behind me, I’m proud to have been working with Resulting for the past 3 years.
Resulting are a completely independent SAP consultancy and have conducted some of the most pragmatic research on SAP customer pain points in the industry.
But how can you benefit from this. Well:
If you aren’t sure which SAP tools you need to support your programme
If you aren’t sure whether to believe that SI who’s trying to sell your more licenses
If you’re struggling to understand which SAP information sources to trust
Resulting IT can help with SHERPA - a completely new way to get the impartial SAP advice you need.
SHERPA is SAP Programme Advice on Demand - because you don’t need hand holding, you just need occasional impartial advice from an SAP expert.
It’s not about us running your programme - it’s about someone you can call on, who you can trust, when you need it.
It’s the Dr Watson to your Sherlock Holmes.
You can find out more about SHERPA here.
Dr Derek Prior spent 19 years as an analyst specialising in SAP at Gartner and AMR Research, advising organisations all around the world on SAP strategy and best practices.