Sapdup Blogging about SAP

19May/100

SAP Support in ‘the Cloud’

This is the first in a series of two posts (can two posts be a series?) about SAP and Cloud Computing.  In this post I’ll be talking about services, and specifically SAP Support delivered ‘from the cloud’.

Before I get too far I think it’s worth throwing a few definitions out there and suggesting a working definition for my posts.

University of California Berkeley

Cloud Computing refers to both the applications delivered as services over the Internet and the hardware and systems software in the datacenters that provide those services. The services themselves have long been referred to as Software as a Service (SaaS), so we use that term. The datacenter hardware and software is what we will call a Cloud.

Gartner

A style of Computing where scalable and elastic IT capabilities are provided as a service to multiple customers using Internet technologies

IDC

An emerging IT deployment, development and delivery model enabling real time delivery of products, services and solutions over the Internet.

Those definitions seem to me to go from a pretty narrow definition where Cloud Computing is the hardware (Berkeley), to IDC’s where Cloud Computing is just a ‘model’ where pretty much anything delivered over the internet can be called Cloud Computing.

I’d like to take a line more similar to Gartner’s definition.  Their use of the wording ‘IT capabilities’ also lets me talk about the topic of this post, Support.

In this post I’m talking about Support, not Services.  The primary service (other than support) that exists in the SAP world is consulting.  Having consultants log into your system remotely isn’t cloud computing in my opinion since theoretically consulting isn’t something that should be repeated, so shouldn’t benefit from scalability, agility and long term cost reduction.

It may be useful to divulge my background for infrequent readers of this site.  After a few years as an SAP Consultant for Hewlett-Packard I took a role in the UK as Service Delivery Manager for one of HP’s clients, Proctor & Gamble.  For a number of years Proctor & Gamble had outsourced all of their IT support and IT provision to HP, retaining only their data centres (this may have changed since I left in 2008).  I am now the SAP Support manager for Auckland City Council (approximately 2.5k SAP users).

What is SAP Support

SAP Support is the provision of support to SAP end users allowing them to execute their roles in an efficient, compliant and cost effective manner.  SAP Support for me is about providing the best support you can at the best price to allow customers to realise their investments in SAP.

While projects are important, the ability to deliver on a project’s business case depends primarily on the post Go-live support.  Whether this is internal or external is not necessarily important.

Benefits of SAP Support ‘in the Cloud’

Firstly, I hate the use of the phrase ‘in the Cloud’.  “The Cloud” doesn’t exist.  It makes much more sense to talk about ‘SAP Support in external vendors’ or ‘SAP Support by IBM’.  But that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!

Scalability.  This is the single most important benefit.  Regardless of whether any of the other four are valid, this will always be true (as long as you pick the right provider).  At HP, getting an additional FTE to support a particular module for a month or two was the matter of a few emails and a couple of days.  Internally, there are business cases to be written and signed off before recruitment can even begin.  The average recruitment process can take a minimum of eight weeks and then you’re lucky if you even find someone appropriate.  In those eight to ten weeks, you may have missed the opportunity that was there in the first place.  Many are the times I’ve said, “sorry, we can’t do it” simply because I live with these realities.

Efficiency.  The flipside to scalability as I’ve discussed above is efficiency.  When support requirements drop, you can drop your FTE numbers.  Forget redundancies and the associated human capital costs of letting people go, it might even be completely without penalty depending on your contract.

Improved Quality.  Since you’re drawing from a larger pool of resources, the quality of those individuals should be higher.  Even if this is not the case, their support frameworks (knowledge management, peer support etc) will usually be better than anything you could foster internally.

24x7 Support.  One thing I’ve almost forgotten working for a local 9x5 organisation is the need for 24x7 support from large multi-national organisations.  Using the likes of HP, Axon or IBM means that you can leverage their global support offices for ‘follow the sun’ support. Though you’re likely to pay through the nose for it.

Lower Cost. This is one that I find at the top of most people’s lists and I find spurious.  It is possible to make Cloud Computing lower cost, but it must be tightly controlled and the right resources need to be retained in house to drive these efficiencies.

Drawbacks of SAP Support ‘in the Cloud’

Reduced Control. No list of drawbacks or cons to Cloud Computing would be complete without this at the top of the list.  With support, this comes down to picking and choosing resources for tasks.  At HP we had it written into the contract that the resource assigned to specific work could not be dictated by the customer.  So the customer could only comment on performance.  This was not a frequent problem since resources all tended to be of a high standard, but our very fast turnover was a frustration to the customer.

Loss of Knowledge. Take the decision to externalise support very carefully, because once you do it and you allocate staff to other areas it is very difficult or impossible (read: costly) to reverse the change.

Support is a Commodity. In the cloud you are just one of hundreds of customers.  Delivery to each customer is measured against Service Levels and contracts.  Expect Account Managers to decide they can take a hit on missing your Service Levels to ensure they don’t miss a crucial (read: costly) SLA for another customer.  This model of support also means that vendors are unlikely to develop in depth business understanding in their support staff.

Security.  While the majority of Cloud Computing security concerns exist with the actual hosting of solutions, it should be considered in regards to support also.  At one extreme, consider the defence forces.  I worked for NZDF once.  I had to pass a security clearance and then had access to various pieces of information about their equipment, even where and how many sidewinder missiles they had.  You can bet they won’t be adopting ‘the Cloud’ for SAP Support any time soon.  The same applies for the sensitive corporate information held in every SAP system worldwide.

Cost.  As I mentioned above, I have serious doubts whether customers who undertake Cloud Computing for a purely cost saving reason will achieve their aims.  Vendors are not inclined to give their customers ‘freebies’ or accommodate Scope Creep.  So while you may be paying less for the service catalogue you initially started with, the actual monthly bill may well exceed what you were paying for your internal support.

Remote Working.  I know of a large SAP customer locally who I’ve also spent a lot of time working at.  About four years ago they decided to outsource all their IT functions.  What they quickly worked out was that their organisation didn’t want to work remotely.  They wanted consultants sitting in front of them and attending their meetings physically.  The fact they had given the contract to HCL made things difficult for them.  If your organisation doesn’t like conference calls, virtual presentations and remote working, be very careful about moving towards ‘the Cloud’.

Conclusion

I’m still learning about Cloud Computing (as is the rest of the industry) and there are likely to be many benefits and drawbacks in regards to SAP Support that I have failed to identify above.

However I believe the right approach is to take two approaches.  Firstly, develop a hybrid support environment.  Develop a core group of business savvy, highly intelligent and efficient SAP experts in your organisation.  Peer these with an efficiently run and tightly contracted Cloud Computing support vendor (or more than one) and I believe you can have best of both worlds.

Secondly, put a heavy focus on understanding your processes and technology well before you start moving towards Cloud Computing.  Adopt ITIL if you haven’t already and invest a good amount of time and money in the tools and other resources to get your operations running effectively before changing anything.

I hope this article has helped in your decision making or maybe raised a few questions for you.  I would be interested in any comments, questions or other feedback.