Let’s do a bit of a virtual straw poll here…..Take yourself back to your most recent planning meeting with your SAP services partner. You have your key SAP team members with you as well. What do you think is the average age of those attending? I’m going to make a bit of a guess – 35+?
I used to be the youngest in the meeting room
I started my large enterprise SAP consulting career in 1992 with Andersen Consulting. I quickly moved on to one of the fledgling SAP specialists – Axon – where I was one of the “early guys”. Here I founded and managed a few of their businesses including the Managed Services business. In those early days of client meetings, I was usually the youngest in the room. The round-table introductions usually filled me with some low-level anxiety – how credible could it be for a 26-year-old working for a company that, at that stage no one had heard of, to be trusted with the ongoing management of your shiny new, business-critical SAP system?
Why did they? Because we were technical experts, driven, just got stuff done, unconstrained by the burdens of middle-aged commitments (family, kids, mortgage, etc.). We made stuff happen. We outperformed the usual, more established systems integrators, much to their frustration. We delivered the systems our clients wanted quicker, at a lower cost, and at far lower risk – because we knew what we were doing. We did for some of the largest, most mission-critical SAP systems.
Those days of being the youngest are way behind me
Nearly 30-years later, those first meeting client introductions fill me with a different type of anxiety. “I’m blah blah blah and I have 30-years of SAP large enterprise experience blah blah blah”. All that experience but what can I convincingly say I’ve learnt over all those years? In my more reflective moments, I look back at how the SAP industry has changed. A lot has unquestionably happened – the big “disruptive events” – Y2K, .com, digital, SasS, IaaS, etc, have all been, gone or become business as usual. These have had huge impacts on the broader IT sector but, when I look at the SAP world, much has remained constant:
- Projects can still take ‘an eternity’ – as delivery approaches have not necessarily adapted to the technology
- Costs are frequently still massive, and in many instances, out of control
- SAP systems remain largely impenetrable and aging versions have become hard to use
- The proposal, bidding, and procurement processes for new associated services have not kept pace with the technology advances
- Technology performance is measured in exactly the same way – same unambitious and not necessarily relevant SLAs
- Resourcing still remains a constraint (partly now due to an aging workforce)
- Production systems are highly protected and resistive to change
- Why does the entire solution need to sit “in-SAP”?
Actually, there’s one other thing that’s been a constant throughout all of this time – the struggle to get new talent into the SAP world. They’ve always been far more enticed by what’s going on in the world of digital.
Has the industry become blind to new ideas?
It feels to me as though the industry – clients, SWV and SIs – has largely grown up by maintaining established ways of working. It’s not looking to particularly question the status quo.
In a recent engaging discussion (a heated debate over a beer with a friend who’s a senior decision-maker at a very large financial services business), I tried to encourage new thinking and approaches to some of their technology challenges, but he kept stressing that experience was key and that he was wary of some of the “cool kids” that thought they knew everything about Cloud.
Now those who know me know that I am not, never have been, and will never be one of the “cool kids” but I suspect this comment was aimed at me for having “SAP and Cloud” in my job title like it’s the new “on-trend” connection of skills. The general sentiment was that the new kids “come in with their new ideas but really don’t get the rigors of managing enterprise-critical applications. They just don’t get the impact, change control, change management, that are part of these systems.”
If I hadn’t changed the subject, I think it could have consumed our 2 hours at the pub!
We’ve lots to learn from the new “kids on the block”
I reflected on my discussion for a few days, but I still strongly feel that my friend was wrong. We have so much to learn from new thinking brought from the digital world:
- Why can’t changes, with the right management and tooling, be delivered daily (well that might be a bit too much) rather than annually?
- Why is the amount of change we deliver for our business constrained by limited infrastructure?
- Why do we let our ways of working, both internally and with our partners, cause innovation to be delivered at a snail’s pace?
- Why do we have an army of people managing SAP? Why not automate?
Why doesn’t the SAP world adopt a more “JFDI” attitude and create the processes and tooling to do exactly that? For some of our clients, it feels like an entire industry has been created to inhibit change with the excuse of risk.
Why does this matter?
By mixing age, experience, and thinking, not only can today’s services partners provide modern, adaptive, and continuously improved services, but their clients gain greater value and achieve much more – a win/win for all.
My point is not about being wary of the new kids, the new ways of working, or the better ideas. It is about listening and adapting and taking the best of all worlds to deliver new ways of working with SAP on AWS.
Is it time for you to take a fresh approach too?