“It’s Operate, Stupid.”: How a lack of focus on Operate can undermine the business case for moving to the Cloud.

It's Operate

Clearly, the title of this blog is a play on the phrase “It’s the Economy, Stupid” made popular by James Carville, a political strategist, who coined the phrase in ‘92 to keep Bill Clinton’s election campaign focused on the core issue of the day – the economy. He posted the phrase on a sign at campaign headquarters to remind his team that the economy had a broad impact on most aspects of daily life. I would argue that there is just as great a need to keep SAP Operate front and center as you go through your journey of moving SAP to the Cloud. It too has a broad and significant impact across all aspects of your IT systems.

It’s not all about Migrate

At Lemongrass, we migrate, build, operate and innovate SAP on Cloud. It’s all we do. A focused proposition through which I believe we deliver the greatest value for companies using those technologies. We do this for some fairly demanding large enterprise customers where SAP is mission-critical to their business. The sort of customer often referred to as a lighthouse customer or early adopter.

One thing that surprises me to this day is how companies can spend too much time focused on the migration phase of the engagement. They then need greater assistance during both the pre-sale phase and during the delivery itself to address important considerations around Operate. Fully evaluating and planning the migration is highly important, but equally important is the planning and understanding of how to operate those SAP workloads in the Cloud once there.

20:80 Operate:Migrate

I have not been measuring it, but I estimate that less than 20% of the pre-sales and initial engagement is spent on the Operate phase. I started my career by founding an SAP managed service business, I have 30-years of SAP experience and I’ve been around SAP Operate throughout my career, so I’m comfortable saying I speak from experience here. An insufficient focus on Operate has always existed, but it’s truly astonishing that this has not significantly changed over all these years.

What we do in life echoes in eternity – Marcus Aurelius

This lack of focus on Operate results in serious consequences which all serve to potentially undermine the business case for moving to the Cloud. What’s more, this is not just a one-off impact or risk, it’s felt year after year after year:

  • System instability and business risk: You don’t plan for new skills, and as such, at go-live, you’re operating at risk.
  • A Cloud operating model: You’re operating to the same ways of working as before. Shouldn’t it be different on the Cloud?
  • Failure to deliver the business case: You created the most well-thought-out business case for this project but now it’s just sitting on a shelf somewhere.
  • Automate, Automate, Automate: Why is the same team still managing your system at the same cost?
  • Lack of controls: Hang on, you were meant to be reducing costs but your first infrastructure invoice is through the roof.

A few Operate things we’ve learnt

We learnt the lessons the hard way at Lemongrass. When we chose to “bet the business”, stop what we were doing and become an SAP on Cloud, we thought we’d just do project-related work and let someone else have the eternal headache of Operate. We soon found that every time we handed back the system to either the client or a 3rd party SI working on their behalf, they failed to achieve the expected benefits of the Cloud. And because they failed, we failed. Today, Managed Services is at the heart of what we do. In fact, I’d argue that we’re now a Managed Service/Operate business at our heart that does migrations to enable our clients to achieve the true potential of the Cloud.

Here are a few of those lessons:

  • Plan for Operate: Obvious I know, but many people don’t. Operate design, build, and up-skilling needs to be a keystream of your migration planning.
  • Post Migration Support: Let your migration partner run the system for the first year, potentially in parallel to your team. As I mentioned previously, I’ve seen too many rapid handovers fail. At Lemongrass, we highly recommend some form of an ongoing relationship for at least one year after migration to ensure consistency in support of post-migration.
  • Financial Management: Cloud Financial Management is a core capability for Operate. Infinite capacity to do things is liberating for most enterprises but infinite capacity potentially comes at the cost of a maxed-out credit card. You need someone in Operate to be focused on this.
  • Cloud-like ways of working: An entire industry and associated ways of working have grown up to protect and manage that slow-moving but critical SAP system. Release management, change control, change management, etc. What if SAP is no longer the slowest changing part of the IT jigsaw puzzle? Don’t those old ways of working now need a fresh look?
  • Business Case accountability: You need to hold someone in Operate accountable for the business case. The expected outcomes don’t get delivered at go-live, they get delivered and sustained with years of hard graft in the Operate phase.
  • Capability parity: This is the emotive one. Why do the best managers, architects, consultants normally get pushed into projects? The answer is because Operate is hard and demanding. Yet it’s the Operate team that the business’s production system sits with. You need to turn this model on its head and put the best people you have in Operate.
  • Continuous improvement: The project does not stop at go-live. Keep tracking the project KPIs (cost reduction, agility, etc.), keep looking for improvements, and keep monitoring AWS for new innovations.

Lemongrass recently published a survey about the lessons learned from enterprises already running their SAP systems in the Cloud. Not surprisingly the findings confirm my view on Operate and its correct place (front and center) in the journey of SAP to the Cloud with nearly half of the respondents advising to make sure to stay very focused on achieving the business goals outlined at the start and 52% advising to make sure to have the right people and skills in-house to manage the new systems.

Going back to the beginning and Mr. Carville, I challenge you to review your upcoming SAP to Cloud project to see which phase of your project will have the broadest and most significant impact on how your SAP systems will run once in the cloud and which phase will drive the outcomes that define your success. Then be sure to build that focus and those outcomes into your plans early on. Hint: It’s Still Operate, Stupid.” And, if you need help, be sure to let us know.

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