I have worked on two Global IT SAP implementations (over a period of 4.5 years) from its conceptualization/ design phase to its deployment phase (system development life cycle – SDLC). Both implementations replaced multiple IT systems in countries from Americas to Europe to Asia-Pacific into a single IT system. The central theme of both projects was to enable business to globalize its reach for customers, enable it to provide better service to customers, and to, eventually, engage business in an economical and profitable way for its stakeholders. All their business users worldwide now login to a single server; super users can scan data across businesses and countries to look for intelligent data that can be developed into winning business strategies.
Over a span of a total of 4.5 years on these two implementations, I had my share of successes, frustrations, failures, travelogues, and visas. I learnt several lessons on local culture and customs, tried to understand the disparate regional legal (financial) requirements, and made a lot of friends. I do not intend to write this as a travelogue or as a technical guide to Global SDLC; but more as a retrospect of the fun and challenges faced during a complex global implementation of a complex integrated software (SAP). I worked in or closely with the Finance functional teams on both implementations; hence I have included, only to a limited extent, the challenges or experiences faced by other teams (Technical team, Change Management team etc).
The current state, the challenges and the imperatives
Both customers had initially implemented SAP several years ago for most of their business operations and in most countries. The implementation in each country was independent of the other; hence they had incongruent instances of SAP globally. During these initial implementations, each country had focused on the business needs and legal/ reporting requirements in their country. Globalization of data was limited to some master data like Chart of Accounts, Material Data.
Over the years, the system design was creaking under the pressure of changing business structure, matured business processes and increased reporting requirements; the system design was not flexible to handle such future growth or changes. As a result, each country had a suite of non-SAP processes to handle the gaps in SAP processes. The non-SAP processes range from third-party software, in-house software, and office/ database software.
Consolidation of quarterly global results was a race against time; the chart of accounts was no longer uniform across countries – currency translation was not efficient in the current systems – multiple currency reporting was done through a suite of enhancements that required frequent tweaking.
The last decade witnessed a dramatic fall in prices of computer storage, improved quality of network connection globally, and increased availability of highly experienced SAP consultants. Many companies like HP and IBM are building hardware and software around the requirement of customers who run their business on SAP.
Both customers decided to re-implement SAP ECC rather than upgrade from SAP R/3. The costs of re-implementing were high; but the benefits, enormous. To enhance the productivity of the implementation, both customers implemented additional SAP products (like CRM, GTS, SRM) and partner solution extensions (like ARIS, HP QC, DocuSphere). The end goal was to have a global world-class SAP system that is tightly designed around current requirements and flexible to handle future expansion needs.
Business users at both customers were well conversant with SAP and its terminology. They knew their business processes and understood the gaps between business processes and the system process. Designing new system processes was much easier with that benefit of retrospect. However, this was a disadvantage as well; the SAP system had deeply ingrained a “culture” in the users which was a stumbling block in a fresh best-in-class implementation. Change Management plays an important role in any such large global cross-cultural implementation.
Rajesh Shanbhag has worked on several roles on both projects. He has been a team member, Functional Architect in the Solution team, System Integrator lead, Coordinator for Finance team. Rajesh has 12 years experience implementing SAP Finance solutions for several customers globally; he also has prior 7 years experience working in the business in Finance and Accounting functions. His business knowledge combined with his IT expertise enables him to provide his customers with best-of-breed advise on business process implementations.