Applying SAP: It’s About Business, Not IT

Enterprise Alliance talks to a Central American family-owned conglomerate about its SAP deployment and how to handle post-implementation challenges.

Guatemala-based Corporación Multi-Inversiones (CMI) is one of the largest business groups in Central America and the Caribbean, with operations in 14 countries and a history of over 90 years. We spoke to Luis Pedro Recinos, Director of the Office of Corporate Projects, about building a base for long term project sustainability after SAP deployment.

Can you share with us what major concerns you were facing as your firm was completing more and more of your planned implementations?

We began with 24 sites, all with differing levels of applications and other IT assets. Our SAP deployment program was planned to last four or five years. Three years ago, we had about 10 implementations completed across Central America and another 12 or so to go. Some had been running for two years and it was time for us to face the fact that the potentially great asset of SAP was not being properly leveraged. We did not have a corporate IT [department] at that point, which, in retrospect, had the positive effect of positioning SAP at a business level rather than as an all-IT endeavor.

The implementations were straightforward and focused more upon go-live than upon business process excellence. As such, they did not produce the anticipated lift to our business organization. We recognized that our SAP project was oversold to our executives, first by SAP and then by subsequent consulting entities. While we appreciated standardization of processes and the application integration, we saw these elements only as a good start. We needed to learn how to fit our business strategy to what SAP applications could give us. For some time, our discussions went round and round with no resolution. We had proposal for our executives drafted by SAP project leaders, by myself and others in corporate strategy and business stakeholders. We needed a multi-business, multi-disciplinary approach.

During this period of reflection and concern, as you engaged consultants and SAP support, how much attention did they give to post implementation issues?

While they did not provide us much in the way of post-implementation guidance, I believe that the core challenge was our own internal failure to initially get our diverse visions properly aligned. Clients need to own their own post-implementation strategy. As [Michael Doane] advised what not to do in The SAP Green Book, we spent all of our time on the wedding (i.e. the implementation) and did not plan for the marriage (i.e. long-term strategic deployment). A key realization at this point was we needed outside help other than what he had from SAP and our system integrator.

What were your main learning points in the next phase?

What is now obvious to us was not at that point in time: long-term our enterprise applications effort is not an IT-centric issue, it is business-centric. Our efforts are no longer centered on exploiting SAP but about operational efficiency and business process excellence. SAP is merely an enabler to that ideal.

Finally, we learned that end users deserve our attention, respect, and support because only they actually fulfill all of the business processes of our company and are thus crucial to business process excellence.

It has been more than three years since you began to delve into post-implementation issues. How do you feel about the lengthy timeline required to progress to where you are now?

We at CMI thought this was going to be much easier than it has been. We thought that perhaps a year would be sufficient. We now understand the time it has taken – cultural change – because we are doing it right. As we explained to our senior management back in May of 2015, organizational maturity takes time, planning, patience, and enthusiastic group agreement. Adopting this attitude means that we are not doing a project, we have taken on a new culture.

How might it have been shorter? Shortcuts in the building process would have resulted in a lessening of the needed cultural change. While we are just now beginning to reap the benefits of our efforts, I believe that our strategy has been right and I have confidence in our ability to sustain these efforts.

What advice would you give to any company in the midst of starting its enterprise applications journey and facing its first implementation project?

When you first set out, understanding the challenge is nearly impossible, so you should be open to ongoing discovery. Do not think at the beginning that you know what you are doing. First and foremost, establish that the endeavor is clearly business-centric. The larger and more complex your organization, the higher you have to go for authority and agreement. Without high-level buy-in and authority, your endeavor will be met with limited success.

Luis Recinos was interviewed by Michael Doane, author of The SAP Green Book: Thrive after Go-Live. This interview consists of edited excerpts.