Enterprise Apps Go Live… Then What?

Enterprise applications have a long lifespan – but a lack of post-implementation strategies still trips up clients. Post-implementation expert Brian Dahill discusses how businesses can thrive after go-live.

With over two decades of experience, Brian Dahill is a recognized leader in the field of post-implementation usage of enterprise applications. During his career he has built and run ‘centers of excellence’ for users, as well as promoting strategic outsourcing, as means of deriving tangible business benefits from enterprise application investments.

In 2003 Mr. Dahill was a pioneer in building an SAP post-implementation business and IT organization at a time when this was an emerging field. His keystone client was Sony Electronics in the U.S., which wanted to establish horizontal business processes across the enterprise having already implemented SAP.

What were your objectives in your first project as a post-implementation specialist working with Sony?

First, [we aimed] to reengineer all of our support practices to streamline them and get closer to the business stakeholders who had been isolated during what was an IT-centric implementation. We took a fresh look at roles, responsibilities, support tools, procedures, service level agreements, the whole gamut of post-implementation support.

Secondly, we realized we needed a way to get business measures of what we were doing. And once we delved into metrics, there was no stopping with the subject. The more useful metrics our business stakeholders saw the more they wanted. We started slowly but ended up building a continuous improvement process that continually evolved our metrics.

A third goal was to upgrade our relationship with SAP beyond simple license, installation, and software support. Sony Electronics was an early adopter of SAP’s middleware known as ‘Solution Manager’ and we had the good fortune to find Ajay Vonkaray, who was very skilled at helping us get it implemented as a vital key to bridge our business and IT gaps.

How did you reconcile the rift between business and IT leadership?

If I underestimated any aspect of this project, this was it. I had to spend an enormous about of time working with senior management regarding language, communications, and approach. For the first time in many many years, business was asked what it wanted. A lot of business people will hide behind IT and use it as the scapegoat and we had to eliminate that while also orienting people to longer-term thinking and to get them off the “project” mentality. One major impediment was a lack of backing from [Sony Electronics’] corporate leadership in Japan. In all, this turned into an 18-month endeavor. We had originally envisioned a fraction of that time.

You subsequently worked on similar projects but not in an SAP environment. Were there any tangible differences for post-implementation SAP compared to that of other enterprise software?

All such projects have in common the same three goals: reengineering support, metrics, and the implementation of a tool to monitor productivity. The business/IT dynamic is pretty similar across vendor landscapes except that some software is so horizontally integrated that it provides something of a head start in achieving business process excellence.

Vendor relationships are somewhat variable. Each of the enterprise software vendors deal differently with their clients on the subject of post-implementation. As I mentioned, SAP has its Solution Manager middleware and some consulting input too. At the other end of the spectrum are vendors who leave everything up to the client.

Sometimes vendor-supplied tools can be an impediment if they do not take into account applications coming from diverse vendors. For example, at Sony we found it tricky to integrate SAP’s Solution Manager with legacy systems in order to produce metrics.

Is there any difference in costs across various enterprise applications bases?

None worth mentioning. The real costs were more relative to management commitment and organizational change management to evolve company attitudes about the role of IT and business.

Given the many years you’ve been in the post-implementation field, what issues still require resolution in order for our evolution to take place?

The dynamic between business and IT leadership is taking way too long to evolve. These two sides tend to talk past each other. Business people talk in key performance indicators and IT people have a difficulty translating what to do with objectives stated that way. They too often respond to business demands with technology solutions that are more pier than bridge.

It would help immeasurably if applications vendors would expand their role and responsibility to clients and stress business process excellence rather than just their technical acumen. Their market messaging as well as their focus tend to turn off business stakeholders. Further, vendor-client communications are too high-level and too oriented to ongoing software licensing as opposed to helping clients get better business results from existing assets.

Finally, the continually rising complexity of enterprise applications drives up maintenance costs, both internally and externally.

What is your bottom line advice to clients?

Look past the implementation project and develop a long-term strategy that is business-centric and supported, but not led, by IT.

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