Keeping it Vanilla

Kate Parsons, VP-SAP Platform, EMC
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Kate Parsons, VP-SAP Platform, EMC

About two years ago, in July 2012, EMC went live with its first major SAP rollout. Not a small initiative, but a massive ERP implementation, which was needed to replace our existing highly customized, aged ERP platform. This initial release introduced 20 SAP modules across ECC, Supplier Relationship Management, Supply Chain Management, Business Planning and Consolidations and Financial Supply Chain Management, and also included BW and HANA deployments. Getting this program live in 27 months, on time and on budget, on 100 percent  virtualized infrastructure with a big bang deployment was no small feat, but what proved even more challenging than getting the program live was driving and adhering to our core guiding principle to stay vanilla and on SAP’s upgrade path.

This “vanilla” principle was a business transformation effort, not just an IT technology implementation. To adhere to standard functionality required a compelling reason for change, strong business participation, governance and focus. The compelling reason was straight forward enough—SAP spends millions each year in R&D that we can take advantage of provided we stay on the upgraded path. Our legacy ERP platform had never once been upgraded, and our approach to customize, cost us significantly as EMC’s business changed over the decade we were on the system. Every new business change (a new acquisition, new go to market strategies, new fulfillment methods) required incremental customization—which is both hard to maintain and costly. As volumes grew, the platform hit limitations to scale with those volumes. 

Driving the business change required business leaders and full time team members who could be change agents to define a future state vision and rally the rest of the organization around it. Like any implementation, there were areas where enhancements were needed, but we determined that enhancements would only be considered in areas that provided strategic differentiation for EMC. We don’t do Accounts Payable any different from any other company, so our appetite to customize in that space would be low (or non-existent). However, the quality of our products is a strategic differentiator. So when the team came forward with a few enhancements required to track serial numbers at a very detailed level, we created a business justification and got our Steering Committee to approve. This process was followed for any requested enhancements or deviations from standard SAP.

“Developing incremental mobile applications across the platform where needed, will allow users to be more efficient and will ensure a contemporary experience for the SAP users”

Great sponsorship and strong business participation in this ERP program allowed us to achieve our goal of minimal customizations, but post go live we knew maintaining this in steady state would be just as big a challenge. We now had to ensure proper processes to ensure that the business did not revert back to our old ways of requesting an enhancement or customization to solve every need. This shift hasn’t happened overnight. We created a governance process to review any requested changes so that we can continue to enforce our guiding principle. And, the business has learned that not every problem requires automation to solve. We have partnered much closer with the business as new problems arise to try and resolve through business process adjustments or configuration where possible. We’ve also started taking advantage of some of SAP’s newer tools to enhance user productivity that will help us solve problems in new ways.

For example, we are currently prototyping a Personas solution that will significantly simplify the processing time for one of our manufacturing scenarios. Today, this particular scenario takes one hour to complete and requires 400 clicks across multiple T-codes.

The business asked us to automate the transaction, which we don’t want to do. By leveraging SAP’s Personas solution, we are going to be able to streamline this process and combine T-codes resulting in 30 clicks (with vanilla functionality) to solve the same requirement. This will result in significant processing time reduction for manufacturing, and will keep us to a vanilla solution!

We are also looking for ways to increase our mobile solutions across the SAP platform to further improve user productivity. We are going live with a Fiore solution for Shopping Cart approval this summer which will make this transaction easier for those in the approval chain. We also developed incremental mobile applications across the platform where needed. These will allow the users to be more efficient and ensures a contemporary experience for our SAP users.

And of course there is HANA (what would an SAP story be without a HANA mention). We have our Business Planning and Consolidations instance running on a virtualized HANA instance which has resulted in significant processing improvements, providing massive savings and benefits to the business. We plan to put BW on virtualized HANA later this year as well and hope for continued benefits.

In summary, implementing and maintaining a vanilla platform is not easy, we’re proof it’s definitely worth the work. We are on an annual upgrade cycle and have taken the advantage of several new capabilities with each upgrade. We are also positioned to take advantage of continued improvements SAP develops in the future. The approach we took on our SAP implementation has been very well received here at EMC, and has been applied to future SAP programs and in other areas as well. In early 2014, we went live with another major release to enable Professional Services capabilities on the platform. And we have a number of additional initiatives underway as well, all to follow the same approach as outlined above!

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