When thousands of visitors to CeBIT stream though the halls and exhibitors’ sales move at full speed, the primary work of Deutsche Messe AG is over. After all, the company takes care of its most important and involved tasks before the trade fair even starts: exhibitor registration, booth assignment, and service settlement with customers. “When the public looks at Hanover, we’re already working on the next trade fair,” says Ulrike Sieber, who is responsible for quality management in IT.
The focus of the fair business is primarily for exhibitions with an international reputation, especially CeBIT and HANNOVER MESSE. What’s less well-known is that the company also enables conferences or congresses, maintains travel companies, and produces trade fairs abroad, like CeBIT Asia. While handling all these various events, Deutsche Messe reached the limits of its mostly homegrown legacy systems. After a preliminary study in the fall and winter of 2001, Deutsche Messe decided on an SAP solution based upon mySAP Business Suite with the core functionalities of SAP R/3. The company made the decision after a preliminary study that evaluated several alternative products. From the viewpoint of Deutsche Messe, all the products it considered met its technical and business requirements. Deutsche Messe ultimately decided upon SAP because of its market penetration in Germany and the investment security that such penetration provided.
The project began in May 2002. Within four months, the project participants created a business blueprint that tuned the company’s business processes to predefined SAP structures. After the implementation and test of two prototypes, the system went live in October 2003. Today, Deutsche Messe processes its business with all the important SAP components: financials, sales and distribution, and controlling. The company uses another solution only for human resources.
Integration project SAP
“Compared with similar SAP projects, the time and money we spent put us in a good place,” says Sieber, “especially because we had to manage comprehensive integration.” The company had to transfer the functions of the legacy systems into SAP R/3 or embed them in the new solution. Numerous interfaces, various operating systems, and different data formats made the project complex. The company also had to tailor the SAP solutions in use to its own business processes and integrate them. The need for customizing primarily arose because Deutsche Messe sells services, but no products. SAP R/3, however, is set up for products. In addition to SAP R/3 for its core business processes, Deutsche Messe counts on SAP software to maintain customer relationships with mySAP Customer Relationship Management (mySAP CRM) and to store data with SAP Business Intelligence (SAP BI). About 500 users at home and abroad access the solutions.
Despite its complexity, the implementation ran almost seamlessly. But Deutsche Messe did have to jump two important hurdles. First, the current operations had to be switched to mySAP Business Suite even though the real data represented various stages of the business: as invitations were sent for a trade fair, the company was already handling postprocessing of another trade fair. That’s why the company worked with simulation tests that neutralized well ahead of time almost all the potential nasty surprises that might occur during start-up. Second, the new solution had to go live with much more data and processes than the prototype simulated. The administrators could fine-tune individual solution components only after the system went live. But as Sieber says, “No company can avoid this experience when implementing an application system of this magnitude.” As expected, most of the rework involved locations where developers used individual programming instead of the SAP standard.
The critical points were already defused in Hanover either before the key date set at the beginning of October 2003 or soon afterward in the first weeks of operation. Sieber is convinced that the introduction of new procedures for quality assurance and the use of professional testing tools greatly contributed to the project success and provided a strong tailwind to the 70 participants in the project. “Anyone who wants to test systematically must devote special attention to the business processes. The quality assurance staff played the role of an independent third party who forced the participants to be consistent and exact in the details,” explains Sieber. For example, the quality assurance staff insisted that all tests that the user departments defined were actually performed, so neither the pressures of time nor missing knowledge of SAP software would cause any omissions.
Quality management: the independent third party
Consequently, Deutsche Messe anchored quality assurance as an independent staffing group in the project. In addition to Sieber, mostly external specialists of SQS Software Quality Systems AG, an independent consulting firm that offers consulting, services, and products for software quality management and testing, worked on quality assurance. The specialists brought the required knowledge of methods and tools for software testing that that not yet been available at Deutsche Messe. They also performed many of the testing tasks themselves. They planned and designed the tests, and they derived the requirements from the business blueprint. They also created reports on the tests and introduced measures to trace and cleanse the data. Those responsible for user departments also worked on preparations for the tests. Along with the quality specialists, they defined six master processes that can map business and security-critical flows at Deutsche Messe. For example, if mailing settlement documents for hundreds of exhibitors at a large trade fair slows down, the ability of the Hanover company to provide its services is threatened. That’s why IT employees tested the main business-critical processes repeatedly and up to the most detailed level of their ramifications.
The IT specialists first managed all test scenarios, data, and results with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. But during the first testing runs, they found that this approach quickly reached its limits and caused a great deal of extra work. For example, if most of a testing run was already prepared and the controlling test scenario changed on short notice, the team had to reformat, renumber, and reprint the spreadsheet. “We had to conclude that a project of our size could not be handled economically without a professional testing tool,” says Sieber, summarizing her experience.
Therefore, before testing the second prototype in spring 2003, the team transferred all the testing steps and processes stored in Excel into a testing tool from SQS Software Quality Systems. At first, using the tool meant some extra work. The testers had to transfer at least part of the data manually, and they had to become familiar with the testing tool. But Sieber is sure that the effort was worth it. “From then on, we were able to work much more structurally,” she says. “The testing tool brought more order to the testing. And the tool’s functions led us to a deeper level of testing. Now we can refine many test scenarios with only a little effort.” As examples, Sieber cited the scheduling function of the tool. It can distribute the testing tasks over different days for processing, which enables parallelization and accelerates the procedures. Testers can work through the chain of tasks more quickly. The testing tool’s role concept made it clear who performed which tasks and when. “Because the tool primarily addresses a customer-oriented flow and pays less attention to the peculiarities of SAP, it comfortably forced us to work more consistently,” says Sieber. The automatically generated scenarios and documentation are much easier to understand and more structured than before. As Sieber says, “The testers from user departments were especially thankful for those features.”
Maintenance and training profit
Success ultimately proved the company correct. The SAP software went into production on time and mostly without difficulties in late 2003. Deutsche Messe now has a solution that integrates all the business processes that earn it money. The processes include rentals of platforms, stores, and services, running the trade fairs themselves, and their settlement. The Hanover company now controls these business-critical tasks centrally for all the kinds of fairs it offers at home and abroad.
During operation of the solution, the investment of a total of 90 work days for external support in quality assurance paid for itself. For example, regular maintenance, such as uploading SAP hot packages, profited from this support in hindsight. In addition, the test cases and data are available centrally; an object history documents all modifications, and the test case chain automatically adjusts to upcoming modifications. “There is a lot of demand for our documents,” says Sieber. The training team has shown interest. The detailed descriptions of business processes in the documents are a good foundation for training the company’s SAP users. And external service providers for programming look back to the documents for quality assurance of their own software tests. That’s why Sieber is content. “Our work in quality assurance has taken a step toward standardizing and making IT more transparent – from external programming to our integration work and, ultimately, to training and maintenance.”