Every Hour Counts

Feature Article | March 3, 2003 by admin

Time is money. Today, this old and familiar rule applies to consulting firms more than ever. In the highly competitive consulting industry, every hour that a consultant is tied up with a customer project counts. Increasing cost pressures and lowered margins have also forced consulting companies to tighten and optimize their processes.
“The boom times for IT consulting are past,” says Walter Schön, a consultant at SLI Consulting in Frauenfeld, Switzerland. During the IT and Internet boom in 2000, the consulting firm specialized in SAP solutions grew enormously, as did many other IT service providers. The rush of daily business did not leave much time for internal organization, some of which fell by the wayside. For example, to track consultants’ time and to plan capacity, the consulting firm used various insular solutions for a long time. Capacity planning was performed in Microsoft Access, and employees entered the hours worked and their planning time for projects into a system based upon Visual Basic.
Because these two systems weren’t integrated, time information had to be manually entered into the Microsoft Access application. In addition, employees on business trips to visit customers always had to enter their weekly time and their travel costs once they returned to the office. There was no portal that enabled them to update the data on the road.

Transparency for Time and Projects

To remedy this situation, the company decided to implement Best Practices for mySAP Service Providers. Especially designed for consulting firms and providers of technical services, Best Practices for mySAP Service Providers was to be implemented in the existing SAP R/3 system (Release 4.6C). Along with the implementation, SLI set up an employee portal based upon mySAP Enterprise Portal. The project began at the start of May 2002, under the leadership of Walter Schön.
Best Practices for mySAP Service Providers contains SAP Cross-Application Time Sheet (SAP CATS), the SAP time-entry system that automatically transfers invoicing data into SAP order entry. Order entry takes account of the various types of invoices common to the service provider industry. IT consultants calculate the effort involved, not only according to hours, but also partially according to agreed-upon project prices or milestones, such as the completion of a subproject. In addition, different hourly rates are billed for junior and senior consultants. And some customers require specific consultants who have already worked for them. “Our customers want to know exactly when and for how long a consultant was involved in a specific project. That’s not a problem any more because of the integration of SAP CATS and order entry,” says Walter Schön.

Consultants now enter their hours using the SLI employee portal, which they can access from the road over a dial-up connection. This feature eliminates the burdensome chore of entering time once a consultant has returned from a business trip. To enable offline data entry in the future, SLI will integrate SAP Mobile Engine by the end of March 2003. SAP Mobile Engine enables the capture of data in a mobile telephone, personal digital assistant (PDA), or laptop without a connection to the system. The next time that the consultant dials into SAP R/3, the information is synchronized with SAP CATS.

Capacity Planning at the Touch of a Button

With Best Practices for mySAP Service Providers, SLI also optimized capacity planning, which used to occur in a decentralized manner. Employees used to arrange capacity planning with project managers; a coordinating instance reviewed planning for capacity conflicts or personnel bottlenecks. These tasks are not handled by the SAP Project System and SAP Customer Service components. Times and capacities can be assigned to individual customer orders flexibly in SAP Project System. The project manager creates a project definition for an order and assigns capacitates according the actual and plan times from time entered in SAP CATS.
The project manager takes the time available for consultants from a usage report made available from SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW). SAP BW evaluates the timesheet data and compares it to the debited working hours. SAP BW also considers reduced working hours or vacations in the evaluation. This approach enables analysis of capacity across all open orders. “At the touch of a button, we can see which consultants are involved in which projects and if someone is available,” reports Schön. SAP BW also provides data on consultants’ qualifications. This feature lets project managers quickly determine the availability of consultants with experience in accounting and controlling or in materials management.
Personnel resources for customer service and support are distributed similarly. The advantage for upper management? The system provides exact key figures (to the day or week) on the actual utilization of all consultants. If utilization lies at 70 per cent, new orders can be accepted without additional personnel capacities. At 100 per cent utilization, however, the firm must hire available consultants.

Targeted User of Project Knowledge

Advantages

Advantages

Quick access to important information can decide the success of business. For example, SLI now has online access to information on how many consultant hours are to be calculated for a specific project. As part of its SAP project, SLI installed a knowledge management system based upon mySAP Enterprise Portal so it profits from its available project knowledge. After all, IT service providers don’t have to reinvent the wheel for every new customer. “That costs too much time and money,” says Schön. “No customer is ready to install SAP Financial Accounting, for example, completely from scratch. A customer expects certain specific default parameters,” he adds.
The knowledge management system contains data on about 40 closed projects. For example, it stores project plans, conceptual designs, to-do lists, and prototypes for individual SAP components. This bundled know-how enables the firm to set up and execute new projects more quickly. SLI consultants dial into the employee portal over the Internet and find everything they need for their work in the knowledge management system: a prototype they can use to work through the concrete requirements of a new customer.

A Productive Start in Four Months

Best Practices for mySAP Service Providers has been in production at SLI since September 2002. The SAP professionals are convinced by “their” solution. “Our complex invoicing runs faultlessly, all open projects and over 40 old projects are in the system, and the foundation for knowledge management has been laid. And all that after only a four-month project,” says Schön.
Now SLI is using a ramp-up procedure to implement the successor of SAP R/3 – SAP R/3 Enterprise – making it a pioneer among Swiss consulting firms. “Tests have been surprisingly positive; hardly anything needed to be adjusted,” says Schön.

Ralf M. Haaßengier

Ralf M. Haaßengier

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