As illogical as it might sound, a bug in a standard software is not always such a bad thing. While it may cause problems for the user who came across the fault in an application, it usually results in a correction program (patch) being developed. This is also a benefit to many other users of the same software, where the bug lay undiscovered because the particular transaction had never been executed before. However, the patch must also be implemented in these applications as a preventive measure, so that system bugs can be corrected before they are even noticed. This proactive trouble-shooting is particularly useful for groups that have implemented the same software in several subsidiaries, such as Rheinmetall, for example, where this form of preventive action is an everyday practice that pays off with an error rate that has fallen by 70 percent.
Without central SAP support and a hotline to SAP, this type of targeted action is only possible at considerable cost. At Rheinmetall, an SAP Customer Competence Center (SAP CCC) takes on these tasks. If a fault is discovered, the support unit looks for its causes. If there is a bug in the standard SAP system, the team immediately reports this to the software manufacturer, and works jointly with SAP to correct it. The unit implements the patch in the affected application and then imports it to all other applications in the group.
Support for 12,000 users
Rheinmetall set up the SAP CCC in 2000 at Rheinmetall Informationssysteme GmbH (RIS), a group-owned IT service provider that focuses on SAP consulting and support for SMBs. Following a takeover by IBM, RIS became IBM Mittelstandssysteme GmbH (IMS) and runs the SAP CCC as an outsourcing service. The support unit handles the SAP solutions of all the Rheinmetall companies with subsidiaries, as well as the systems of the Röchling Group, which was the majority shareholder of Rheinmetall up until the end of 2004. It also offers its services to external customers, including Ritter Sport, Isringhausen, and Hirschmann Automotive.
Overall, the SAP CCC supports around 12,000 users and approximately 300 solutions, from SAP R/3 through to SAP Enterprise Portal. IMS employs 200 highly-qualified SAP specialists who have additional expertise in the automotive, electrical, and defense industries.
Bundled SAP expertise
The SAP CCC was set up with the aim of guaranteeing all users in the Rheinmetall and Röchling Group a high level of support, regardless of their location and the release version of their SAP applications. This form of bundled SAP expertise also enabled synergies to be leveraged. The previously separate support units of the 80 or so Rheinmetall/Röchling companies of different sizes were turned into one overarching organization. As a result, even the smaller companies with just a few SAP users benefit from the group’s service structures, without having to bear these costs alone. Instead, they pay a monthly flat rate per user for the service package that contains not just round-the-clock support but also a solution database with special developments, interfaces, and instructions for trouble-shooting.
Regular certification measures by SAP ensures the high quality standard of the SAP CCC over the long term. The support unit was awarded the quality seal for the first time in October 2000, and has subsequently been audited every two years.
Distribution of tasks between back office and front office
The core team at the Competence Center is made up of 32 employees at various IMS locations, who – as the central back office – are responsible for all customers. The team carries out technical system support, which includes installations, upgrades, and optimization, for example, and also provides solutions such as SAP Enterprise Buyer or mySAP ERP Human Capital Management centrally via Application Service Providing (ASP). The same applies for shared services, such as the online procurement of office equipment. The central support team provides support for all cross-customer projects, for example connections to ASP or e-business solutions. It is also responsible for research and development measures, such as usage tests for SAP NetWeaver or the standardization of interfaces.
The SAP CCC core team is supported by the 170 or so SAP consultants from the front offices at the customer premises. They are responsible for the business side of system support and customizing at the particular company, and manage individual projects such as the release upgrade of a particular customer system or the introduction of new processes. Depending on their specialist knowledge, the SAP experts in the front offices are involved in working groups for particular industries or SAP functionalities, and fulfill specific consulting tasks for their customers. They constitute the “virtual part” of the SAP CCC, since they are only involved in the work processes if their customer or user department experiences problems.
The front office and back office work hand in hand to provide system support, and can therefore react quickly to their customer inquiries. Communication both internally and with SAP takes place via the Online Service System (OSS), an information medium between the software manufacturer and its customers. If a fault occurs, users contact the IMS central service line, which in turn contacts the responsible SAP consultant in the relevant front office. If this consultant is not able to solve the problem, he or she uses a central database to search for partners from other front offices. If this is also unsuccessful, the inquiry is sent to the back office via the group’s OSS. If the SAP CCC cannot find a solution internally, it forwards the message to SAP.
This procedure channels the inquiries from users in the various companies and thus ensures that a high percentage of the messages to SAP lead to new notes in OSS. However, most of the problems can be solved quickly, because solutions already exist in the database and merely have to be called up.
The latest information always to hand
The SAP CCC has proven extremely successful for Rheinmetall. The quality in support and consulting has considerably increased thanks to standardized processes and the close contact to SAP. The Competence Center is informed about the software manufacturer’s new developments at an early stage, is involved in advance testing, and can play a part in ensuring that user requirements are mapped in new solutions through its involvement in the German-speaking SAP user group DSAG.
Users value the support organization as a link between their own working environments and SAP Sales and Marketing. Employees in the Competence Center are extremely familiar with the companies, on the one hand, and very well informed about the software manufacturer’s strategies and new developments, on the other. As a result, they can advise their customers about the right solution for the company and how it needs to be adapted, without the need for lengthy analyses of the current situation.
Small Rheinmetall companies, in particular, also benefit from the ASP solutions and shared services that the SAP CCC provides centrally for the whole group. Thus these companies have the benefit of certain applications, such as Supplier Relationship Management, that they would not necessarily be able to afford otherwise.
Attractive job opportunities for SAP specialists
The support unit is also beneficial from an economic point of view, because SAP grants certified SAP CCCs discounts for software licenses and also charges maintenance fees at a reduced rate. The SAP CCC therefore saves up to 50 percent of investment and maintenance costs. At Rheinmetall, the savings amount to several million euros per year, around half of which is then reinvested in the SAP CCC.
And finally, the Competence Center has had a positive effect on employee loyalty, a factor that should not be underestimated, considering the demand for qualified SAP consultants on the market. As a support organization for a large corporate group, it offers attractive job opportunities for highly valued specialists.