SAP support in mining industry – worth more than just an afterthought

JohannesburgTo stay competitive, mining companies require a robust ERP system, and SAP is many a time the system of choice, simply because it enables the industry to pursue its challenges by providing comprehensive support tools for business processes and integration with other information systems.

No wonder Michael Doane, technology analyst, compares an ERP implementation to a marriage. After saying: “I do” to SAP, there is no turning back. In fact, breaking up is not just hard to do; it’s never been done before. Never has SAP’s ERP suite been implemented and then replaced with an application set of another vendor. But, like so many couples preoccupied with wedding arrangements, many companies begin a SAP implementation, gear up for the go-live date, just to find themselves ill-prepared for a lifetime with the software.

It is mind-boggling that companies are prepared to pay millions to implement a SAP system, but then dismally fail to provide for life after it goes live. Barnstone Consulting believes it can indeed be a happy marriage and one where the company can realise ongoing benefits from their investment, but only if a defined support strategy is set as early as possible. Barnstone experts agree that one of the biggest post ‘go live’ challenges is tailoring the support operation to be in alignment with business and operational goals. Figuring out how many resources and what skill-sets are needed is always a challenge, and becomes more complicated when factoring in future plans of the organisation.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for implementing SAP support that will fit all businesses. Setting up an effective support model requires very specific skills and toolsets, and Barnstone experts strongly recommend that companies select a consulting partner that has a strong support track record to assist them in designing a support model.

Barnstone has been the catalyst in resolving and implementing many tailored solutions for leading companies, and is able to bring SAP best practices and lessons learnt to the table. The latest trend in SAP support is the set-up of a centre of excellence (COE) as a main building block in the support infrastructure.

A COE is a business-led unit that provides business and application expertise and is responsible for driving continuous ERP improvement, optimising systems usage, and overseeing change management and governance. Many companies have a vision of a COE, yet don’t understand all of the implications and decision points for building their COE. Often, decisions are made based on “tunnel vision” – factoring in only cost and current requirements, while Barnstone recommends a more holistic picture of what the business and SAP landscape will look like in future.

Even though the COE vastly contributes to improved support, there are a number of valid reasons most companies make use of supplemental outsourcing, such as restriction in the number of internal FTEs, or obtaining economies of scale. Finding the right blend is extremely important, and in the end, the company’s philosophies, future plans, as well as the strength of the internal team, will determine the activities to be outsourced.

Another key challenge for companies in a post ‘go live’ environment is the various upgrade and follow-on implementations. When the in-house skills (own employees) are not yet experienced enough, consulting companies often implement what they are familiar and comfortable with, rather than what is the best solution offering for the client. In the mining sector where operational focus is more valued than system support, delivering systems that are not operationally relevant often fails when released into the operational environment. Barnstone has been a critical success factor in many such implementations, especially in the platinum mining sector.

Barnstone supplied resources that acted as own employees to the mining company in various roles. This included company project managers, subject matter experts and solution architects. The Barnstone approach ensured that operational requirements were translated into viable system solutions. This ensured the delivered solutions offered real operational value and is not just another “template” implementation.

Given the long-term nature of the ERP system relationship and that effective SAP support is key to unlocking value from an ERP system, Barnstone strongly recommends that companies invest in selecting a reputable consulting partner to define, build and co-source their support model.

Barnstone Outsourcing is a recognised provider of outsourcing advisory services, SAP support and implementation as well as executive consulting.

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