In a recent post, Dennis Howlett (http://blogs.zdnet.com/Howlett/) extends upon my call to SAP to rationalize its maintenance fee policy and he rightly raises the subject of how Centers of Excellence, tied to certification, should lead to preferred terms with SAP.
This is a fairly huge subject that I have been dealing with since 2001 and there will be further posts in this regard. For the moment, let’s concentrate upon what I have observed is the greatest impediment to sustaining a viable Center of Excellence and the reason that so many of them turn into Centers of Mediocrity.
The notion of business process was popularized in the mid-1990’s by the bestseller Reengineering the Corporation by James Champy and Michael Hammer. Like most revolutionary ideas, it led to mass confusion and set up a power curve for every SAP implementation that followed. We all know about the SAP learning curve. The power curve is kicked off by the learning curve as when departmental heads in a vertical environment are told that the organizational will heretofore “flatten” and become horizontal. The “lesson” is that department heads no longer call all the shots in their domains and are required to blend into business processes. Turf wars inevitably proliferate.
The measure of a power curve is revealed in the time it takes for your firm to make decisions relative to the business processes to be adopted either as part of an SAP implementation or in response to business need or opportunity. If there has been knowledgeable management commitment from the outset, this curve is shortened.
The duration of this curve is determined by the levels of unity, management, and communications of a firm, as well as by the quality of preparation during the runway phase to major process changes.
At the heart of business process change is, or should be, the business process owners whose key responsibility is to assess and monitor process performance and metrics with a focus upon continuous process improvement.
Only about fifteen years have passed since this concept was introduced into the business world and it is still difficult for many companies to shift an organizational mindset away from discrete vertical departments (marketing-sales-production-billing) into fully operational and horizontal business process units. Therefore, the role of business process ownership is only partially baked into the business conscience and fulfilling that role can be perilous.
Since most business processes cross departmental boundaries, their “owners” are often at odds with department heads with turf issues. Without a clear charter and authority from on high, a business process owner is constantly buffeted by resistance to process change. The result is an inability to improve business processes beyond the tinkering stage which does not result in any appreciable business benefit. In such a situation, business process ownership is business process orphanship.
Back when I was first researching best practices for post-implementation SAP, I had the good fortune to work with Jack Childs of SAP America whose task in life was supporting the major North American SAP accounts and whose insight into client efforts was invaluable. In 2003, Mr. Childs administered an informal poll regarding the role of a business process owner and found that the shelf-life was only two years. Reasons for this short shelf life were unsurprising: high stress, low authority, inability to succeed.
If you do not invest good business process owners with proper executive support, you should not bother building an SAP Center of Excellence. Of all the roles included, it is the most vital.
For more, check out Jon Reed's piece: http://www.jonerp.com/content/view/209/1/