Back in 2001, I left the field of SAP consulting to become an industry analyst at META Group. My coverage area was consulting firms and over the next six years I advised dozens of them in regard to competitive analysis, marketing & messaging, delivery methods, market positioning, and effective sales techniques. What I enjoyed most about this work was the freedom to complete research in order to move past anecdotes and direct experience. What I liked least about this work was, frankly, a lot of the vendor contact. An uncomfortably high number of the consulting leaders that I came across were combinations of self-righteous, arrogant, deaf, paranoid, and dishonest. Too often I was told “We are our clients’ trusted advisors”, a specious claim for which there was never any evidence. Multiple partners from one of the largest firms tended to say “Our clients love us”, to which my immediate answer was always “You’re not talking to all of your clients.” Sales pitches invariably included a reference to how “our people are different”, to which I would ask “How different? Can they go sleepless? Do they have three hands?” The single most annoying aspect of vendor contact was hearing how a firm was “the industry leader in [fill in the blank]” when in nearly every case there was no reference to how such leadership was ascertained or awarded. As Christopher Hitchens puts it (albeit in a different context) “What can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof.”
All this time, I very definitely kept my hand in the world of SAP. Until 2001, all efforts by SAP and its implementation partners were focused upon rapid implementations. However, I had a large number of META Group clients who already had SAP. Many of them had read my SAP Blue Book, A Concise Business Guide to the World of SAP and tended to say that it was useful while they were implementing but now that they were live, they needed other advice. Did I have another book about best practices after go-live?
While I was willing to write one, there was one significant impediment: with a rigid focus on implementations, neither SAP nor its partners had much to say in regard to best practices or thought leadership regarding the deployment of an SAP installation.
My META Group clients were all asking fairly similar questions:
- How do we best organize to keep business and IT alignment?
- How do we maintain end user competency?
- How do we gain measurable business benefit?
- Who out there is thriving with their SAP platform?
- What should we be outsourcing and how do we decide?
My second step was to contact the SAP and Oracle practice leaders of Accenture, IBM, Deloitte, KPMG (later Bearing Point) and SAP Consulting to pose the question: Can you help clients build an SAP center of excellence?
Unsurprisingly, every one affirmed an ability to do so. Here is how every conversation went:
Me: Can you help clients build an SAP (or Oracle) center of excellence?
Practice Leader: Sure can.
Me: Good news. Might I see your methodology?
Practice Leader: Uh, we don’t have one of those. We, uh, compile a team each time.
Me: Fair enough. Who are your references?
Practice Leader: Well, we, uh, don’t have any of those. But, hey, Michael, let me introduce you to Steve.
Steve: Hi, Michael. I head up our firm’s applications outsourcing group.
These oft-repeated scenarios only inspired me to write an article entitled “Option A or Option A: Funneling Clients to Application Outsourcing. “
Taking it one step further, I undertook a study of the various implementation methodologies of leading systems integrators which revealed that post-implementation planning was almost entirely neglected. Every ounce of effort and concentration was upon a rush to the go-live wedding at the expense of the post go-live marriage. In essence, systems integrators (with much collaboration from SAP, which, let’s face it, actually named their implementation methodology ASAP) were helping clients set the stage for poor deployment.
I then went to what George W. Bush would later refer to as “the interwebs” (and which Senator Stevens of Alaska once helpfully explained is “a series of tubes”). There was a surfeit of information about upgrades and a mountain of listings about outsourcing (‘your mess for less!”). But there was nothing in the “tubes” about centers of excellence, SAP best practices for deployment, or even how to achieve and maintain business and IT alignment.
That took me to the end of 2001 and my bottom line was that all the consulting firms and SAP itself were rushing clients through lousy implementation projects, few of which included any post-implementation planning, and then abandoning those clients after go-live with a message of “You’ll figure it out (but when you don’t you can outsource to us.)”
From that point until recently, I relied upon a growing network of individuals to research best post-implementation practices since SAP Consulting and its partners were of scant use.
The first individual who contributed was Sharon Moody, who in late 2001 had recently retired from Delta but who very generously shared her research with me. With this jumpstart, I published a white paper about centers of excellence for SAP and was amazed at the outpouring of interest. At this point, I was given a major boost by Jack Childs who role at SAP in those days was that of babysitter to the top North American accounts. Between my position at META Group and Jack’s client contacts, I was able to make a number of client connections that revealed many best practices.
I presumed at the time that others would join in on this research. Outside of various members of SAP itself, none have other than fitfully and in passing. I have been joined by Michael Connor, founder and CEO of Meridian Consulting (www.meridian-us.com) and have found occasional material from AMR Research (now absorbed into Gartner), Forrester, and a few of the systems integration firms.
However, the best sources of learning best practices have been clients. For a stretch, I had the pleasure of working with a group consisting of Wrigley, S.C. Johnson and, to some degree, Kimberley Clark in which best practices were shared, debated, and refined. I had a wonderful week in 2005 Paris working with L’Oréal which had a very advanced global center of excellence. Through the years, I actively googled in search of articles or blog posts regarding post-implementation strategies and found very very little and while I came across a number of consultants with experience in the post-implementation market but found none of them worked in that market full time.
In the spring of 2009 I began writing The SAP Green Book, Thrive After Go Live. First I gathered and expanded various articles and white papers that I had written over the years and contacted various contributors industry analysts Jon Reed (of JonERP, the independent Joshua Greenbaum, and Dane Anderson, a vice president at Gartner in charge of research of managed services. I also contacted a number of clients and consulted and the book was actively “edited” by these contributors as it was being written. I also had one more round of asking systems integrators if they could help clients build centers of excellence. This time, no one bothered to fake me out. One even said, “Michael, why would we teach our clients how to fish?”
Thus, it was not until October of 2009 that I had enough material to publish The SAP Green Book, Thrive After Go Live (a second, expanded and revised edition was issued this year. In February of 2012, the book will be re-issued by SAP Press).
In early 2010, I had the good fortune of meeting Paul Kurchina, for many years the face of ASUG and today a leading light in the SAP Insider community. Through Paul, I met Gabe Rodriguez and Brian Dahill who lead the Center of Excellence special interest group at ASUG (and organize the highly popular pre-SAPPHIRE conference each year). Brian and Gabe honored me with the request that I keynote the upcoming event where I had the great pleasure of discovering huge client interest in business-centric centers of excellence. As had been the case for nine years to that point, the most frequent question I got was “Who can help us with this?” When I asked who they had tried, the answers were “Accenture but we kicked them out.” “IBM but we kicked them out.” “SAP but we kicked them out.”
When I asked why, I was told, invariably: “They had no methodology and they were too concentrated on IT and application maintenance. We want something business centric.”
Both Brian Dahill and I began asking clients: “Isn’t the key question ‘how do I build a center of excellence’?” The answer then was a resounding “Yes!”
Brian Dahill has been consulting in a center of excellence environment for the past eight years and neither of us had ever seen more than a PowerPoint on the subject of building one. I had few client engagements through the summer of 2010 and so I took the opportunity to build the first one, which I have dubbed “The Bridge Method, A methodology for creating a sustainable Center of Excellence that will drive & govern continuous and measurable business benefit”.
I was able to come up with this methodology based upon the assistance I had been providing to clients since late 2001. Brian was very helpful in reviewing my work and adding his input based upon his work in the field. It was also helpful that, during this same period, I linked up with SAP Education to lead three webinars on the subject of end users and enablement. To my great joy, the campaign was very successful and the contacts that I made (most notably Kerry Brown of SAP Enablement and Julie Stokes, the SAP Training Strategist at Fluor Corporation and leader of ASUG’s Documentation and Training Special Interest Group) have been instrumental in fine-tuning the Enablement Domain requirements for a Center of Excellence. (A case study “Drivers at Work Building an Effective and Sustainable Super User Network at Fluor Corporation” will be posted later this year).
The key tenet behind the center of excellence (and thus the critical path of The Bridge Method) is the re-ordering of the business and IT dynamic. For fifty years, we have been seeking “business & IT alignment” and I find that even this elusive goal is misbegotten since it suggests that business and IT should work in a partnership. In fact, IT should be entirely at the service of business. For this reason, the IT agenda –when it comes to applications- is almost entirely driven by business process owners. (For more detail on the strategy behind this, read my April 2011 post “IT, Your Fifteen Years are Up”.)
In August of 2010, just as I was finishing the first version of The Bridge Method, Paul Kurchina was asked by Nathalie Mercier of CGI who he would recommend as a speaker for a client event. Paul gave her my name and thus began my relationship with CGI, first in advising them in regard to their marketing and messaging, then in leading a client seminar, and finally in partnering with them in regard to Centers of Excellence.
From September of 2010 to date, I have not heard from anyone at CGI about how they are their clients’ “trusted advisor”, nor did anyone boast that their clients love them. No one tried to “sell” me on their field excellence or show off with three letter acronyms. Whereas most of their contemporaries avoided helping clients to build a Center of Excellence, the people I have worked with at CGI are continually asking a) how I can help them to help their clients get more value from their services and b) what do they need to learn to work with clients in this regard.
I was as a subcontractor in a few of their proposals and in February, I crossed “the aisle” and offered my services on a full-time basis. Shortly thereafter, I was awarded a sub-contract project with CGI to help a major Canadian bank design and plan its business process-centric Center of Excellence. This intense 400 hour project (which is the object of an upcoming case study) provided me a twelve-week period during which I was able to a) prove out, expand, and revise The Bridge Method and b) hang with my potential new colleagues at great length.
September 12, 2011 was my first day as a CGI employee. My title is executive consultant and my charge is to a) continue with my thought leadership in regard to centers of excellence and all that they embrace, b) expand CGI capabilities in this regard, c) continually inform CGI clients and prospects regarding best practices and how to and d) practice my arts in the field. Since mid-September, I have provided open "Thrive after Go-Live workshops in Toronto and Calgary" and have worked with five different clients in various aspects related to the Center of Excellence.
Throughout its history, CGI has been especially focused on managed services rather than systems integration. This concentration and experience provide the ideal context and support for all aspects of a business-centric center of excellence.
More and more of my CGI colleagues, including our Business Engineering group, are working with me to provide clients with the means to get more measurable business benefit from their SAP/ERP investments by organizing themselves in a business-centric fashion.
My joining CGI is by no means the end of my publishing and blogging. On the contrary, surrounded by an enlightened group of consultants and with more access to client contact, I expect to have more to contribute than ever before and welcome your continuing commentary and input.
CGI, celebrating thirty-five years since its founding, is headquartered in Montreal. The acronym is derived from Conseil en Gestion Informatique which translates quite simply into “IT consulting”. Now that CGI is an international player ($4.2B, 46% Canada, 47% U.S. 7% Europe), the updated meaning of the acronym is a still precise Consulting for Government and Industry.