One for the road: SAP trumpets business-IT alignment

SAP continued its “Best of SAP World Tour” with a stop in Toronto Wednesday, where officials outlined the company’s vision of a future where business strategies are more tightly aligned with the efforts of the IT department. To help get to that future, SAP is using the tour to spread the gospel of changing business processes more quickly than in the past.

By 2007, Hanover, Germany-based SAP expects to have its full mySAP suite running on an updated architecture, dubbed the Business Process Platform, which SAP hopes will allow customers to treat IT operations as configurable piecemeal processes. SAP has rebuilt its software around its integration-focused NetWeaver middleware and is aiming to have its full mySAP suite of ERP applications available on the new platform by the end of this year.

What the new architecture ultimately will achieve, according to keynote speaker Thomas Bauer, head, Global ERP Initiative for SAP, is an increased agility within a company that will allow for shorter transition periods when a decision is made to enter a new line of business or to simply change the direction of a current endeavour.

“Today, 80 per cent of IT’s tasks are maintenance,” said Bauer to an audience of about 250 customers and partners. “We have to free up some of that time to meet the CEO’s goals. We need a new roadmap.”

Like many other enterprise software vendors, SAP has hitched its vision to the service-oriented architecture (SOA) star. The idea is to move away from monolithic, highly customized applications and toward a standards-based, modular approach that will allow customers to more easily tailor their IT systems to changing business needs and processes.

Another hurdle to be cleared on the way to this vision, according to guest speaker Jorge Lopez, an analyst with market researcher Gartner, is the ongoing “war” within companies between IT and business.

“Business sees IT as too rigid,” Lopez said. “IT staff tend to be very analytical. They think business has unrealistic ideas of what IT can accomplish.”

One customer that has begun to go down the services/business process road is Brampton, Ont.-based telecom equipment maker Nortel Inc., which has deployed the SAP Netweaver platform, as well as SAP R/3 for its finance and human resources needs. Nortel will be moving to the mySAP business suite as it completes its business transformation process.

According to Gabriele R. Bauman, SAP Program Leader, Information Systems for Nortel, benefits are already being realized, such as a reduction in the number of user interfaces some employees encounter in their efforts to perform tasks.

“It means a lot – now only one interface instead of three is needed (for someone) to put in an order,” she said.

Implementing a dashboard for the company’s CEO has also helped keep him and other Nortel business leaders in the loop.

“He sees the key indicators, and the security is set so that only he and [his team] can view it,” Bauman said.

That type of executive buy-in, or sponsorship, is crucial to the success of these large-scale implementations, Bauman added.

“You must have executive sponsorship, right up to the CEO,” she said. “Before, projects would limp along.” Today, meetings are conducted every two weeks with the CEO’s steering committee to keep upper management very much involved with issues relating to the implementation and growth of the SAP projects.

The Best of SAP World Tour continues Thursday in Calgary.

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