Top Tips for effectively running a UK-based SAP support team

Absoft’s offices are in Aberdeen and Stavanger, and our support and consulting services are all delivered by consultants based in the UK.  This is absolutely fundamental to our approach of working closely with our customers’ internal teams to deliver value and improved efficiency.

Some customers are faced with challenges in maintaining a UK-based team, despite the advantages it brings in being closer to their business.  

Offshore Labour

Over the years, customers have tried innovative solutions to support their SAP systems more cheaply.  One of the most common approaches is to use offshore labour from countries with lower wages to perform parts of the support function.

Offshoring works well for some organisations, but physical distance, timezones, cultural and language barriers all contribute to a more challenging working environment.  Everyone encounters a failed IT offshoring exercise at some point in their career.

Cost of working in the UK

At Absoft we do work with some offshore teams that our customers have, but we mainly specialise in working with internal teams in the UK.  Being able to communicate seamlessly, meet frequently, form genuine human relationships and run a team effort to deliver our shared goals is key to our success. 

Most companies want to keep their entire team in the UK, but wonder how to afford it.  This is a list of tips we use to run our UK-based support team cost-effectively, and I hope it could be useful to anybody trying to set up or retain a UK-based team.

Absoft’s offices are in Aberdeen and Stavanger, and our support and consulting services are all delivered by consultants based in the UK.  This is absolutely fundamental to our approach of working closely with our customers’ internal teams to deliver value and improved efficiency.

Some customers are faced with challenges in maintaining a UK-based team, despite the advantages it brings in being closer to their business.  High salaries for support staff and a skills shortage contribute to spiralling costs in SAP support teams, and it can really impact total cost of ownership of a SAP solution.  

Most teams have an awareness of low-value activities they perform, but don’t do much to improve it.  Business process improvement is bread and butter for most SAP teams, but as they say the cobbler’s children has no shoes, the SAP team may have the worst processes.

It might seem like you are shooting yourself in the foot by automating part of your own job, possibly removing an easy activity from your role and replacing it with harder value-add activities.  But it’s important to always be moving forward and delivering value that matches your costs on an international level to be an effective UK-based team.

Some practical examples are:

  • Automate daily checks.  Our SAP Managed Service has automated monitoring at its core, which lets us use our team to monitor a larger number of systems and perform high-value work when they have problems.
  • Improve user maintenance.  If you are maintaining passwords for SAP users, bite the bullet and implement single sign-on.  If you have your SAP team managing SAP accounts, package up this activity for your helpdesk to perform.
  • Improve roles and authorisations.  One of my colleagues recently completed some work to change how authorisations were used by one of our customers.  He was originally asked to improve their security, but the result was improving the whole end-to-end process with reference users and simpler roles so that the SAP team spent less time fiddling with authorisations and more could be packaged up for their helpdesk.

Best practices are built on the collective experience of everyone in a similar boat to you, and are invaluable in improving team efficiency.  It takes real effort to change the way things have always been done to try something new, but if a recommendation is given by a reliable source it’s worth considering.

An example of a recommendation that is often ignored is the advice to move all transports through to production, on a release schedule, with all unwanted transports immediately backed out.  It’s a near-impossible pill to swallow for customers who have always picked individual transports to put live when needed, but it has been demonstrated that the time and effort you can save from not having half-finished transports make this a worthwhile change to make.

Hardware sizing is another example.  If you have ever worked in a SAP team that is trying to fight against a performance problem or system that is pushed beyond its limits, you will know it costs far more in the end to firefight it for years than to fix it up-front with better hardware that everyone usually knows you need in the first place.  But it takes some guts to make that spending decision before you’ve wasted the time on trying every other option.

Like offshoring, outsourcing is a common solution but it’s not without drawbacks.  As a consultant I work in a lot of IT departments and see what works and what doesn’t.  What works in my opinion is to keep what you can in-house, and areas that become tricky to do internally go to a properly integrated and trusted partner.

If you require less than one FTE of a really specialist skillset that nobody can pick up, that’s a job for a partner.  If you have a team responsible for a critical part of your business, at least part of that team needs to be made up of your employees who care about your objectives and focus on your business alone.

For managers, the challenge is in making sure your team trust you and know your intentions.  I’ve encountered scenarios where management at a customer have brought us in, and the team we are working with have deliberately sabotaged any chance of us helping them out due to concerns over what the relationship could mean for their job.

For team members, the challenge is to see where the outsourcing is not a threat and to make it work.  It takes some bravery to see how using a network of trusted advisors to help you with specialist areas can actually protect, rather than threaten your job by letting you deliver a huge amount of value both from your own technical skills and the integration of others.

Low-value activities should be eradicated, but they have to exist in the first place to be identified as a low-value activity to eradicate.  Our solution for performing low-value activities in the short term is to keep an active staff development programme.  One man’s low-value activity is another’s learning curve.

Trainees need to learn the basics, and are cost-effective to employ, so there’s a great synergy in letting them deliver simpler activities whilst they learn.  This is obvious but the challenge is how you make sure they can move on, as you will lose good people if they are still making the tea after five years.

Proper promotion and opportunities at all levels is key, which is easy for Absoft since a majority of our employees are SAP consultants, meaning we always have a lot of opportunities.  If you are drilling for oil or manufacturing shoes with only four SAP specialists on a payroll of thousands it’s a bit more difficult to give them the right opportunities.

It might seem counter intuitive, but the cumbersome and expensive approach taken by large organisations may be the answer.  They recruit graduates to work in various departments, and a typical career could include working in a whole range of disciplines and areas.  It works well in practice with the highly-specialised skills provided by the right partners and the employees there to make it work.

Being able to move to a new team means your junior employees never get stuck, and means you always have a constant trickle of new graduates.  Automating part of their role might be one of the last activities you can expect a successful graduate to perform before they move into their next challenge in your organisation.

Conclusion

I hope these tips are helpful to anyone creating or trying to retain a UK-based team.  They are based on what I’ve seen working in our team here at Absoft and from visiting a number of IT departments, but please share your experiences in the comments.  

Want to know more? Access our Top Ten Tips for Selecting an SAP Support Provider below.

by Robert MacDonald, SAP Consultant