Agile & DevOps

Yoda’s guide to faster SAP delivery

Frank Oz was the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars movies.

I’m sure you’ve heard that inverted sentence structure he used.

When nine hundred years old you reach, look as good you will not

Everybody knows Yoda – even the handful of people who don’t like Star Wars know of Yoda.

But I’m always surprised that people don’t know more about Frank Oz.

You see Frank Oz also did the voices for Fozzy Bear and Miss Piggy from the Muppets. He also voiced the Cookie Monster, Grover and Bert (of Bert and Ernie fame) from Sesame Street.

Whenever I point out this piece of astoundingly useless trivia to people, they go through the same mental process.

First they frown for a few seconds.

Then they say something like…

Oh yes. Now I think about it, they do have the same voice.

Hindsight is a strange thing – some things are really obvious once they’ve been pointed out to you.

In a similar way, I’m also always surprised that more people don’t know about Gartner’s Pace Layered Application Strategy model.

Although it’s not as well known as Yoda or Fozzy Bear, the principles behind Pace Layering are really obvious in hindsight.

Pace Layering divides IT systems into 3 layers

  • Systems of Record – core ERP functions that manage ‘standard’ business process like finance
  • Systems of Differentiation – the things that help you beat your competition by being more efficient or responsive. Things like order processing and supply chain execution
  • Systems of Innovation – those things that help you plot new business strategies, transform business models or change the rules of the game. You know – the really disruptive stuff.

Gartner argues that managing change to these systems can’t all happen at the same pace. You need to run different types of systems at different ‘layers of pace’ – effectively managing systems in separate streams.

So the kind of change that makes your business more competitive and affects things like market share can be delivered really quickly. But the change associated with your core, standard, sacrosanct business processes continues to run at a slower and more considered pace.

This doesn’t mean that you can only run finance changes at a slow pace – it means that the systems that drive innovation and disruption shouldn’t be held back by the pace of change of your more static “systems of record”

Gartner also argues that it is possible to accelerate innovation by adopting a Pace-Layered Application Strategy.

But you have a big ERP system right?

So everything lives in one big, integrated system – finance, supply chain, CRM, plant maintenance, procurement, sales order processing and so on. And, more recently, you’ve probably started to add other things on to your SAP platform too – mobility, web integration, analytics and integration with the outside connected world.

So if you run SAP, pace layering must be really, really hard.

How can you divide changes to different ‘modules’ of an integrated ERP system into separate pace layers?

Some SAP changes need to run at Millenium Falcon Hyperdrive pace – to help you compete for market share – at the same time as SAP finance changes plodding along like an AT-AT Walker on the surface of the ice planet Hoth.

We’ve all been in those CAB meetings where somebody pipes up.

“but we can’t go live with the X changes because the Y changes aren’t ready – they need more testing so we don’t impact Z

X = impatient but strategically important business function

Y= risk averse but operationally critical business functional

Z = very important stable business process

One school of thought is to re-architect your SAP system to an SOA based model – where everything is de-coupled and abstracted and changes can flow in different streams at different speeds. But SOA is yesterday’s news. And who actually invested in carving out swathes of ABAP code during a decade of global economic downturn and spending restriction?

It was a nice idea that never really took off at scale in the SAP world.

The other approach is to think differently about the way you manage SAP changes.

A different approach to SAP change control

Read the Gartner research note “Pace Layers Boost the Business Value of SAP ERP Investments” by Derek Prior and you’ll find that 2 of the 3 case study SAP customers referenced as Pace Layering exponents are RS Components and Birmingham City Council.

Both of these large, complex SAP customers use ActiveControl to run their SAP change control process.

This is no coincidence.

And it’s why hundreds of SAP customers are turning to our quick to implement, flexible SAP release management solutions rather than using SAP’s own ChaRM solution.

Most of the time, we can have ActiveControl live before your systems integrator can find a ChaRM implementation consultant.

Seriously, if you want your business to out-maneuver the competition, if you believer Gartner’s thoroughly researched Pace Layering model, you need an SAP Change Control solution that’s fit for a Jedi.

Take a look at Basis Technologies DevOps tools for SAP and the force may be with you and your business.

Much to learn you still have, my old Padawan. This is just the beginning!

Read our ebook 7 fatal assumptions about SAP agility here

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