“There is always a delta” – An expert talks about international SAP rollouts

International rollouts present a challenge for many companies. The ERP has been implemented at headquarters; now it’s time to transition the branches and subsidiaries in other countries to using the new SAP system. What’s the best way to ensure this goes smoothly? When it comes to international SAP rollouts, T.CON has unique experience – for one thing, we’ve been involved in numerous projects for internationally active SMEs.

Plattling, November 17, 2020

Expert talk about international SAP rollouts

Christopher Stangl, Manager of T.CON’s business unit Manufacturing Industries I, explains what’s so unique about T.CON’s rollout expertise and why certain soft skills are important as well as professional expertise.    

Christopher Stangl, what makes an international SAP rollout uniquely challenging?  

The rollout changes things considerably at the site where it happens. The site has to get on board with new software and features, and the team becomes a part of what’s going on at other locations. There’s also a psychological level that should not be ignored. If I’m a key user in an ERP project, I am a part of shaping my own future. It motivates me and helps establish acceptance for those projects. A rollout is a completely different situation – as a key user I am rolled over with other people’s ideas.  I would therefore need advisors who understand the starting point, boost confidence, and to a large extent are also change managers. 

International SAP rollouts: a tight timeframe

Another issue is that the timeframe for a rollout is very tight. End users don’t have much time to get to know the SAP system and develop expertise. On top of that, there are issues such as data migration. Another big challenge for rollout planning is the interaction with experts on site, for example during the cut-over or when we go live. How do the days lead up to the change look? What’s the exact process for the rollout? Do we need to schedule in a day of production downtime? Will we need to switch out hardware on the shop floor? Will I need new labels on the shelves for the new scanners? There are hundreds of these details that need to be settled in advance. 

What makes T.CON’s rollout expertise so unique?  

First, as SAP Gold Partners, we specialize in every aspect of the value chain. Second, as a one-stop provider, we can help with every area of the rollout. More importantly still, our focus is human-centered– both here in-house, and on your site during customer projects. Our expertise goes beyond our professional SAP know-how.

Our consultants bring character into projects

Our consultants bring a personal element to the project and contribute empathy as well as professional expertise. That means we can help build confidence in the rollout at more than just the technical and procedural levels. 

What is T.CON’s methodology for a rollout? 

We work with a model that assigns central roles to global and local key users, alongside the project manager and supported by the IT team. The global key users are generally located at headquarters and are individuals who have an excellent understanding of one or more departments or areas. These users are very familiar with the template that will be rolled out across the board. They are responsible for training the local key users and for providing support during the local rollouts. 

The local key user is the first point of contact for users at a location – these key users have primary responsibility on site. They will be familiar with the local situation and regionally varying legal frameworks and are also responsible for training users at their location and coordinating the local rollout, testing, and cutover. 

What happens if nobody takes on these roles?

Ideally, the global and local key users form a working group to continue developing the template. IT provides support for the technical elements of the rollout project, such as the infrastructure.

Does it sometimes happen that nobody has taken on a particular role? What do you do then? 

It can happen that over time, rollout competence is lost among global key users – for example if the last rollout was a long time ago and then, years later, a new rollout in a new country appears on the horizon. In that kind of situation, rollout competence must be built back up.   

How should a company go about that? 

Every company needs design its own process, depending on its starting point. The question to ask is: What is a core task for my employees, and what can I outsource? If your company is looking at scheduling ten rollouts, then it’s worthwhile to develop and maintain that knowledge in-house. That means you need to be thinking particularly about local rollout experts, as well as the global users. Your local key users will need numerous skills – communication skills, a good command of English, process knowledge, etc. Not everyone automatically has these qualifications, so you might need to set up specially targeted training. 

Rollout skills can be lost

If, on the other hand, you’re only anticipating new rollouts every five years, it might not really be cost-effective to develop the necessary skills. Instead, you can outsource lots of the tasks associated with the rollout. We at T.CON can help here, whether you just need user training, support with implementing local statutory requirements, or a full local configuration of your applications.   

What is the typical process for an international rollout? 

It’s important to understand that there is always a delta – there are always small differences. Companies frequently imagine that they can just copy their template without adapting it, but that’s usually just not the case for an international SAP rollout. Legal provisions differ from place to place, for example, the South American subsidiary of a European company will have quite different customers to the European locations. So, you might find, that requirements for labels or EDI messages differ from those used in the template. Or you might need new interfaces, perhaps to a local HR system or a third-party warehousing system.

There is always a delta in an international SAP rollout 

Before the rollout starts, it’s important to hold a “delta” workshop on site – what are the differences for your rollout? The workshop covers legal requirements and the technical requirements that differ from the template. These on-site workshops are led by the global key users, supported by technical consultants.  

Once the workshop is complete – and only then – it’s time to start the implementation, i.e. to prepare the SAP system. Process modifications might still take place in the old system during this phase, in order to reduce the risks when you finally go live.  

The next stage is the functional test, carried out by global and local key users. When everything has passed, it’s time to train the users. An integration test is then held to test the system on site and verify data migration. At the end of the integration test, the key users can give an official “go live” recommendation. 

Some functions may have to be checked again in particular plants, to rule out unwanted side-effects. The cut-over can be launched several weeks before the system finally goes live, and generally ends at the end of the first month. The cut-over involves technical aspects such as data migration along with issues like informing suppliers and customers. Ideally, your end customers shouldn't see any impact on the company’s business that could indicate that the underlying system has changed. Deliveries should just keep on arriving on time.  

Once the system goes live, additional support is generally needed for a month or two, and we always schedule this in.

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Norbert Kytka, Headquarters Plattling