April 1999

SAP users get their turn

User group poll, upgrade, some modifications should smooth out a bumpy adjustment

Part of the training strategy for SAP involves compiling “help aids,” which are step by step how-to lists.
SAP R/3, ORNL’s new business system, may have been successfully implemented last October, but the war for the hearts and minds of its Lab user community is still being waged.

As a commercial, off-the-shelf business system, SAP lacks much of the home-spun charm and old-shoe comfort of its predecessor systems. It’s also, in many respects, a work in progress. However you couch it, SAP has been met by its users with a good share of vexation.

“The module I need is inactive.”

“It takes 10 times more operations to get to my data, and it now takes up six computer screens instead of one.”

“Printing out a report can reduce a grown man to tears.”

Note to SAP users: You are not alone. Help is on the way.

An SAP user group with representatives from all divisions has been formed. The group is polling the user community for suggestions on how to make the system perform better for the Laboratory.

Chief Information Officer Becky Verastegui and Jeff Ault, manager of Business Systems Support, recently discussed the concerns of users in Building 2001’s SAP ground zero.

“The ORNL user community needs time to gain confidence in the SAP system and to adjust to new responsibilities resulting from reengineered processes. We have to be sensitive to that,” says Ault. “It’s not a matter of ‘nobody’s listening; nobody cares.’ Accountability and responsibility are now in the field, and that means more work for some. It’s going to take time to get accustomed to these changes and to improve SAP to help our staff deal with these changes.”

The SAP user group is currently compiling a list of suggestions, observations and complaints from the divisions. Those will be analyzed and prioritized. Evidence of trends in the requests will be sought. Some improvements might be quick fixes; others may require several hours of investigation and reprogramming. Examples of frequently mentioned wishes of users include having names and organizations affixed to badge numbers on SAP screens, better reporting capabilities, more training, improved scripts and “help aids” and easier printing for Macs.

“We’ll need justifications for any changes we make and we have to know what the ramifications are if we don’t implement a suggested change,” Ault says. “We could make a change to make someone’s job easier, but what would it do to other users now and to business systems as a whole down the road?”

Many of the tailored features of the old business system were possible because the system was served with multiple systems—more than 50—that were expensive to maintain and not very integrated. In a nutshell, any SAP customization for one user or operation might come at the detriment to the efficiency of the overall system.

“Customization can be expensive, and budgets will be a limiting factor in changes we make,” adds Verastegui. “We won’t change the source code as it comes from SAP. Customizing SAP can cause problems which have long-term ramifications, such as when upgrades are issued by SAP. All custom solutions have to be manually reexamined to see if they still work with the new SAP version and with all of its integration components.”

The current version of SAP/R3 is being upgraded from 3.1 to version 4.0, in fact, this month.

Many of the rough spots SAP users have encountered stem from the fact that the system isn’t, by design, user friendly. Ault says SAP promises better user friendliness in the upgrade, “but that remains to be seen.”

“SAP isn’t intuitive, like a lot of commercial program software that people are accustomed to, like Word or WordPerfect,” says Verastegui. “It doesn’t feel comfortable to people who are used to user-friendly software. Without training, you don’t really know what to do when you get to a point in the program.”

“Training is definitely one of the top user concerns,” says Ault. “There was a time lag between initial training and real-time experience for most users. Now, six months into using it, is the time for reinforced training.”

Part of the training strategy for SAP involves compiling “help aids,” which are step by step how-to lists.

“Operations that used to be done with core groups have now been decentralized,” Ault says. The effect of that is that division reps are performing tasks new to them only three or four times a year, which isn’t often enough to retain the process, especially with a system that’s not intuitive. We’re trying to have enough help aids—how to’s—to help the division reps fulfill their responsibilities.”

Plans are also being made to work with Program Services and Accounting to provide help for users in the financial community with a “superuser front line of defense” made up of finance officers who have devoted the time to gain a better than average knowledge of SAP and are willing to share it with others. Human Resources is planning a new helpline strategy for users who have organization management, training, or other HR-related problems.

Ault and Verastegui express confidence that, in the long run, SAP users will grow more accustomed to SAP as the system is fine-tuned to serve the Lab. Although SAP was implemented last October, the change was never expected to occur overnight.

“It doesn’t happen on day one,” Verastegui says. “Another Lockheed Martin company that implemented SAP took more than nine months to get through the startup pain. And that was a smaller company.” —B.C.