ASUGForward 2020 - How do you achieve project success amidst a pandemic? Tips from IT leaders at Dell Technologies and Johnsonville Sausage

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed June 24, 2020
ASUGForward day two introduced a new track: IT Operations. After getting under the SAP operations hood, we re-emerged with some vital customer lessons from IT leaders. But have we done enough to automate the management of SAP systems?

ASUG panel with Johnsonville and Dell Technologies
(ASUGForward IT Operations panel)

In my day one ASUGForward coverage, I revisited a stump speech. Virtual events don't have to be a drag:

For ASUG's first annual virtual conference, they decided to keep it simple: no keynotes. Low-key facilitation. Live, customer-focused discussions. A laid back chat channel... Go figure: discussions with customers is all the content you need - even if their webcams aren't state of the art.

Happily, that held up on day two as well, where I took in day two of the sales and e-commerce track. I also inhaled a geeky dose of the IT operations track.

Some of the SAP ops presentations got pretty far into the Solution Manager weeds - which must have been a form of content bliss for some SAP tech leads out there. But for me, the wrap-up panel, moderated by ASUG's Paul Kurchina, brought the project lessons to a head.

Panelists - S/4HANA projects can roll on, but with remote management and business changes

One of the panelists was Ron Gilson, CIO of Johnsonville Sausage. Gilson also serves on the ASUG board; he has provided diginomica with frank views on SAP licensing and S/4HANA migration tips in the past. On this year's "ask the experts" panel, Gilson shared the disruptive issues of managing big projects from home. As I tweeted:

Key point on large scale SAP/IT projects during Coronatimes from Ron Gilson, CIO Johnsonville Sausage:

Large scale projects can still be done, we just haven't figured out how to move them at the speed we could when we could all gather around a white board.

Panelist Raman Yousefi, Director, Technology Alliances - SAP at Dell Technologies, shared a similar view. Projects may not be as stalled out as we assume; it's a matter of strategy and commitment versus inertia. As Yousefi told attendees:

What we're seeing across our customer base - and also internally with Dell - is that customers are moving in the same direction as they were before. To Ron's point, it may not be as quick, and it may be a little bit different. It may be a lot of Zoom meetings across various geos. But both from an S/4 adoption standpoint, technical upgrade versus business transformational type of upgrade, as well as the choice of platform and deployment methods and testing, and a lot of what we talked about earlier - the inertia is in the same direction.

It's a question of how quickly do you want to do it? And what was your original motivation and getting there?

Yousefi says his customers ask Dell for advice on how much of the SAP projects to handle internally. They also need guidance on private and public cloud deployment options. Where does the change come in? Business conditions, cash flow planning, and supply chain management. Yousefi:

A lot of what was happening before COVID within our customers continues to happen. Of course, there are some physical constraints. In some cases, the subscription method makes more sense from a licensing platform. In some cases, we saw capital budgets that were spent more quickly in the first quarter than we would have anticipated otherwise. So it's a question of how much preparation had you done before, and what is your state of readiness?

And how about those supply chain management issues?

We heard some of this from SAP last week: the business continues to run the same. The question is: what is the area of focus? In our case obviously, being a huge supply chain company, having a lot of critical client base such as hospitals and pharma sector customers, supply chain has been our focus, service has been our focus, but fundamentally, the needs that would drive customers toward S/4, we didn't see being changed that much. The one exception I think that SAP would say was different was the UX area and customer sentiment. That's a little bit different area than S/4.

Advice for SAP customers in survival mode

The only problem with this type of conversation: industry variation is striking right now. As Kurchina noted, a company like Johnsonville is basically selling every single sausage it can make right now. Other companies are toughing it out in survival mode. Kurchina asked the panelists for advice - how should customers push for operational efficiencies during such times? Gilson responded:

Now's a great time to start leveraging and reaching out to your partners, and finding out what services or solutions they have that may be greatly reduced or free. SAP has offered up some Qualtrics and other (free) solutions to organizations during this time period. And it's a great way to explore new technology and bring some capabilities to the organization during this time, for very low cost or no cost.

For Gilson, it's about meeting the needs of a changing workforce:

How do we take that forward, and really meet the expectations of employees that have changed over the last six months? I think even those organizations that have probably gone into survival mode have had to invest in remote work.

My question is, as you start preparing to come out of the pandemic right now is: how do you leverage those investments? Has investments in infrastructure become less of a barrier, because you've had to invest in some of these infrastructure things to continue to survive? And can you now start leveraging those investments post-COVID?

Kurchina asked for some final thoughts on the IT operations track. Yousefi talked about Dell's work with Intel to reduce HANA hardware costs:

How do we make the consumption of those services and platforms and so on easier, and maybe more incremental, and ultimately more tied to how the customer needs to spend their IT budget during this time versus next year?

This is not about offering a coupon-like discount. It's about changing pricing to make SAP solutions accessible:

This is not just obviously haggling over price and margin and things like that. It's fundamentally being more flexible in the way that we allow clients to purchase the platforms that they run SAP on.

If anything good comes out of COVID's business impact, it's the realization that technology must tie back to human needs - or fail. Yousefi:

Through the last few months, the human element has been by far the most important... When it comes to the evening time, I see some posts from Ron that remind me of the products Johnsonville puts out. We're all connected in some fashion.

I think we realized that connection despite not being in Orlando with 20,000 of our best friends. We realized the human connection a lot more than I think we would have had otherwise.

For Gilson, the future sped towards us:

The future has arrived much quicker than we thought it would - when it comes to digital technologies and the future of work. I think that's our opportunity, is to figure out and be prognosticators, and look into the future a little bit and figure out: how do we prepare ourselves for the future when we go back to work - because it's going to be very different than it was when we left back in February.

My take

I wasn't able to hit all the IT operations sessions. But from those I attended, I got a reminder of the significant effort still required to maintain in-house SAP deployments. Applying patches and vigorous testing cycles is hardly what strategic IT is about. Neither is coordinating complex integration scenarios.

There is a huge amount of work ahead simplifying and automating the management of SAP landscapes. ASUG did a good job of pushing that discussion via new tools and automation tactics. Frankly, I'm not confident in SAP to solve this on their own. I believe SAP partners with fresh ideas are instrumental to modernizing SAP operations; a couple of those presented on this track.

Change is coming - but is it coming fast enough? Yes, terms like AIOps and RPA came into play in some sessions. Buzzwords to be wary of? Yes. But alleviating administrative human toil - that's a discussion worth putting up with buzzwords for.

The session with Avantra and their customer Zappos also addressed automating SAP operations. Matthew Harmon, Senior IT Technology Advisor, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, spoke to Goodyear's use of SAP's Innovation and Optimization Pathfinder, which is a free SAP service to determine what business KPIs should be measured in your SAP system. Bring on more of that.

Gilson has been an advocate for simplified SAP licensing. Yousefi chimed in on improving SAP pricing. Add landscape management, or SAP ALM if you prefer, to that work-in-progress list.

Note: this week, you can still register for ASUGForward and catch upcoming sessions and those on replay (ASUG members get free access). You do not need to be an ASUG member to participate, but in that case, there is a cost for the event.