An SAP Centre of Excellence – How Can it Help You?

The shorthand for Centre of Excellence “CoE” is everywhere and not just in SAP circles either. But how does an SAP Centre of Excellence relate to your SAP team today? Eursap has already detailed what your SAP CoE structure should look like, so let’s build on that base and explore the culture and working practices of a modern SAP CoE.

How does a traditional SAP support and enhancement team differ from an SAP CoE?

Let’s look at some specific characteristics:

Reactive versus proactive – sounds like a cliché doesn’t it?

In IT teams, this can be as different as night and day. A traditional SAP team will work on projects and “fixes” as part of its day to day activities. The projects are always dictated by requirements from the wider business, whereas fixes are amendments made to the system in order to correct an error. Both these channels are reactive channels – you could be forgiven for thinking your SAP team is sitting on its hands waiting for work to come its way.

An SAP CoE team operates on a different level altogether. Yes of course, it carries out projects and fixes errors, but much of this work is generated by a partnership between the business and IT. The business does not necessarily know what SAP new technologies are available to meet business needs; this is where the CoE comes into its own. With deep rooted partnerships with business stakeholders, combined with expert knowledge of the SAP roadmap and emerging technologies, the CoE can tailor specific solutions to business requirements in a proactive fashion. The SAP CoE will also come to the aid of the business before they even realise there is a problem. High performing monitoring systems embedded in applications, such as SAP Solution Manager, will offer up early warning signs that something is amiss and action is required.

Treating your system for differentiation and innovation purposes – what does this mean?

By treating our ERP system as simply a “system of record”, we are reducing its effectiveness to just recording what already happens – e.g. taking orders, placing purchase orders, manufacturing, and billing. Modern ERP systems such as SAP have inbuilt capabilities to propel your business forward through innovation. Functionalities such as Robotic Process Automation, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence can change your system into a “system of differentiation”, making it the difference between you and your competitors.

In an SAP CoE, employees tend to break free from old fashioned concepts of alignment to functional areas, in favour of having a more fluid and agile skill set. Of course, SAP is too broad a system to understand all functional areas, but I have never met an SAP functional consultant who only knows their own area exclusively. The SAP CoE simply acknowledges that and gives employees opportunities to grow by allowing them to extend their exposure and knowledge into other functional areas.

The CoE also conducts its projects and working practises using a more agile methodology, known as SAP Activate. This methodology has fluid phases and implementation of functionality is offered through “sprints” rather than the more traditional set phases associated with waterfall methodology. This allows the CoE to be much more cognizant of the fast pace of change and flexible to be able to adapt quickly.

A key part of SAP Activate is Best Practices – they are good right?

Yes, up to a point. With the best will in the world, best practices can offer you a snapshot of the right approach at any given point in time. The problem with this is that the flexibility to adapt is missing. This is not an issue for the CoE; best practices are taken as a starting point and SAP roadmaps are developed as living documents, with the constant ability to adapt and change as the industry moves. The starting point for many SAP implementations in the SAP Model Company approach – SAP best practices are built in as the first step in that process and your CoE employee will be aware of this. Therefore, by building on SAP best practices from the Model Company approach, they will be following SAP standard recommendations anyway.

What could be better than cost control in today’s ERP environment?

Keeping a lid on your costs is essential, but that is only part of the story. An effective SAP CoE will be extremely aware of costs and will keep operational costs to an absolute minimum. However, they will also be very mindful of the potential return on investments which ERP innovation can offer. It is the role of a CoE to convert new and innovative solutions into ROIs for business stakeholders. By doing so, they will be carefully ensuring that profits are maximised and revenue growth opportunities explored fully whilst also keeping a tight rein on costs. In today’s environment, simply offering up a flashy new bit of functionality is just not enough; a real business case must be explored and developed and presented to the key stakeholders – here is where your CoE earn their money as well as their reputation with their business colleagues.

How many times have you heard SAP analysts complain that they need more training?

In the old days, training was something pushed down from management to employees – “we are implementing this, so please go on this training course.” Those days are gone. SAP training now is available in many formats, either for free (as in the Open SAP courses) or for minimal sums provided by third parties like A good SAP consultant is now in charge of their own skill set, meaning that if they feel like they “need training”, there is nothing to stop them going out and getting it themselves. In other words, they OWN their own skills. This is beneficial for both the employees, who get to decide their own SAP destinies and interests, as well as the employers, who don’t have to fork out for training courses on a regular basis.

I work with an old version of SAP so this doesn’t apply to me, right?

Wrong! In some regards, it is even more important. It’s pretty clear despite SAP’s extension of support for ECC6.0 systems to 2027 that your business will eventually have to front up to an S/4HANA conversion or brand new S/4HANA implementation. Having a CoE structure in place, which can upskill itself quickly, plan effectively and is already working to SAP Activate methodologies will give you a huge advantage over traditional SAP teams, where employees often have to be dragged towards an upgrade. Your CoE will be absolutely central to the process of building a business case for your S/4HANA conversion

So, what does all this mean in practical terms?

Here’s a check list of what you can expect from your CoE:

  • Innovative solutions to difficult problems, with real ROIs which resonate with your business
  • Early warning for problems in your SAP systems, using state of the art monitoring tools as built into SAP Solution Manager
  • Highly skilled employees, able to jump across traditional SAP functional dividing lines
  • Streamlining of projects, with SAP Activate at the heart
  • Lower staff attrition rates due to motivated employees with the freedom to grow

In short, your CoE can provide a world class team of highly skilled and motivated SAP professionals who will partner effectively with your business to bring about real innovation that makes a difference. Innovation that makes a difference to their lives as well as to your business.

Author: Jon Simmonds, Senior IT Architect

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