Eursap’s Ask the SAP Expert: Gagan Mohan Singh
Eursap’s “Ask the SAP Expert” is designed to give you up-to-date information on the latest SAP news, featuring key thought leaders in the SAP space, as well as regular interviews with the best SAP consultants in the business.
This month, we feature Gagan Mohan Singh, an SAP S/4HANA solution architect, and popular knowledge sharer. Gagan has over 20,000 followers on LinkedIn and shares real business and technology value, with helpful graphics to explain complex technology features and processes. Gagan is based out of Delhi in India. In his career, Gagan is actively involved in helping organisations to prepare for their SAP implementations and get the most of their investment.
Hi Gagan, thanks so much for taking the time to chat. Can we dig a bit into your background – what is it that makes you tick and how did you get where you are today?
Thanks to you, Jon, for inviting me to this chat. It’s a pleasure connecting with you. I did my Bachelor’s in IT and then went on to do my MBA in Systems and Marketing.
IBM visited our campus for recruitment and since we had an SAP Major in college, they found me to be a good fit for their Domestic ERP Division. I then spent the next five years doing several implementation and support projects for them. This included Frito-Lays, L’Oréal, Volvo Eicher, Becton Dickinson, Tata Nourishco, and Jubilant Pharmaceuticals before I went on to work at PepsiCo as part of their in-house SAP team.
Hearing of customer issues and raring to go after them and solve them is what makes me tick. It could be around the way that their SAP is not working seamlessly for them. Or the fact that their developments were too big and archaic. Or it could be when they’re facing issues of data loss and security when integrating legacy systems with SAP. Anything that brings in efficiency and helps my customers do their job faster with less errors makes me happy.
You learn as you work on different projects and opportunities. I learned quite a bit at IBM, PepsiCo, NEC, and from my start-up. IBM taught me how to go in and design processes around people. It also taught me to ask the right questions to ensure that all processes were covered in depth.
At PepsiCo I learned how to understand requirements when you’re part of the system. Working with other business units within the organisation and catering to their requirements while keeping a watch on the health of your system.
My start-up taught me to work on prototypes. It’s exactly what we do with the Activate methodology of SAP: work with a basic framework of your design and adding more elements as you progress.
Finally at NEC, I had the opportunity to do what I love most which is to work with a multitude of customers at the same time. Understanding their requirements and working with different delivery teams in the design and scoping more efficient solutions to clients who want to make SAP a part of their digital ecosystem.
Presumably life is a little easier now than it has been over the course of the pandemic. How did it affect your daily work?
Life is much better and smoother now. A combination of WFH and WFO provides me with a bit of convenience and interaction at the same time.
The pandemic made things very tough. We were not accustomed to Zoom or Microsoft Teams at the beginning of the pandemic. The tech adoption was easier, whereas the lifestyle and workstyle change adoption was difficult. Daily meetings with clients over traditional calls without getting a feel of the way the processes were being handled physically was very difficult.
You had to imagine how things were happening on the shop floor, the warehouse, or the loading dock based on the information the customer would divulge to you on their processes. This not only meant asking an abundance of questions of the customer, but also asking them for pictures or videos to better understand their current business processes. As SAP folks you had to connect the dots in your head and come up with the final design using what information was available.
My daily work routine impacted my personal life. They were intertwined in a way one could never have imagined prior to the pandemic. What it taught me was to be more creative as you had to imagine everything within the four walls of your room and still be able to create value for your customers.
You’ve been involved in SAP for many years – can you pinpoint when you first became interested in SAP?
I enrolled for my MBA in 2005 where our director believed that the adoption of SAP would have tremendous growth opportunities. He believed it was important for students to learn SAP and get a good hang of what it does and how it would change the Digital Ecosystem forever. He therefore introduced SAP as a syllabus as part of the MBA program. I then took the course in SAP – Sales and Distribution as it was aligned to my major in Sales and Marketing. That’s where I first heard of SAP and became intrigued by it.
My director’s perspective inspired me where I started learning more about SAP on my own until it finally became my primary source of income.
You started your career in sales and distribution in SAP. How did you move from that into a more pre-sales role, in analysing investment opportunities?
I started my career as a Sales and Distribution consultant in SAP and continued doing that at IBM and in PepsiCo. That’s when I started my own start-up business where I wore multiple hats as a delivery manager, a presales persona, and a salesman as well. I never wanted to move into sales since I was doing well as a consultant earlier in my career. My start-up did not do well, we did not make money, and we had to close it up pretty quickly.
Luckily, I rebounded from it. An opportunity at NEC came calling and I took it up. By this time, I was more aligned to the idea of working in Presales and showcasing solutions and proposals to customers in a simple, logical and appealing way.
For three years now, I am enjoying my stint in pre-sales. Because of my prior delivery experience, I am able to understand customer requirements better and propose solutions which are better aligned to our customers’ business processes.
You work extensively on helping organisations to make the most of their SAP investments. What are the pitfalls you see – the unexpected difficulties – in getting an S/4HANA project off the ground?
There are some issues which weigh it down and do tend to prevent an S/4HANA project from taking off.
• Human Resources.
Human resources are often overlooked in an S/4HANA implementation, and they end up being much more complex than anticipated. Business process owners commit their resources to management for the SAP project, but they do not release them for the complete project or partially during kick-off. This hurts the project more than anticipated as it derails the requirements gathering phase.
• Legacy systems not being ready for integration.
The SAP system of today does not operate like the SAP systems from a decade ago. A typical SAP system from today is much more integrated and automated. When organisations invest in SAP today, they also invest in integral parts of their ecosystem. They want all of these to work together as a seamless unit once SAP is implemented as it is the backbone which can hold things together. Things fall apart when your legacy system is not ready with the right set of APIs for an integration or is unable to support you with sufficient resources and responses in your course to a blueprint discussion and closure.
• Leadership or company level changes
A change in leadership or a change in the way your customer’s company is structured will also impact your S4 project. You might not be able to get approvals as company resources change, leave, or they’re just unwilling to commit and sign on the dotted line.
The business case for an SAP S/4HANA implementation is a really difficult thing to nail down. Do you have any tips for organisations working on this, to help them develop their business case with a real ROI?
ROI is normally calculated as:- (Benefits – Investment/Investment)
However, as an organisation we tend to look at the standard elements in benefits of their investment and therefore fail to calculate ROI properly.
1. My First suggesting is to take into consideration all the benefits and investments from and for S/4HANA whether tangible or intangible.
A. Tangible Benefits.
• People Cost – Measure the time taken to do repetitive processes in the system today. P2P, O2C, and so on and understand the time they take in S/4HANA. The time saving at the person’s level decides the savings.
• Daily Reporting: – Time taken to prepare daily reporting has to be considered. The time savings multiplies by the salaries at that level.
• Workflow Approvals: – The time savings of workflow from Fiori on your mobile device to various business processes needs to be considered and added.
B. Intangible Benefits which need to be given a number
• LOOS – Do you have the know-how of the sales you could not make if the production and inventory was aligned to Sales? This gives you a number which you can rely on because S/4HANA is all about planning.
• Control: – Less Debtors going bad, More Creditors getting paid on time.
• Statutory Compliance.
• Management Dashboarding – you have to work with management and put a number to their dashboards. Informed choices regarding business strategy, growth opportunities, and future investment.
• Fiori – Being able to use Fiori for your reporting and not waiting for massaged reports to come to you.
• Time saved in Manual Integration versus Automated Integration using CPI.
C. Tangible Investments
• Implementation Cost
• Support Cost (External by consulting Company)
• Inhouse (Salaries of S/4HANA team)
• Ticketing system cost (SAP or Non-SAP)
D. Intangible Investments which need to be given a Number to calculate ROI.
• End Users Time Used in Implementation
• Business Process Owners Time Used in Implementation
• Downtime cost for Go Live
2. My second suggestion is to not use generic ROI numbers which are published because they might not be relevant for or logical to your organisation. Every organisation reaps different benefits from an S/4HANA implementation, and they have to be given a number accordingly.
You share a lot of knowledge which you have built up over the years on the LinkedIn platform and this is clearly appreciated by your audience as you have amassed well over 20,000 followers. How do you come up with your content to share?
I come up with ideas from my daily engagements with my customers, or from the interactions which I have with my followers. Interesting questions or discussions that I have with my customers and followers typically end up as posts on the LinkedIn platform.
I have my own queries on new innovations from SAP. When I get an answer to those, I make sure I simplify it and put it out for my followers. I first write down my thoughts on Google Docs before I sleep at night and then structure and design them over a few days before sharing it on the platform.
For our readers, who are looking for valuable content on the SAP blogs site, or LinkedIn, can you make some recommendations for who would be useful to follow?
I make it a practice to follow one more person in the SAP world every day. This increases my knowledge and awareness of what is happening in the world of SAP. That person could be an SAP Sales Manager, an SAP Consultant, or an SAP educator.
Other than Jon, I personally love useful SAP content from the following on LinkedIn:
1. Trung Van Tran
2. Wouter Van Heddhegem
3. Faisal Iqbal
4. Raju Shrehtha
5. Daniel Mateo
6. Alisdair Bach
7. Jas Bagga
8. Ratnakumar Nagarajan
9. Devraj Bardhan
10. Denys Van Kempen
What do you see as the biggest challenge for consultants these days in the SAP space?
The biggest challenge consultants are facing nowadays is that they continuously have to revamp their knowledge which wasn’t the need with ECC for a long time. Consultants got acclimated to a world which was static for a long, long time and then came S/4HANA where it became dynamic.
Consultants need to understand the changes in their modules along with the new functionalities introduced in each version. Functional consultants now need to understand how to get work done on Fiori or BTP as it is becoming just the core as ABAP was a few years back.
You’ve worked alongside some of the largest organisations in the world, with IBM and Pepsi Cola on your resumé. Do you have a few lessons learned from working for such illustrious organisations in the SAP world, which might prove valuable to our readers?
I spent five years doing five SAP implementations and a few roll outs during my stint with IBM. I even had the opportunity to work under Kamal Singhani, who now heads IBM India, on many projects. One thing which I took from IBM was that SAP was more about people than technology. Indeed, technology is involved and that solves issues, but it’s ultimately the key users and the core users who determine the success of a project.
PepsiCo was an entirely different ball game. With over 5000 developments and growing, we learned how to properly sustain a complex SAP system. This is where I learned that you could even sustain thousands of developments into a single system if you properly document each of those developments and follow a rigorous change control process.
Coming to SAP S/4HANA…do you have a favourite innovation?
As a Functional Consultant myself, I have always loved and adored the way SAP has structured standard processes. They enable you to do a lot without having to do custom developments. For me, my favourite innovation is the SAP S/4HANA Public Cloud. A delightful solution for organisations which wanted to move to SAP for its standard best practices, but could not muster the time and resources required to do it. The S/4HANA Public Cloud has made this all possible.
Other than that, I love the world of BTP. Being able to create vendor portals, customer portals, DMS systems and other applications within the confines of SAP without having to go outside and look for vendors who could not support properly later is the innovation I would back.
Public Cloud with BTP is going to be the way forward for most organizations where I have no doubt on these two innovations to do wonders in the World of SAP.
Which innovations in S/4HANA do you see as the most popular with clients?
Currently, the HANA Database is quite popular with clients as it has transformed the report generation turnaround time. Customers are able to quickly and efficiently run reports in seconds now, compared to an hour in ECC leveraging older DB’s.
Other than analytical apps in Sales and Finance, functions are also quite popular with our clients who are now more comfortable and familiar with these reports rather than the standard SAP T code reports used since time immemorial.
And how about your own personal development? In such a fast-paced environment as SAP, how do you keep abreast of new innovations?
Being in a partner organisation helps the most. SAP does many sessions a week which partners like NEC are allowed to attend. I attend a lot of these sessions and the knowledge from SAP is first hand. This gives you a lot of detailed information on what SAP is doing or about to do.
Apart from this, I also order a lot of SAP press books, but I don’t always have the time to read them from cover to cover. Typically, I’ll read about 30 to 40 percent of the book to get a gist of what the new technology is all about.
LinkedIn is also turning out to be a great source of information. I turn to LinkedIn and look at updates both from SAP employees and also from the community. This gives me good insight to what is happening in the SAP space.
Which training tools would you recommend organisations use in their pursuit of excellence in S/4HANA?
Consulting organisations can get a mix of the following training tools for their consultants to work and shine on S/4. The best come from partner sessions conducted by SAP. Other than this, courses on learning.sap.com can help employees learn at their own pace.
Customer organisations can use the following tools to ensure their employees shine on S/4. One way is to make employees complete courses on open SAP. Other ways include getting your consulting partner to provide hands-on training on S/4.
SAP consulting firms and SAP partners need to make investments in ensuring SAP S/4HANA demo systems are available to their ECC consultants. There is no better training tool than hands-on.
And what about your hobbies and interests away from SAP?
I enjoy cycling and do woodworking with my kids when I am not working on SAP. Other than this, I like going to the Sikh Temple and listen to verses being sung or perform community services with my kids. I also love travelling throughout India with my family.
Finally, our favourite question we like to ask our interviewees. What advice would you give to any new consultants just starting out in the industry? And the same question for existing SAP ECC6 consultants struggling to come to terms with SAP S/4HANA?
For Consultants entering the SAP Market my advice is: –
1. Take charge of your career. Get good training for your respective module. If the company has not provided a good training, get it yourself. You spent thousands of dollars on your bachelor’s degree and you would only use 5-10 percent of that in your career. Spend an extra thousand to get trained properly in your module(s). This is one hundred percent your core job and worth the investment.
2. Do not constrain yourself to one module. If you have time on the project, get your hands dirty on the second module. This might help you a little when you are working as a consultant, but will do wonders when you become a manager.
For ECC Consultants struggling to come to terms with S/4HANA my advice is twofold: –
1. Trust Yourself – You started the ECC ladder from the first stair but still learned it and made your mark in it. You will probably start climbing the S/4HANA ladder from the seventh or eighth stair. The business processes have not changed. You did a great job at learning ECC then when Google, LinkedIn, Open SAP and YouTube were not around. You can do it again now.
2. Invest in your training. Do not wait for your company to train you on S/4HANA. Pick it up yourself. Spend money learning it online or at an institute near you. You can do it for free from Open SAP and YouTube as well. Just pick it up and learn it. It’s really important that you get a hang of the new system. As an SAP ECC consultant it’s best to check out the “Simplification List” issued out by SAP to stay updated on the changes in the S/4 system.