This blog post will examine the relationship that a Managed Service Provider (MSP) should establish with each one of their customers as a technical advisor. Although it should not be, I think this is one of the short comings of other MSPs and something that SAP customers should be more aware of when entering into an managed service provider engagement.
Your Outsourcing Team Should Act As An Extension of Your Team
Many companies that outsource an IT resource tend to look at it as just a simple task of assigning a job function to a 3rd party, when in reality it is much more than that. That mentality can have detrimental impacts to your business, especially if your chosen managed services provider is not serving as a strategic IT advisor for your systems no matter how big or small the IT landscape they are supporting is.
Outsourcing is when a company takes any workload (SAP being one of your most critical applications) and puts it in the hands and trust of an outside firm, whether that be a large managed service provider or a small consulting firm. Companies decide to outsource for many reasons such as not having internal skill sets to properly support their SAP systems, or maybe a critical internal resource left the company and there is a desire to fill that responsibility with a 3rd party. In many cases, companies may actually be reducing headcount internally to compensate for the costs of the managed service provider. Often times I see companies focus primarily on the operational requirements of a managed service provider versus the role of the full IT leadership that they are replacing.
Making the decision to outsource your SAP technical managed services is a critical one. Many companies just think of it as a need to hire an SAP team to "keep the lights on"; to look at the occasional ABAP dump, examine trouble tickets when an end user has an issue, or maybe just provide assistance with patching the SAP environment. However, this type of mindset in a managed service provider relationship can become a slippery slope leading to larger SAP system issues in the future. One problem with this type of MSP relationship is that the managed service provider becomes reactive to requests from the customer (especially when an issue arises) versus preventing the issue before it becomes a problem in the first place. Secondly, this model of support means the managed service provider is not paying attention to the strategic direction or the needs of the full IT environment.
Long-Term Strategic View of your SAP Landscape – Are You on the Same Page with Your Managed Service Provider?
When you think of what it truly means to fill an IT advisor role many think of an internal employee responsible for those systems. That person would take greater ownership of the success of the systems long-term as a vested company employee. The FTE would be forward thinking as they would plan to be employed at the company for the next several years, therefore they would be responsible for planning and knowing how to optimally support the SAP landscape for years to come. Responsibilities such as knowing and planning for the next major SAP release and upgrades required, understanding the true trending of performance of the SAP systems, what security bugs/threats could harm the SAP application, or if the SAP environment is running on the right platform. All of these tasks would be categorized in the role of being an advisor, but unfortunately most the time just fall short with many managed service providers. Sadly, most MSPs just think and act as an operational resource as opposed to filling those other critical roles that an internal employee often fills. When in fact, SAP customers need someone to both take over the operational control but also need (and expect) their managed service provider to be that role of a technical advisor – which is the same expectation they would have for an internal employee and also hold them accountable for. If you have outsourced to an MSP in lieu of having an internal person or team that was once performing that advisor role, you need to ask questions. Will the managed service provider be taking a long-term strategic view of the SAP environment or not? What is their approach to taking a deeper look into the SAP systems performance and maintenance? Most will say they do these things, but be sure to ask for specific examples. It is critical that you fill the IT advisory gap moving forward.
The 4 Must Haves of an IT Technical Advisor
There are several categories of responsibilities I think of when consultants or managed service providers say they are advising customers.
1. From the SAP perspective, there are many factors to take into account:
- What version are of SAP is the company running on? Are there upgrades required now or in the future? Where are you headed?
- When is your company planning to migrate to SAP HANA? What is the path or roadmap to HANA? Is anyone talking about it as 2025 is right around the corner.
- How will migrating or implementing HANA impact the rest of your organization? Is someone talking to the business units?
- Will you go to suite on HANA? Or go directly to S/4HANA?
- Are there other products when you go to S/4HANA that will need to be decommissioned or installed?
- For example, if running HR on ECC today, it is not supported in S/4HANA, so you will also need migrate to SAP Success Factors or another HR solution
It is important to note that much of the items listed are functional in nature but from a technical perspective (to maintain the full SAP landscape), a lot of this information is vital for the technical managed service provider team to also understand, especially regarding your company's migration path as we approach the 2025 SAP HANA deadline. For example the technical MSP team will need to know what the HANA migration path includes, such as what are the technical requirements, what's the target platform of the new environment, which systems may or may not be decommissioned, will there be a change in databases or operating systems (technical team will need to provide support), what is the impact to the infrastructure that is currently in place, and so on. As you can see, there are a lot of unanswered questions that must be considered for proper planning and managing of the SAP application itself. Which without having a responsible IT advisor driving these conversations, all of this can get lost very quickly. Be sure to pause and critically think about how your managed service provider will be providing this guidance for you.
2. The second major item that is essential to having an IT advisor in place is SAP security. I think a lot of MSPs get brought in to take over managing an existing environment and whatever SAP security was in place is what they leave in place and use. However, as we all know the world continues to change and there's greater threats each day whether it be from the internet, malware, spam, phishing bugs or any other number of threats to an SAP system - security cannot stay stagnate.
In addition, there are also all types of security related issues that can crop up as the systems continue to age. Overtime as the infrastructure teams spin up new networks or change hardware, someone (a member of your managed service provider team) needs to be going back and verifying that all the security policies your company has developed are still in place. This may seem to be more of an operational type activity but an IT technical advisor should be well aware of any changes that occurs within the SAP environment, and taking the time to reevaluate security when needed. The policies and procedures that the company have developed are for good purpose and need to be appropriately adapted and correctly applied to the environmental throughout all of the changes that continue to happen throughout the life cycle of the SAP application.
Now if your company has decided to go to a cloud environment it's even more important to ensure your managed service provider is serving as a trusted advisor addressing security. Typically, a company will encounter even more security related challenges (or at least new ones) in a cloud environment that would also need to be understood ensuring no gaps in security take place.
3. The third item that your technical MSP should advise your team about is your infrastructure. You need an IT advisor to take on a role that will truly look closely at the trends of your environment where things are headed and what the "to-be" state for your SAP servers should be. What do I mean by that? I'm referring to investigating such things such as, what the disk capacity looks like in your environment or overall how is your SAP system performing. For example, is performance trending up or down? A technical advisor should be able to see if there is a point in the future where you'd actually would have problems, such as a running out of space – which in many cases would be catastrophic as SAP systems typically stop if they have nowhere to expand and would not be able to continue to function. However, a less dramatic and more common need is to establish a performance standard. Performance issues can creep up on customers rather quickly and one day there may be a CPU spike to 100%. Did someone just kick off a large report, or did the development team move in a transport last night? Sudden issues in performance where the SAP system could degrade greatly can literally happen overnight. While some of this may be hard to foresee, the role a good technical advisor is also being involved or aware of the other projects that are happening in the SAP environments. Knowing another team is creating new reports allows them to adjust as needed. Your managed service provider should take this knowledge from all or any new activities or other initiatives and overlay that with the current performance of the SAP system to then forecast what support these systems will require to maintain peak performance levels.
4. The fourth component that an advisor must do, is stay aware of the current IT and SAP industry trends, mainly staying educated on what and how technology continues to evolve and its impact. Then applying that knowledge to the unique complexities of your SAP environment and leveraging any other technology that your company can take advantage of. Even advising you if you should go to the cloud, and what it takes to get there should be part of the strategic conversations your managed service provider should be having with you regularly.
This is one of the main reasons I am so passionate about Managecore's role as a trusted technical advisor to our customers and why we take that responsibility very seriously. Often times our team will onboard new customers that were previously managed by another managed service provider, and the sad reality is the SAP systems have not been modified or enhanced for years (even from when it was first installed!). I see this as a huge issue, either your managed service provider does not know, care enough, or truly doesn't understand where SAP technology is headed – which this lack of strategic support can have harmful effects on your systems.
At Managecore our team frequently takes over management of SAP systems that are on old releases or worse yet, have not been patched in years (maybe by direction of a customer). However, a good managed service provider should be able to know and explain to the customer why that's potentially harmful to let your SAP systems get so far behind. Moreover, if the business decides suddenly to go to S/4HANA (as an example), and you now want to perform the upgrade, you will quickly realize that if you haven't patched the system in over five years you will have a larger project to endure as you will need to go through a whole patch cycle to get to the minimum release required to even start the S/4HANA upgrade. All of this is very much on the shoulders of your managed service provider, who should be working with each of their customers to prevent this from happening. While there is always a path to complete the upgrade to the needed version, it will just take much more effort and potential risk to your business, versus continuously staying updated. If your managed service provider was planning ahead, keeping your SAP environment current, and monitoring performance and associated trends, you will get much greater value from your investment.
Communication, Communication, Communication
I cannot stress this enough, the role of the managed service provider, should be that of your trusted advisor keeping SAP customers educated of best practices and to keep your SAP systems in good health. And when customers do not receive this expert guidance, they can become very frustrated because they run into problems. Like the examples give trying to do an upgrade will turn into a much larger and complex task than they anticipated because your system are so far behind. Support of the SAP environment must go beyond the daily care and feeding of the system to "keep the lights on".
At the very least every month your managed service provider should be providing you with some training and or analysis of what they're seeing in the industry. Most MSP work with many customers, so they should be well versed with what other SAP customers are doing to keep their SAP systems optimally performing. In turn, your managed service provider should share this insight amongst its customers. For example, if there is a global SAP security patch that needed to be applied at one customer then, if you're running the same version hopefully your MSP is also telling you about that requirement (before it becomes an issue for you). A real-life example that just recently happened was that in 2020, SAP had a minimum patch level that you had to get to with Solution Manager (7.2 EHP 7 or above). If you weren't on 7.2 EHP 7 by December 31 2019, on January 1, 2020 you would no longer be able to download patches. Knowing this, Managecore took a proactive approach months in advance to advise all of our customers they had to do the Solution Manager upgrade to avoid having any system problems the first week of January. Well it just so happened that we had a flurry of non Managecore customers calling our team at the end of year because they needed help to get this upgraded done before the deadline. When we talked to these customers, they did not know this was an SAP requirement and furthermore did not realize it was an issue until suddenly it was the end of the year. Meanwhile, Managecore being an advisor to our customers had already been working with to let them know about the requirement and how to avoid any issues by planning well in advance. It was obvious that other managed service providers were not being as proactive communicating this SAP requirement to their customers, which sent them into a mad rush and panic to get done by January 1st. Obviously, this could have been avoided.
In conclusion, being an IT advisor is not a one-time event whereby customers get access to your expert team with an initial meeting in the beginning, then never hear from them again. Being a responsible managed service provider for SAP customers entails an ongoing process built into the outsourcing relationship. These strategic conversations are part of the monthly and annual dialogue Managecore has with our customers all the time. Our customers look to us for our advice and expect that our team fills that critical role of IT technical advisor for the entirety of our engagement together.
This blog was meant to provide you with some examples of how being a managed service provider also means being an IT technical advisor, one that is aware of what's happening in the industry, taking a critical look at how your SAP systems are trending and performing, always looking to the future of SAP technology and ultimately taking ownership of those environments. SAP customers should have the same expectation of a managed service provider that they would have of an internal employee and should feel confident in their relationship with their managed service provider.
>>> If you feel your MSP is falling short and want the help of Managecore contact our team today to get started and ensure your systems are in the right hands and running at peak performance long-term.
Frank is an experienced Information Technology executive that excels in high-level strategic and operational guidance to help manage and grow businesses. With 25 years experience in IT and over 19 of those years specifically in SAP, his thought leadership on industry trends, process improvement and best practices at SAP events, conferences and educational webinars are invaluable assets for companies. Frank provides his past experience in developing new technology initiatives with ever-evolving innovations to grow businesses and achieve high-performing solutions at a lower cost of ownership for your company.