SAP Americas' president, Rob Enslin, on avoiding IT failure [podcast]

As one of the largest enterprise vendors, SAP holds a unique position to influence the outcome of software implementations around the globe. SAP Americas' president shares his views on IT success and failure.

As one of the largest enterprise vendors, SAP holds a unique position to influence the outcome of software implementations around the globe. To understand SAP's significance in global IT projects, look no further than a statistic tossed out earlier this year by Executive Board member Jim Hagemann Snabe: "Seventy percent of world financial transactions touch an SAP system and sixty-five percent of world chocolate is produced with SAP systems."

Given this, I welcomed SAP's invitation to this discuss the important IT success and failures topic with Rob Enslin, president of SAP Americas. Rob is responsible for all of SAP's operating activities in this region and has worked at SAP for 16 years. His background includes senior positions in consulting, finance, and account management.

Our conversation covered a range of issues including the IT Devil's Triangle, why projects fail, and how organizations can run successful implementations. Although I've summarized key points below, to really understand Rob's views, I strongly urge you to listen to the podcast. To hear it, simply click the player at the top of this post.

Please offer advice to help customers successfully navigate IT Devil's Triangle relationships?

It's important to get the personal goals and agendas of each participating organization quickly out of the way, to focus everyone on defining success for the customer. Document the specific role of each participant, determine how decisions will be made, and document who will be responsible for making them. The project steering committee should include executives with P&L responsibility from the participating organizations. These steps will focus the participants to make operational decisions based on achieving customer success.

How can customers ensure that system integrators work for the project's benefit?

Responsible executives from the system integrator should sit on the steering committee of every project. System integrator executives who possess decision-making power will drive customer success without worrying about personal agendas such as utilization rate targets and so on. These folks will figure out how to gain the most benefit for both their company and the customer. Customers should seek out executives with sufficient power to make those decisions.

How can customers fully align SAP with their project's best interests?

It works the same way. When SAP is the prime contractor on an implementation, we assign an executive who is responsible for making decisions that tie to the customer's success. Carefully managing to a budget and time line is key to success.

What are defining characteristics of customer organizations that achieve repeated project success?

It's all about people. Customers should appoint a respected internal business person, who knows the organization well, to lead their project.

Successful customers define firm dates for their implementation and expect the team to achieve them, even if the result is not perfect; you can alter and make adjustments later. It's essential to establish proper management and project management right from the start.

Implementations are actually business projects executed by IT. How can customers align these groups?

People with business experience must drive the project and IT should execute the technical functions.

Why do some organizations repeatedly run challenged projects?

Too often, projects are not successful because organizations measure individual line of business (LOB) success independently from overall company goals. Senior executives should create incentives that better match LOB and project goals.

Please give software customers specific advice to help improve their project success rates.

A few suggestions:

  • Select strong business leaders who are well-connected through the organization to run the project.
  • Set a clear agenda from the top of the company, and ensure the CEO and chairman articulate this vision and the reasons for undertaking the project.
  • Senior leadership must repeatedly communicate the project's long-term benefits. They should explain what success means and how the project will help the company achieve it.

[Photo of Rob Enslin from SAP.]

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