SAP Solution Manager continues to confuse

Is SAP Solution Manager providing the pain relief SAP customers expect? When enough investment is made, the answer seems to be yes. But many customers have yet to understand the solution.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor on

SAP's Solution Manager has been SAP's key weapon for tackling costly upgrades, keeping the SAP edifice afloat and under control. It's also designed to be a value contributor justifying current maintenance fee levels. That's the theory.

In practice those that looked at it in 2008-9 tended to say that it is five miles wide and an inch deep. When I looked at it during last year's SAP TechED, I said that assessment was incorrect. It was at least 50% deeper. When demo'd to me, it was obvious the solution was short on vital content, an issue SAP said it was aggressively pursuing. The fact this is a product that is rapidly evolving, albeit its roots go back 10 years, means my current knowledge is almost certainly out of date. However, in back channels and forums grumblings and gripes have continued apace.

Around that time, David Dobrin wrote an interesting piece on Sol Man (as it is more affectionately known) arguing that:

1. To get the benefits of the Sol Man absolutely requires significant investment on the part of the customer.

2. It does not appear to be the case that the Sol Man was designed with the goal that SAP now has for it top of mind. It appears to be a product that was designed to be one thing that is now being turned to a different purpose.

3. The areas of benefit that the Sol Man promises are indeed important, and it is at least possible that customers can get significant benefit from it, if they put in the work.

4. At the end of the day, though, it appears to this humble observer that SAP needs to put more skin in the game.

How much has changed? Tony de Thomasis, (login required) an SAP Mentor and SAP Netweaver Infrastructure Architect at Australia Post made the kind of investment commitment that Sol Man requires. In the process Tony provided a solid series of tips that customers might use in getting the best from the product. So far so good, except that among other things, Sol Man requires the services of a top notch BASIS person. I liken these folk to Oracle Aces - rockstars that can solve problems in a fraction of the time taken by mere mortals. And being rock stars, there are not that many of them around.

In the meantime, SAP has been furiously promoting Sol Man certification and internally, the rumor is that as many as 90% of SAP consultants are Sol Man certified. I have my own views on certification that can be trawled through another time but in a nutshell, while I congratulate SAP for making the push, I wonder the value of achieving the certification.

Courtesy of Panaya survey: n=347

Courtesy of Panaya survey: n=347

Is much of this goodness flowing back into the marketplace? A survey conducted on behalf of Panaya in April and published yesterday suggests otherwise. Or at least not yet. Be aware that Panaya provides tools that help eliminate test time in SAP upgrades. Panaya is not directly competitive to SAP but complementary. Its key findings:

  • The top reason cited for using SAP Solution Manager is Central System Administration (19%), followed by System Monitoring (14%) and Project Management (13%).
  • The top benefit of using SAP Solution Manager is Control (42%). A substantial 20% of the respondents are unsure of what benefit they receive from SAP Solution Manager.
  • The Complexity of SAP Solution Manager is the biggest challenge in using the system (32%). One quarter of the respondents do not understand the value of SAP Solution Manager and find that to be a challenge.
  • Documenting business process in SAP Solution Manager is key for using some of its advanced functionality. But 42% of the respondents have not documented any of their business processes in SAP Solution Manager and only 3% have fully documented their business processes.
  • System Monitoring is the most used features of SAP Solution Manager. Service Desk, Job Scheduling, and Incident Management are the least used features.
  • On average, SAP Solution Manager features go unused by 51% of the respondents, 10% use them rarely, 16% use them partially, 12% use them quite a bit, and only 8% use them fully.

I asked one of Panaya's advisors about the survey methodology because as we know, how questions are framed can impact researched outcomes. In this case, I was satisfied that enough had been done to make the results worthy of attention.

The graphic indicates that anywhere between 31% and 69% of respondents are not using Sol Man on any of the functional dimensions. Why? Panaya didn't elicit qualitative responses. Regardless, SAP should be asking itself the same question. The fact 51% of respondents are not fully using the solution should not be a surprise. How many of us use 100% of facilities on offer in any solution? An aggregate 26% either rarely or partially use features suggests there are continuing problems around usability and understanding.

One interpretation might be that lack of documentation by customers contributes to loss of value. But the fact a full 25% don't understand the value Sol Man brings to the table is a problem for SAP as is the challenge of complexity. Given what I saw last fall, that's no surprise. Beautiful engineering made to look like an X-ray into an aircraft engine and with about as much allure to someone in desperate need of simplification.

I didn't notice Sol Man getting a lot of attention during SAPPHIRE and it is a pity this survey came out after the event. It would have been great to ask execs what they think of the results exposed by Panaya's research.

As SAP continues on its stated quest to help customers yield value from investments I'd suggest that at the very least, Sol Man needs a serious and rapid do-over along with providing customers with an open and honest assessment of the likely cost/value equation.

A handful of very bright people having the knowledge to get value isn't enough in a universe of thousands of companies being urged to move to the latest version of SAP Business Suite while wrangling constrained resources. Having more SAP certified consultants is a starting point and a leading indicator of commitment. Now those same people have to get out into the field and quickly demonstrate that it is all worthwhile after all.

The complete survey can be downloaded via this link.

UPDATE: Tom Wailgum at CIO.com raises the obvious question: who do you believe? The answer is both. Yes, value can be gotten from Sol Man but not many are achieving value for all the reasons stated. If anything. I'd argue Panaya's research supports the general tenor of what I've seen in anecdotes.

As usual, SAP adopts the default 'We're right and when we're not we're doing everything we can' position:

In response to the Panaya research, SAP's Jim Dever, head of the Americas media relations, writes in an e-mail: "Our own recent research demonstrates the significant returns on investment that can be achieved, and we are committed to providing tools and educational resources that help our customers better understand the benefits of Solution Manager and how to put it to best use within their IT landscapes."

Much better to recognize Panaya does not compete (it's a partner) and that Panaya researched SAP's own customers with a statement that says what everyone around this topic knows except SAP media relations: "We need to look at this. Yes, Sol Man continues to evolve and we are aware of issues that need addressing. In the meantime we have been aggressively pursuing a policy of eating our own dog food by getting our consultants trained and certified in this important technology. We do have success stories and will endeavor to get you the customer references as soon as possible." Not that I write PR speeches...

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