The process of implementing an advanced IT system can be quite a challenge. Following the completion of the project, the IT solution becomes an indispensable part of the enterprise, facilitating work and generating considerable savings. At this point, the project starts a second life and special-task people, i.e. support department employees, come onstage.
State-of-the-art ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems are used to manage the company’s resources. They support and optimise particular operating areas such as financial settlement, real property management, and production planning and coordination. Skilfully integrated system modules responsible for given sectors provide a robust technological basis for the company’s operations.
The implementation of the system starts with an in-depth audit covering the condition of the existing IT infrastructure, the current needs of the enterprise and plans for the future. Modern IT solutions are tailored to specific types of companies. After successful implementation, the IT environment becomes an effective tool for efficient management.
A team of qualified consultants is responsible for implementation. Following completion of the project, this team says goodbye and makes its exit, while the support team takes over. The support employees are indeed special-task people: they are responsible for maintaining and developing IT solutions functioning within the company, which is a big challenge. Although the term ‘support’ is associated first of all with repairs, it has a wider meaning in reference to SAP systems.
‘The role of support, broadly understood, is the maintenance of systems, i.e. troubleshooting, development and optimisation, including software updates, implementation of new functionalities and further improvements’, says Agnieszka Werbińska, Application Services Manager at Hicron, IT system integrator. ‘As part of IT environment support, there are elements which require quick development, often within several project days. These enhancements, though seemingly simple, may significantly augment the system’s performance, e.g. Hicron Currency Updater automatically updates currency exchange rates necessary for accounting documents related to foreign customers, while SMS Reminder sends messages to customers reminding them about expiring invoice payment dates’, says Werbińska.
Division for good support
The most appealing model for system administration takeover is one that has the least impact on the everyday operation of the solution. To make this process as brief as possible, some companies apply their own methods for taking over support from in-house implementation consultants or from an external provider. The need to formalise this process results mainly from the advanced nature of SAP systems: they are complex tools created on an individual basis, so it is impossible to simply provide a user’s manual.
‘Handing over the project to support should start with a complex audit of the existing system. The audit may cover verification of technical documentation, all business system records and a recommendation package. As a result, we get the system’s inventory along with all its components. We can detect any limitations and, first and foremost, verify the planned business objectives and define the best direction for system development through comparisons with good practices’, says Remigiusz Efinowicz, Managing Partner and Application Support Manager at Hicron.
Collaboration and knowledge transfer
The process of SAP maintenance relies on the close collaboration of the project teams on the part of both the system user and the system provider. ‘Specifically, collaboration at the onset of the project is particularly important, when the audit and system functionality assessment take place. This collaboration has many dimensions: the customer provides documentation and creates the project team, and also participates in preparing procedures and defining the employees’ training needs. Thus, it has an actual impact on service and its development. While the system is operating, the customer reports any defects and evaluates proposed new functionalities as well as verifying objectives that were mutually agreed on; this enables us to maintain the system’, says Agnieszka Werbińska.
Specific configuration of the system requires systematic knowledge transfer within the team of support consultants. For instance, if the consultant dedicated to a given area is on sick leave, the customer will receive full and professional support thanks to regular internal training sessions and a well-prepared knowledge base.
‘Hicron has an internal repository containing complete documentation of the project, with access provided to all involved consultants. This solution enables us to share knowledge about the customer’s business processes smoothly and quickly. As part of all projects on hand, we maintain documentation of lessons learned, which contains a base of experience enabling us to avoid mistakes from the past’, says Remigiusz Efinowicz of Hicron.
What does the support service look like?
The support is based on the Service Level Agreement (SLA), which specifies guidelines and time frames for particular tasks. It also defines the guaranteed percentage of the system’s availability, the settlement method and the maximum response time of the IT company in the case of a service report.
Reports by e-mail or phone have now been replaced with dedicated interfaces for communication between the customer and the application service’s team. By basing these solutions on so-called tickets, IT solution providers can ensure quick and effective troubleshooting.
‘The support system enables quick reporting of defects or failures from the level of the web browser. The ticket is assigned to a competent consultant who, within the pre-defined maintenance windows and SLA provisions, eliminates the problem’, says Agnieszka Werbińska. ‘The system is transparent: the customer can see the status of a given ticket and the application service team can plan the workload within the maintenance window, which, at Hicron, is open 6 am‒11 pm’.
Application Service as the IT company’s showcase
Contracts for IT system support and maintenance are often the result of many years of collaboration. Adopting a partnership approach to the customer and performing effectively at critical moments, the support department is often a showcase and the best recommendation for an IT company, while collaboration in terms of support often generates new business.
‘At present, we have more than 50 contracts for support services with Polish and foreign companies, and many of these contracts are renewed regularly each year. A well-maintained system is often the reason the customer decides to extend the scope of collaboration. The effects of providing support services are often roll-out projects or implementations in other operating areas’, says Remigiusz Efinowicz.