Stabilization of University’s SAP System Is Matter of Priority - 11/13/08

University employees are reaping the benefits of a smooth-running SAP software system. However, what some may not realize is, the system’s efficiency is continually maintained by technical support teams who invest their expertise based on an organized structure of priorities.

The SAP software system driving most of the University’s business went into operation nearly two years ago. Since then, keeping it up-to-date and working properly have become the focus of the System Support Group (SSG), a team of approximately 30 housed in the Ross Enterprise Center at the Purdue Research Park.

Moving those undertakings forward are numerous tasks that the SSG continues to support. Tasks run the gamut of possibilities -- from users’ questions to broken codes, from system enhancements to deadline-driven upgrades. In response, the technical teams work long, hard hours to ensure the system supports the University’s business.

That is why SSG Director Lerry Holladay wants the University’s staff to understand that the tasks are prioritized with a logical methodology, placing the greatest urgency on functionality that provides the greatest value to Purdue.

“At any given time, every member of my technical team is assessing, designing, testing and implementing system fixes and improvements,” Holladay said. “They are a dedicated crew of professionals, who recognize the weight of their responsibility and take it very seriously.”

Organizing service priorities is the Business Systems Steering Committee, which takes its cue from the Business Systems Advisory Committee. At monthly meetings, members of the BSAC -- composed mainly of customers and business process owners -- review the list of SAP issues and pull from it the most value-add activities.

From the approximately 200 service requests presently recorded on the OnePurdue SAP projects list, BSAC members identify those they feel are most critical to ensure the smooth operation of University business. After the committee arranges the top listings by urgency, it passes those recommendations along to the BSSC for final prioritization and oversight. 

SAP system issues given the highest preference are those ensuring that the University will meet mandated federal guidelines. For example, through Dec. 8, the teams are installing the SAP component and enhancements required to process year-end taxes and output W-2 tax reporting forms.

System issues that impact the greatest number of University people and help assure prudent spending receive the next highest priority. The SSG teams -- Supply Chain, Finance, and Human Resources/Payroll -- set out to resolve those problems in their prioritized order, tending to all other issues as time allows.

Requests for service arrive at the ITaP Help Desk in one of three ways, explained Julie Miller, a portfolio and process manager for IT Enterprise Applications. Typically a user reports an issue, and a customer service representative inputs the issue into a service-request form powered by Remedy, a campuswide computer application that tracks and manages incidents and service requests for various departments.

A Help Desk representative attempts to troubleshoot the issue, but in cases where the representative is unable to resolve it, the Remedy ticket is reassigned to a “power user,” i.e., a highly qualified staff member associated with the designated area. However, if the situation exceeds that individual’s expertise, the Remedy ticket gets forwarded to the System Support Group for final resolution.

SSG managers then review each Remedy ticket to determine its appropriate classification, explained Pam Bower, finance team manager for the SSG. Then they sort them into three classifications:

1.  Emergency break/fixes -- which occur when the system is down and unable to conduct normal business operations
2.  Job jar -- issues requiring less than 25 hours that do not meet the definition of an emergency
3.  Projects -- Issues which require more than 25 hours and do not meet the definition of an emergency

Once the ticket is classified and, if required, approved, it is then assigned to a functional team member to resolve.

Implementing a project the size and complexity of Purdue’s SAP conversion typically takes up to three years, Holladay said. After the systems “go live,” a term referring to the moment a new system becomes operational and accessible to users, stabilizing the system typically takes up to two years, he explained.

“Most companies don’t see a stable environment for three to five years from the beginning of the implementation project,” he said.

Taking a moment at a recent SSG team meeting, Holladay gave his staff what he called “a well-deserved” compliment for getting the system installed and operational on schedule.
“You did it,” Holladay said, “and you should feel really proud of what you have accomplished.”

The University’s SAP system is still advancing toward stabilization, he said, adding that Purdue’s progress to that goal is nearing its mid point. The advancement involves the continual installation of upgrades, enhancements, adaptations, work-arounds and break fixes.

Although the long-term stabilization phase is on schedule, the SSG teams’ work will never be finished, Holladay said. It’s the nature of the SAP system to be continually expanding to meet the growing needs of its users and remain current in an ever-changing technological world.