I recently joined Bluefin Solutions with a small bunch of graduates and within just a couple of months we've taken on what we've wholeheartedly named Project Topaz, which for many reasons we feel may very slightly capture the essence of who we are and what we're doing in this project. Afterall, blue Topaz is a rarity, and with its high refractive index and impressive score of 8 on the Moh hardness scale, can really take the pressure. Not at all coincidentally, it seems topaz is the birthstone for November, so perhaps it is indeed perfectly fitting that the rebirth of our very own SAP CRM system begins now.
This transformation will help Bluefin Solutions keep up with the continued consumerisation of IT by keeping its system processes in parallel with its business processes.
So it's with great pleasure I'm able to introduce Team Topaz, with six of us graduates - myself & Michael as CRM consultants; James & Lindsay building the mobile app; and Thanos & Elliott taking on the reporting, and Tony Rosenthal as Project Manager. Our 'customer' is Michael Eldridge, Bluefin Solutions' Commercial Director. We've already had 6 weeks of training which has covered an incredible amount from a business' basics to the often incredible complexities and intricacies of SAP technology. However, even from those with decades in the business, I'm told real projects are still the biggest teacher.
It's not just what we've learnt in the past six weeks that we'll be bringing to the table. New eyes bring new perspectives, and I for one will be looking to add value by bringing my views and insights as to what we should expect from ever-complex computer systems today.
What is Project Topaz all about?
As Michael Eldridge has explained in his introductory blog Democratising SAP CRM, Bluefin Solutions' SAP CRM system can be greatly improved. Specifically, from within the business, usability of the SAP CRM is the biggest concern - and frankly it's not hard to see why. This is the generation where we rightly expect a lot more from technology - for it to work far more seamlessly and for our interactions with it to be understandable and useable. Salesmen and business managers do not want to have to configure a backend system in order to do their jobs - the technology behind these systems is simply what makes the business processes work, and the technology is not an end in itself.
I've had several moments of disbelief when I've taken a look at an odd bug or an unattractive layout in a SAP product and remembered that most of the world's business runs on this. However, SAP is changing its approach quickly to recognise this, as Jim Cook mentions in his blog Next generation SAP CRM has arrived. The challenge therefore for Bluefin Solutions is to match the future's growing business demands with a technology strategy that often does need to be remarkably complicated behind the scenes to achieve the desired result.
The demands of this project reflect these increased expectations. The project stakeholders, understandably, aren't wanting to have to make small changes such as updating a contact over a VPN, or having to work their way through a barrage of screens just to find the information they need.
Time frames and approach
Project Topaz includes varied work such as reorganising the user interface of the SAP CRM system, completely rebuilding the reporting functionality, and developing a mobile app accessed instantly from personal phones from scratch... all within in six weeks.
The team has three streams, with myself and Michael designing the CRM systems' backend processes and web interfaces; Lindsay and James working on the mobile app; and Elliott and Thanos working on the reporting.
The challenge is a big one, but just a couple of weeks in, we're on track and on target. Using an agile methodology approach, we don't just find out the requirements of the business, and go away and to develop the changes. We seek to understand why they want particular changes so that we can understand the context and improve the product as a whole. For example, one challenge has been to understand the use of custom partner functions within the SAP CRM in the sales cycle. I may know these roles must exist in the system, but if I am to match the system processes to Bluefin Solutions' real life business processes - which have the potential to change throughout a sales cycle - I need to understand how the users work in their everyday business and why it works that way.
Having a free and ongoing conversation with your customer allows for a far more meaningful solution; if something needs changing, we can do it there and then along the way, allowing for rapid results and a more tailored system. As opposed to dishing out a specced product with predefined technological requirements, it really demonstrates what can be done if project stakeholders are prepared to open up and work with consultants on a journey to find out what is best for them.
We'll be blogging on a weekly basis, and in just a few week's time I'll return with a summary of results. Project Topaz will go to show that with the right approach, big changes can be delivered extremely quickly.