Does SAP Solution Manager have a dual personality?

1 March 2011

Solution Manager has been around for about 10 years. I believe we first installed Solution Manager v2.1 early last decade (2001 or 2002) and did so pretty much because SAP told us we had to. It turns out we didn’t really and it was never used. We eventually threw that system away and tried again with v3.x, which again was never used. Our current installation of 4.x (renamed 7.0 back in 2008) is at least used for installation keys and support pack downloads, so isn’t a total waste of time. However, it doesn’t do much else. I don’t think our experience is uncommon. I know there are some organisations out there who have implemented Solution Manager properly, think it’s the best thing since sliced bread and can’t imagine operating an SAP landscape without it. My impression is they are in the minority and that most SAP customers have a Solution Manager system only for those features that can’t be done any other way, just like me.

The transition to Enterprise Support has placed a greater emphasis on Solution Manager and given us some encouragement to try once more...and this time get it right! I’ve fiddled around with our current 4.x system for several years and don’t feel it’s really the right starting point for a proper Solution Manager implementation. And so once again we need to start from scratch, this time with 7.0 EHP1. The 4.x system will be thrown away once 7.0 is properly in place.

But this blog isn’t really about my experience with Solution Manager. It is about the customer perception of Solution Manager and why, I believe, so few organisations have taken it up with much enthusiasm.

So why is it so hard? 

The impression I’ve always got from SAP and its Solution Manager Marketing is that everyone should have it - not only is it quick and easy to implement, it’s also getting easier with each release.

Since we’re required to implement it to make use of certain functions, of course it needs to be quick and easy. Back in the early days when Solution Manager was taking over functions that used to be accessible without it, SAP couldn’t be seen to be imposing a burdensome extra implementation on customers. So the message that Solution Manager is easy remains a consistent one to date, more so as additional functionalities are added to the product. Maybe in the days of 2.1 this was true as there wasn’t much to configure back then. However in today’s environment I think most people would say that Solution Manager is too much work for a system that doesn’t deliver any directly visible business benefits.

"But hold on", I hear some people say, "it does deliver a multitude of business benefits". It delivers end-to-end process monitoring that enables you to detect and deal with small problems before they get worse. It delivers change management, test management and project management functionality so your visible SAP systems are more stable. It delivers service desk functionality that allows your SAP support team to work more efficiently. It provides a system documentation repository that means everything you and SAP need to know about the configuration of your systems can be found quickly and easily. All of this provides significant business benefit. And I agree. I recently attend the Application Lifecycle Management SIG and this was exactly the message that Bluefin’s Kiran Patel was giving. Kiran has blogged about this issue before. But hand-in hand with this approach to Solution Manager is the idea that it’s a major system in its own right and that a Solution Manager implementation should be approached like any other ERP system implementation. This all makes a lot of sense to me, but seems to be exactly the opposite of SAP’s message.

A dual personality (?)

So now I’m left with two incompatible ways of looking at Solution Manager. 1) Its quick and easy to implement, so we should just do it and get access to all the amazingly useful functionality it offers. And 2) It’s an important part of an SAP landscape, delivering significant business benefit, it needs to be approached with a proper business case before we start, and implemented like any other ERP system.

This leaves me confused. I wonder if others are similarly confused hence the reason why few have made much progress with it. So how do we move forward from here? We need a consistent message from SAP and the partner network about what Solution Manager is and how best to approach an implementation. I lean towards Kiran’s view of the product, but this will mean a very different implementation approach from my previous attempts, and a very different message to the business about what it really is and what it can do for them. And if a Solution Manager implementation is a big project, it means customers will likely take longer to decide whether to do anything at all with it. This certainly isn’t going to help with SAP’s desire to get all customers using it.

A proposal

I’ve recently done several installations of SAP’s NetWeaver Developer Edition. This is a basic NetWeaver system packed up to install and run on a personal machine. It requires downloading two files and installs in less than a day. SAP has put some effort into packaging an otherwise tricky NetWeaver installation into something quick and easy, and it’s something they give away something they give away for free, even to non-customers. What if they could do the same with Solution Manager, or at least for the basic functions of it? What if, with just 2-3 days work you could have a basic Solution Manager system up and running, providing system monitoring, Early Watch reports and all the other technical functions? Surely all customers could find the time and resources to do that, and they would then have the platform in place to implement the more complex components.

The NetWeaver Developer Edition has restrictions that would be unacceptable for Solution Manager (only one OS and DB), so Solution Manager would be harder to package. I’m sure the effort would be worthwhile though. The easier a basic installation is, the more customers will do it. And perceived effort seems to be the reason I hear most often for why customers don’t get around to doing anything properly with Solution Manager. 

If SAP could meet us half-way, maybe we’d be more enthusiastic about it...

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Steve Rumsby is SAP Technical Manager at the University of Warwick. He obtained a degree in Computer Science during the days when it still involved wielding soldering irons. He spent many years as a Unix Systems Administrator before discovering SAP in 1998 as part of the University’s SAP implementation project. Starting in a Basis role and moving on to manage the University’s only (so far) upgrade project, Steve is now involved in GRC work and enterprise architecture design...but still can’t quite leave the hardware alone! You can find Steve’s ramblings on life, the Universe and everything else (SAP and otherwise) on twitter - @steverumsby.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Bluefin Solutions Ltd.

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