A few months ago I started blogging about my experiences on Project Dragon - the Graduate Project at Bluefin Solutions. Every year, the new graduate intake is tasked with an internal project as part of training, giving them real insight and experience into many of the challenges that enterprise software projects come with.
This year we revamped Bluefin Solutions' Resource Planning, building an SAP BPC 10.0 Resource Management solution and a suite of SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 reports which took advantage of greater data transparency and granularity.
I am very happy to say the delivered solution has now been live for over a month, making it a great time for a wrap up blog examining what the project delivered - for Bluefin Solutions and for the graduate team.
The business challenge
This was one of data integration. Resource Management planning took place on a macro heavy Microsoft Excel spreadsheet - delivering excellent usability and speed, but not a whole lot else. As none of the data produced existed outside of Excel, there was zero opportunity to take advantage of SAP technology, and a host of other limitations. These included;
Users were unable to work simultaneously due to the nature of a shared and uploaded Spreadsheet.
There was not enough reporting granularity over the multiple ways consultants spend their time which provides an incomplete picture.
There was no way to easily reconcile resourcing data with other sources of the same data.
The reporting breakdown was purely one dimensional - by employees only, and there was no capability to monitor resourcing by customers, or specific projects.
To rebuild the tool the Resourcing team uses, from the ground up, replacing a spreadsheet with a planning cube sitting within our SAP BW system, whilst maintaining a front-end that would be intuitive and provide a level of familiarity. SAP BPC 10.0 was chosen as it offers a huge degree of front end flexibility by using the SAP EPM add-in for Excel.
We built a bespoke frontend that provides the straightforward look of a spreadsheet, with an assignment tool that end users can use to quickly enter a wide range of data directly into the underlying cube as well as the UI. This creates a simplistic user experience with as few different tasks as possible and minimal training requirements.
SAP BI 4.0 Web Intelligence reports provide detailed Utilisation and Exception reporting, allowing a multitude of reports that have been made possible by the combination of increased data granularity and accessibility. This enables management to ask detailed questions of forward Utilisation - and make more informed decisions on the results. If the planned Utilisation were to drop in June - what would the cause of that be? Is a major project coming to an end, is our engagement with a client over, or is it just a case of people going on holiday?
SAP BPC creates the ability to plan for alternative scenarios, by using the scenario based planning that comes with standard SAP BPC. It enables users to create an entirely new resource plan based on 'what if' scenarios. If Bluefin Solutions was to win 3 large projects within the next month, and had to commit resources accordingly - what would this mean for their overall Utilisation, availability, and recruitment priorities? Scenario based planning within Project Dragon allows the business to find answers to these questions with ease, as users have access to the same range of reports that are available for the live plan.
This detailed level of reporting enables users to not just spot trends that were previously difficult to see, but also make sense of them, and find the root of any jump or bump in our future Utilisation.
The result of this is a huge benefit to Bluefin Solutions on a strategic level, and the solution also helps improve operational process efficiency. Three entry points for employee time are now fully integrated and end up in a single cube, offering automated exception reporting. This eliminates the need to manually cross reference across multiple systems and instead provides a flag that the user can action upon. Similarly, the solution is integrated with Bluefin Solutions' ERP systems and provides a link between Resourcing and HR master data that previously didn't exist.
By using SAP BPC 10.0 with EPM, the Resourcing team is no longer reliant on a single spreadsheet and can work simultaneously, either remotely or at the office, on a scalable and secure solution. Much of the manual work involved in chasing up mistakes is eliminated, and team members can now focus on the core of their job.
Since Project Dragon go-live, members of the project team have worked on migrating the solution to a different SAP NetWeaver 7.3 system - one that is powered by SAP HANA. This is in part an experiment to see how the solution copes on a different database, but also offers to opportunity to find very real performance gains in query response time.
So far the results have been impressive and have cut back-end process times in half. This represents a big opportunity to vastly improve the performance of the entire solution. The data sets are not large enough to truly utilise the in memory capability of SAP HANA, but nonetheless the prospect remains to optimise and to find performance gains where possible.
As for members of the project team, it is fairly safe to say we entered the project with minimal experience of SAP technology and consulting in general, and have come out the other side with an excellent taste of both. What is most exciting for a group of graduates is that the technologies chosen are cutting edge and present us with a skill set that can only increase in value.
Finally, I'd like to thank everybody involved in the project, in whatever capacity, for helping make it happen. Taking 12 graduates and having them produce an implementation in a short time frame does not happen by accident, so credit has to go the many consultants and members of the internal team who pointed provided invaluable guidance and information.
The last word on this series of blogs has to go to the project team - who have been excellent throughout and should be extremely proud of what they have achieved here. The learning curve has been steep from the start, and the late nights frequent, but the results have made the effort worthwhile. What is most satisfying is seeing the growth of your peers as they gain experience over the course of their first consulting project, and they all have a lot to be proud of, both in terms of what they have delivered, and who they have become.