A bit over a year ago, SAP launched its first wave of Rapid Deployment Solutions (RDS) -- sets of pre-configured software and services designed to enable customers to bed down portions of SAP software in under three months.
In a world where SAP is synonymous with big bang, multi-year deployments -- heavy on customisation and the purse -- RDS promised to give businesses a "low-cost way to quickly address their most pressing business demands without making compromises".
But has it delivered on its promise?
SAP's senior vice president of RDS, Steven Birdsall, thinks so. He points to "massive adoption" globally, noting the sale of "several hundred of these packages in the first nine months of the year".
In Australia, SAP has sold 15 RDS packages year-to-date. The vendor did not comment on whether that figure is indicative of success.
"I'm guessing [it] isn't as many as they would have liked," Forrester Research's CIO Group senior advisor Tim Sheedy says.
Sheedy sees "small enterprise and large SMEs" - those averaging turnover between $200 million and $500 million a year - as the core market for RDS.
It's where serious money is still spent on SAP projects that it appears RDS and its pre-configured software is yet to make serious inroads.
"At the big end of town it's not making an impact. The big end of town is still heavily customised SAP implementations which is not RDS," he says.
"The big end of town thinks that what they do is different from everyone else. They're not particularly willing to compromise."
Why services matters
One reason that RDS hasn't exactly impacted larger SAP projects is that it appears to challenge the payment model enjoyed by SAP partners and consultants.
"The reality of the Australian SAP market is that most organisations have gone big bang, multi-million, multi-year SAP projects, and the partner ecosystem therefore has built itself around delivering on those types of requirements," Sheedy says.
"My take on it is that local partners aren't jumping at the opportunity to do a three-month project instead of a two-year project."
(SAP's Birdsall sees this differently. He says RDS allows consultants to effectively bolt add-ons onto the core project).
Where Sheedy does see some benefit for SAP customers is that RDS may allow for a greater portion of SAP integration work to be handled by an offshore services provider, lowering the cost of deployment.
"A typical SAP project might have 10-20 percent [of work conducted] offshore but with RDS you can do 60-70 percent of the project offshore," he says.
"That brings down the cost significantly and plays to those organisation's that have already made a commitment and put processes in place to work with offshore providers.
"Obviously it doesn't have to be done offshore but it certainly is a much more attractive option in terms of 60-70 percent when you're paying $15-20 an hour as opposed to when you're paying a couple of hundred bucks an hour."
SAP's focus on cutting the time and cost to deploy its software raises the question: Why didn't they do it sooner?
The complex nature of SAP implementations has been known for some time. That customers only recently started seeking to lower implementation costs and timeframes - particularly for line-of-business installs such as CRM in a sales organisation - is hard to fathom.
It is hard not to see RDS as at least a partial response to the competitive pressures that SAP must face from software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers whose promise is to bed down line-of-business systems faster and with less cost than traditional big-bang projects.
Sheedy says the existence of RDS makes it more likely that SAP's off-the-shelf CRM product - for example - is considered in competitive evaluations with SaaS rivals, although he believes that product decisions will ultimately "come down to ... ecosystem".
In other words, RDS makes it easier for firms that run SAP core systems to stick with SAP for their bolt-on projects, since the time-to-implementation is now roughly on par with alternate approaches.
"They probably would have gone SAP potentially anyway but they didn't particularly have the appetite for a two-year implementation," Sheedy says.
However, SAP's Birdsall is adamant that competitive pressures played no part in RDS' creation.
"We're focused much more on our customers," he says.
"Why now is because we now have a capability with on-demand services and with the deployment models in this predictable fashion.
"We have the ability to deploy them in a such a way that brings that quick time-to-value for our customers."
Birdsall disagrees with a suggestion that RDS wasn't possible when SAP did not have an on-demand capability.
"I wouldn't say that it was a requirement to have on-demand services," he says.
"I would say that it's a requirement for innovation to be rapidly deployed just as the core functionality of our other solutions are required to be deployed quickly as well.
"The opportunity for us is to take advantage of having a scalable, predictable, fully integrated suite of products that is available to our customers in bite-sized pieces so that they can quickly be rapidly deployed."
Read on to page two for Integria Healthcare's frontline experience using RDS, and why customisation is the future.
Integria Healthcare is frequently cited as the public Australian case study for RDS.
Western Australian sales manager Damien Wilson-Brown was brought into the project as a business lead.
"I'm responsible for distribution in Western Australia too, so I know SAP ERP very well in terms of sales and distribution and CRM kind of draws a bit from that in terms of customer and material masters," Wilson-Brown says.
Although Integria bought into RDS knowing it was billed as an out-of-the-box system, they still attempted to customise the software as much as possible. Some of this work was handled by UXC-owned Oxygen.
"We knew that what we actually bought from SAP and Oxygen was meant to be out-of-the-box, but we of course wanted to customise as much as we possibly could with the money we were spending as well," Wilson-Brown says.
"I suppose everyone probably thinks their own business is complex - but our company certainly has complexities as well. For example, we are manufacturers [but] we're also distributors of our own products and other company's products, so we have all sorts of divisions and different customer types go with that as well.
"Even in sales we have two divisions - we have a retail and practitioner division, and sometimes we have two account managers calling on the one customer.
"We had to find a way that we could show that relationship properly in CRM and that was all able to be done."
Wilson-Brown is positive of the way his team's input and feedback is reflected in the RDS model.
"The fact that you have an RDS means that consideration has been put into it that it's going to suit most businesses," he says.
"A lot of the basic structure of it is going to suit most businesses and I'd say that was the case for us as well.
"In terms of the configuration it was mainly just naming various drop-down fields, creating all the subsets for all the entries that you can make in CRM. All that kind of thing requires a little bit of thought.
"We just needed to get into the nitty gritty and name the various fields."
SAP is cognisant that the future of RDS lies in greater customisation and more packages.
The first wave of RDS covered SAP CRM pieces for "sales, marketing, procurement, customer service and call centre operations".
That range has since expanded to include "an ERP package, in addition to all the different line-of-business solutions. HR, finance, procurement, manufacturing", Birdsall says.
Birdsall says that SAP will likely "double the number of [RDP] packages we have going into next year".
"What we're finding is that in each market - for example if I was in Tokyo - [the requirements] would probably be more specific," he says.
"We need to develop packages specifically for those markets. I'm sure Australia will be the same.
"As we continue to increase the number of packages we have available, that obviously creates a much higher increase in demand as well."
Would you consider using RDS to speed up parts of your SAP deployment?