SAP: Not Always the Answer

Brady may be basing the ambitious $30 million overhaul of its business processes on SAP software. But the label and sign maker declined to use SAP’s products in two key areas: product design and customer relationship management.

The reasons are straightforward. Brady process engineers found the SAP platform lacking in these areas at the time critical decisions about whether to use them were made in 2001. The company is in year three of a seven-year implementation and the key decisions about software had to be made early in the process.

Brady revamped its order-management processes because of long-standing inefficiencies. But it decided a year ago it would keep online its own internally developed method of managing its relationships with its customers.

“SAP did not meet our requirements at the time,” says Elizabeth Belmonte, Brady’s global process leader for orders. “It was a distant third [to our existing system].”

Belmonte says that SAP didn’t automatically assign leads to salespeople. The software’s ability to serve a mobile sales force was modest, and its analytical capabilities undeveloped, in her estimation. The icing on the cake? SAP’s own sales force wasn’t using the product.

Brady’s CRM requirements are long on business intelligence, data mining and customer management and Belmonte is taking a go-slow approach to replacing the homegrown platform she has. Brady is rewriting parts of its old system in SAP’s Advanced Business Application Programming language so it can talk with the rest of SAP—a process that she says “is going better than expected.”

In the next few years Brady will start looking at other vendors—including Siebel Systems, as well as SAP—for upgrading its customer management software.

“We have made significant progress in automatic lead assignment and mobile [wireless] sales” support, since Brady made its decision not to use us, says Angela Bandlow, director of CRM product marketing at SAP.

SAP’s current CRM platform ties into ordering, supply chain, manufacturing and financial systems.

“To capitalize on their investment in SAP, we’re the lowest cost solution they can find,” Bandlow contends.

Executive consultant Ray Bogart of IBM’s SAP practice says that it’s not unusual, though, for a company to mix and match software from different vendors to best meet its needs.

“Brady is driven by their catalog business which has intense customer-value tracking requirements,” says Bogart, who adds that SAP has made big improvements in both its CRM and Product Lifecycle Management modules in the past year.

But Brady found SAP’s Product Lifecycle Management module also lacking.

“[The SAP PLM] capabilities are not where they need to be,” says Linda Dean, global process leader for Brady.

Specifically, Dean felt the PLM module is too rigid. “We’re not used to operating in the disciplined way the software requires,” she says. For example, SAP would not allow Brady to use its own product development templates without extensive—and expensive—customization.

Also, Belmonte says the module doesn’t handle step-by-step process automation very well. Brady wanted a system that quickly walks an engineer through a list of product development tasks on screen.

“It’s been quite some time since they looked at the product,” says Stephan Schindewolf, VP of product management for Product Lifecycle Management for SAP. “There have been a lot of enhancements in usability—including better graphic user interfaces.”

He admits that in previous versions of PLM, workflow was inflexible. The latest version includes a wizard that helps users set up their own templates and fields without custom coding.

For now, Brady is sticking with its own existing product- development software while it gets ready to test products from several other vendors this fall, including EDS’ Teamcenter and Sopheon Accolade.

Whichever vendor Brady eventually chooses, the software will need to handle a totally redesigned product development cycle at the label company. Previously, each unit had its own product development regime. By unifying all divisions around one process, the company hopes to boost the sale of products less than three years old to 25% of overall sales. That figure currently stands at 18%, a number that has stood static for many years.

The six-part cycle includes idea screening, concept analysis, design and development, scale up, pre-launch marketing and post-launch product tracking. The redesigned process was implemented in August 2001 and Dean says there are some early indications it’s working. She’s waiting for formal metrics to become available in July.

In the meantime, SAP’s sales force is now using SAP’s own software to manage contacts with its customers.