Alabama county mulls whether to keep, jettison SAP

An SAP official says the company is eager to help correct the situation

Trouble with an SAP implementation in Jefferson County, Alabama, has county officials there pondering whether to fix the system or move on to an alternative.

Jefferson County has spent about $12 million putting in the system, which went live a few years ago, but it is still not working as desired, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Hager said in an interview Monday. The main problem lies in generating reports, he said. "They're not formatted in the manner that we want. They're difficult to produce."

Hager is planning to spend the next four to six months evaluating the best course of action. In the meantime, he's been fielding a deluge of phone calls about what to do, he said.

"They want to know what the problems are. There are camps that want to keep it, camps that want to change it and camps somewhere in between," he said of the system, which has garnered varying opinions in local media.

SAP is well aware of the situation in Jefferson County and is keen to help resolve the problems, said Mark Testoni, president of SAP public services.

A third-party consulting firm handled the Jefferson County implementation, and the reports of problems with it caught SAP off-guard, he said.

"They were operating successfully to our knowledge," he said. "We were somewhat surprised that they were looking to change direction. We want to go down there and be as supportive as we can."

Some of the newer tools and practices at SAP's disposal should help resolve the difficulties, Testoni said. "If the reporting issues are a concern, we can assess that relatively quickly."

"What I want to do is get in front of the key customer officials and get a more direct lay of the land," he added. "Then we'll see what the best direction to go is. The last thing we want is customers that are unhappy."

SAP is scheduled to attend a meeting on the project next week.

Jefferson County isn't the only SAP customer experiencing problems of late. Last week, officials in Marin County, California, decided to scrap an ailing SAP system and seek out a new one, believing that doing so would cost far less money than trying to fix it.

The project is also the subject of a lawsuit Marin County filed against system integrator Deloitte Consulting. Marin officials claim that Deloitte used inexperienced consultants on the implementation. Deloitte has said the allegations are unfounded, and it is pursuing a counterclaim against Marin for unpaid fees.

In Jefferson's case, choosing SAP at all may have been a bad move given its population of 665,000, said Altimeter Group analyst Ray Wang.

"Public sector agencies below 1 million in citizen counts may be overkill for an on-premise implementation of SAP," he said. "The staffing required and support and maintenance become quite costly."

It's more common to see such agencies choose ERP (enterprise resource planning) software from companies such as Lawson, he said.

Wang also noted that the sales teams involved with Marin County, Jefferson County and other troubled SAP projects were under co-CEO Bill McDermott's watch when he served as head of sales in the Americas.

McDermott was escalated to the co-CEO slot earlier this year along with Jim Hagemann Snabe after the departure of Leo Apotheker.

Snabe and McDermott have quickly made their mark on SAP with moves like the acquisition of Sybase, which will form the core of a new push into enterprise mobility.

But there's another way for McDermott to make a difference, such as by ensuring salespersons' compensation takes into account longer-term customer satisfaction, not just the revenue gained from landing new deals, he said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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