Gniezno-based Scanclimber and the Group companies in Finland and Germany have been using the SAP system for as long as since 2005. The implementation, based on the SPRINT solution, was carried out by 7milowy, a company from the BCC Group (since 2018 SNP Poland). Already at the initial stage of the project, Scanclimber decided that the system be maintained in the full outsourcing model – hosting along with the administration.
Today, companies – particularly small and medium-sized – increasingly more often take similar decisions to implement an ERP system, however, nine years ago, such a step required a great deal of courage.
Also for the SNP Group, this contract was a breakthrough – Scanclimber was the first customer to commission the SNP Outsourcing Center to operate the system for companies abroad.
In the life cycle of IT systems and hardware platforms that support them, nine years is a whole era. Although at that time Scanclimber did not carry out major development work, the system used to manage all areas of the company is constantly changing and evolving. It is upgraded and tuned not only in the technical layer, but also in accordance with business expectations. An example of one of the recent changes is the addition of a new language of the system operation, which involves covering the company in France by the system. This task was completed by SNP consultants as part of the SAP administration service standard.
Companies of the Scanclimber Group covered by the outsourcing contract with SNP
– Scanclimber sp. z o.o. (Gniezno)
– Scanclimber Oy (Finland)
– Scanclimber Oy Ltd (Germany)
– Scanclimber SAS (France)
Hosting at SNP – security included in the package
Scanclimber is using the SNP hosting service which aims at providing a primary and backup data center for the SAP system. Everything related to the hardware platform – its availability, performance, maintenance, firmware updates, contacts with hardware manufacturers (including the reporting of failures, control of warranty repairs) – is the responsibility of SNP. SNP also provides efficient Internet connections (primary and backup) between SNP Data Centers and the customer’s sites in Gniezno, Pirkkala (Finland) and Limburg (Germany).
The duplicated infrastructure of the SNP Data Center provides a high level of security both physical one and with regard to the accepted procedures and standards of operation.
Databases of SAP systems grow very quickly. Disk space capacity management was outsourced to the service provider. SNP monitors the system workload and informs the customer well in advance of necessary changes if they go beyond the contractual arrangements. If changes in the contract provisions are not required, Scanclimber is informed of the changes made in the infrastructure in cyclic reports.
Michał Bazyly, IT Manager at Scanclimber, sums up the hosting service at SNP: “We work on a modern, well-configured hardware of top manufacturers, adapted to our needs and requirements, without having to worry about service or warranty repairs. Full virtualization, several independent Internet service providers, independent power lines and if necessary, power generators – a company of our size could not afford such advanced technological solutions and such a level of security, both physical and organizational one. Significant savings on the costs of licenses of operating systems, databases, backup systems, etc., needed to ensure the operation of SAP systems are not to be underestimated either. SNP is responsible for trouble-free operation of the system and contacts with hardware manufacturers. We do not need to set up financial buffers for the purchase of servers, disk arrays for emergencies or an unforeseen increase in the database either. In the package, we get one of the best equipped and protected server rooms in Poland. It is worth noting that a few months ago, SNP provided us with the second “twin" data center, in which our test and development systems are located. This further enhances our data security. The quality of SNP solutions is demonstrated by the fact that over the nine years of cooperation, only on two occasions were the systems unavailable for a short time on the side of SNP and in both cases it happened in the first years of cooperation.
A distinguishing feature of the hosting service at SNP is a package of additional services strictly related to SAP administration in the case of Scanclimber.
SAP administration – a weekday
The essence of the SAP administration at SNP is the constant supervision over security and performance of systems used by the customer, as well as assistance in planning their development. In practice, every day SNP carries out dozens of important administrative tasks on the system of Scanclimber – both planned, cyclical, and in response to incidents – which are practically unnoticeable for nearly 80 SAP users of the Scanclimber Group.
The SAP system administration requires a number of cyclic works to be performed to ensure safe and efficient operation of the system. The administrator’s everyday tasks include:
- monitoring of the system availability and performance,
- monitoring of backups,
- verification of errors messages in the SAP system logs, databases and operating system,
- monitoring of interfaces for communication with satellite systems.
The Basis administrator also supports customer requests, including a number of technical issues:
- setting up an account for a new user, change of authorizations,
- refreshing data for a test system,
- installing patches in SAP,
- configuring new interfaces,
- loading an additional language into the system,
- …and many other SAP Basis tasks.
The tasks of Basis administrators at SNP do not only include system monitoring and handling of customer requests. Each month the work is performed in order to keep the environment in the best possible condition and prevent problems in the future, including:
- the creation, analysis and implementation of the recommendations from SAP Early Watch Alert (EWA) reports. EWA reports are generated in SAP Solution Manager, which retrieves data from the SAP system used by the customer. The report contains a description of the system status and recommendations of changes in accordance with the best practices of SAP. The recommendations and conclusions of this report are analyzed by the BASIS administrator and implemented in the system in agreement with the customer. Examples of the recommendations from the EWA report include database parameters responsible for performance, current patches to the system kernel or loading current safety notes published by SAP;
- Service Level Report (SLR) – this is a report that specifies whether the basic parameters of the service provision, such as system availability or average response time of a dialog step, have been met;
- managing the database size – for SAP systems for which the database size is often measured in terabytes, it is extremely important to manage the size and to analyze the growth of the database so as to ensure adequate space well in advance. The analysis of data growth and the related recommendations are made by Basis administrators;
- analyzing the performance trends – increasingly longer system response times signal to the administrator the possible occurrence of performance issues. Basis administrators of SNP, based on the system statistics, capture such situations and recommend an appropriate action – for example, modification of indexes for a table or archiving in a specific module;
- the creation of administrative procedures – each SAP system has its own characteristics determined by the scope of the implementation and the functionalities used by the customer. Therefore, it is necessary to create individual administrative procedures for a particular environment. An example of such a procedure is the client copy procedure – even though the client copy operation itself is typical for all SAP systems, the steps taken after making the copy are different. The names of logical systems, configuration of Idoc ports, registration of programs in the gateway – these are just some of the tasks that must be done after refreshing the client. The written and updated procedure allows for a smooth and trouble-free update of a test client so that the customer does not need to adjust the test environment each time after a client copy is made;
- reports on the downtime of systems – for each system maintained at SNP Data Centers monthly availability reports are created; they record all planned and unplanned downtime of the system. The report is forwarded by the contract coordinator on the part of SNP to the customer and discussed.
What is important – the above work is performed proactively and it does not need to be reported to the customer. With the high-availability infrastructure of the private cloud type, most of the work can be done online, with no system downtime. If, however, the work requires the system to be shut down or restarted, then a service window is each time agreed with the customer at a time designated and approved by him.
In practice, every day SNPcarries out dozens of important administrative tasks on the system of Scanclimber – both planned, cyclical, and in response to incidents – which are practically unnoticeable for nearly 80 SAP users of the Scanclimber Group
Current and proactive monitoring of a large number of systems maintained at the SNP Data Center requires the use of software dedicated for this purpose. Currently, more than 4,000 individual points are continuously monitored.
The whole environment responsible for the availability of the SAP system: a server infrastructure, operating systems, databases, LAN, WAN, VPN tunnels, etc. is comprehensively monitored.
Not only the typical parameters, such as usage of a file system, RAM usage and CPU load, but also the specific parameters of the SAP system itself, such as spool usage in SAP, are checked. Furthermore, server rooms parameters, such as temperature and humidity, are monitored.
Warnings and alerts are handled by administrators on duty. There is no need to involve the customer.
Proactive monitoring provides the administrators with a full view of the maintained environment. In case of problems, they can prevent failures before they occur. For example – when an abnormally large transaction is being processed by the system, they will be immediately informed about the dangerously high usage of a transaction log of the database, which gives them time to react and avoid the system shutdown.
For the customer, such situations are “transparent" and require no intervention; necessary work will be done by the administrator and logged as a customer request in a service application.
The inseparability of Basis consultants’ work at Scanclimber from the business layer of the system is demonstrated by another cyclic activity entrusted to SNP. It is the annual financial audit conducted by a reputable consulting firm – PwC. It includes the verification of both technical and application aspects of the SAP system at Scanclimber.
A PwC auditor directly contacts a coordinator responsible for providing services to Scanclimber at SNP. Primarily, the system security, scopes of authorizations and a history of backups are checked. A separate part of the audit is also change management – verification of test protocols, procedures for transfer of changes to the production system and their documentation. Keeping the system documentation up to date and its storage is also a domain of SNP.
– SAP maintenance
– SAP HR application support
Relax, it’s just a breakdown
The responsibilities of SNP and the customer are described in detail in the contract, however, with such a long and successful cooperation – there is always a margin for unconventional actions.
When the customer’s router for communication with the system broke down in Gniezno, Scanclimber was threatened with a few days’ downtime of the SAP system. Replacing the hardware under the support agreement signed with the manufacturer took a few days. Effects – primarily financial and image-related losses for Scanclimber – could have been huge. SNP worked in the “emergency mode" and beyond the contractual agreements – offering help and providing its own replacement router. As such, the system downtime for this location was minimized to a few hours.
Michał Bazyly underlines: “It was indeed a crisis situation for us and the help of SNP was invaluable. Public holidays in Poland and the location of our company resulted in a significantly prolonged delivery of replacement hardware from the manufacturer. SNP – when informed of the situation, on their own initiative offered to help. And that’s what we appreciate in our cooperation with SNP – their approach to us as customers. On the one hand, the increasing professionalization of both services and customer–outsourcer communication channels, and on the other hand, a space for spontaneous, unplanned actions, beyond the contractual terms. Perhaps in our case, it also results from the long-term cooperation, but I have a feeling that our system is in really good hands.”
SAP upgrade – hosted
One of the biggest SAP projects in recent years in the Scanclimber Group was the system upgrade to the latest version SAP 6.0 in the third quarter of 2012.
The SAP upgrade to a higher version is a primarily technical project, so if like in Scanclimber the whole “technical" side of the system is outsourced; the vast majority of work is performed by SNP consultants. As in any project of this type – the initial preparatory phase was a pre-implementation analysis conducted with a focus on necessary adjustments, performance, database size, technical and functional sizing of hardware, etc.
This is one of the most time consuming (read: expensive) stages of the upgrade. Hosting of the system at SNP “includes" such an analysis as part of the standard service. It is available virtually “on stock" at no extra cost – SNP has been collecting the know-how about the customer’s system for many years. De facto – although to a lesser extent – a similar analysis is conducted periodically in the form of reports for customers.
In addition to the technical upgrade, SNP also provided the technical infrastructure and an additional test system (quality assurance) for the duration of the project. Scanclimber – like most companies of this size has a dual-system landscape of SAP – with a production system as well as a test and development system. To minimize the risk for the duration of the project, SNP proposed and provided a third system in the environment. The specific nature of the upgrade project requires a number of tests, which entails the need to build a quality assurance system (QA). This is an additional upgrade cost, which did not apply, however, to Scanclimber – the test system was provided by the SNP Data Centers.
Another cost related to the SAP upgrade is usually a change of the hardware platform resulting from increased technical requirements of the system. And in this case it was not a concern for the customer – the SNP Data Center provided servers with adequate capacity, and as the service was provided in a private cloud model, the physical hardware change did not interrupt the SAP system operation.
Michał Bazyli sums up the SAP upgrade at Scanclimber as follows: “From our perspective, the SAP upgrade was limited mainly to internal testing of individual modules (SD, MM, PP, FI, CO, AA, TR, HR, intercompany and PDM). We were kept informed of the next steps in the project upgrade, but we did not need to worry at all about the technical side and the tuning of ABAP, which was entirely the responsibility of SNP and external consultants of the SAP system. Of course, the upgrade of the SAP Gui client environment was on our side, but it did not require a great amount of effort and resources. With full outsourcing of SAP, also the cost of such a project is much lower (under the valid outsourcing contract, the whole upgrade of Basis was included in the price, among other things), and easier to estimate at the concept stage. In terms of work organization, SNP preparations as well as the duration of the project, the upgrade to the latest version ran virtually painlessly. Sometimes minor problems came up, but they were mainly related to the need to adapt a new version of the system to our specific solutions and business needs".
Maintenance as a complement
The services for Scanclimber are complemented by the SAP system manufacturer’s maintenance, i.e. SAP Enterprise Support, which is also provided by SNP. As a certified SAP Partner Center of Expertise, SNP is the recommended provider of this service. As part of SAP Enterprise Support, the solution manufacturer offers a package of additional services – the so-called SAP Technical Quality Checks (TQC), providing ample opportunities of analysis of the customer’s SAP environment, e.g. in terms of performance, space management, quality. These sessions are also planned for the system of Scanclimber.
A synergy of SAP maintenance services and system administration in a single service organization means an additional added value for Scanclimber.
“The practical benefit of using a package of SAP services from a single provider is that we do not have to decide where the problem lies – the hardware layer, SAP Basis or errors in the system – we simply report a problem and SNP consultants decide for themselves who and how should handle it. At the end we are informed of the changes and activities completed", sums up Michał Bazyly.
Strict SLA terms
The above scope of SNP services for Scanclimber is precisely described in the contract, including the assignment of responsibilities. A separate and equally important issue is the method of organization of services, which includes the step-by-step description of handling customer requests, response times, hours of availability, a definition of service windows and other terms of customer service.
Just as with other customers – “service" communication with Scanclimber is done using a dedicated service application, in which requests are recorded, their status is tracked and which is also used to measure parameters of an SLA contract.
A single point of contact (SPOC), which is at SNP the Service Desk Team, guarantees that customer requests are handled in accordance with SLA terms. And these are very strict at Scanclimber. During the company’s business hours, it is required to commence processing a support request with the highest priority within just 15 minutes, a similar request outside of business hours must be accepted for processing within an hour.
“Production planning and accounting, postings, sales orders, purchasing, an HR module, full integration with the PDM system … – we are practically unable to conduct daily business without a system. SAP integrates all business processes in divisions of the company in four countries. Losses that would be generated by the system downtime are not acceptable from a business point of view, therefore the cost of providing such a standard of system availability and response time is acceptable for us, even if it is a significant percentage of the monthly cost of outsourcing", says Michał Bazyly.
Additionally, SLA terms also define service windows (duration of planned system downtime) – intended for planned work in the system (e.g. an update of the SAP kernel).
Any service of support for SAP – whether Basis administration or application service – makes sense if help is available when users need it. At SNP, we have a flexible approach to customers’ expectations and we have adopted the principle that we are available during the customer’s business hours (even round the clock). For Scanclimber, SAP administration services, due to differences in business hours of individual divisions, are provided in the extended hours: 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. In addition, SNP consultants perform a series of scheduled works outside of business hours (e.g. at nights and weekends; the so-called planned system downtime). And, of course, they are available 24/7 in case of an emergency.
A single point of contact guarantees that someone on the other side will take up and identify a request, and then forward it to a competent team or consultant. It is a standard recommended worldwide for IT services.
In such complex services, communication with an anonymous consultant through the application is not always sufficient. Some issues require direct contact with the person responsible (e.g. discussion of recommendations, determination of service windows, planning development work, etc.). Therefore, another communication standard is to appoint for each customer the coordinators – persons responsible for the performance of the contract, on both sides.
A coordinator of services at SNP is an experienced consultant who is very familiar with the system and the customer’s needs, makes up the “second line of request support" for non-standard requests and an analysis of needs. He prepares monthly reports showing the status of the system, including comments and recommendations, and is responsible for work billing.
At Scanclimber, the coordinator is Michał Bazyli: I highly rate the organization of handling requests at SNP. It is consistent with international standards in this field. My role as a coordinator of cooperation with SNP mainly involves the monitoring of activities of key users of individual modules, reporting ongoing needs related to the need to make copies of the production system for testing purposes, performance-related issues or incorrect operation of the system. One of the main tasks is also the monitoring of the number of and how particular types of SAP licenses we posses are used – due to the decentralized competencies related to reporting the creation/deletion of system users. My tasks also include supervision over the fulfillment of the outsourcing contract – for over 9 years of cooperation we have not actually recorded any problems in this field”.
SAP – competence and innovation
Scanclimber is a medium-sized manufacturing company. Maintaining an efficient and effective integrated system that supports all business areas is its priority. The organization and maintenance of the necessary competencies within the company is not just a matter of (considerable) financial outlay. Recruitment, training, organization of replacements for the duration of sick leave or vacation, unexpected leavings, onboarding of new hires … All these aspects affect the SAP system operation.
SAP outsourcing means forwarding all these issues to the service provider.
Michał Bazyly: “We do not need to invest in SAP competences to have an ongoing access to them. The same applies to database systems or networks. SNP assures us that the consultants who solve problems reported by us know their work, continuously improve their qualifications and enhance their knowledge. A review of requests in the service application shows that more than a dozen consultants from various areas of IT/SAP work for us. I rate very highly the vast majority of their competences. And I’m not worried that they may request a leave or get ill, for example a day before the system upgrade".