It is important not to lose sight of the longer perspective when focusing on the most urgent activities. Even if we are currently operating in a crisis-saving mode, we cannot completely freeze IT development – point out Michał Kunze, the new SAP Consulting and AMS Director at SNP Poland in an interview for “Lepszy Biznes” (Better Business), SNP Poland magazine
Michał Kunze has been involved with the SAP market in Poland for 25 years, and during that time he has played all possible roles in projects – from a developer consultant, through a project manager and head of the project office to the board representative in steering committees. He has been working for SNP, formerly BCC, for almost 20 years. Since the beginning of 2020, he has been the Consulting and AMS Director, combining this function with managing the Software Development Department. We were supposed to talk about the anniversary, new trends in the business systems market, the SNP development strategy and career plans. However, in the current situation – we are talking in the middle of April – we cannot start otherwise than from the current situation related to the coronavirus epidemic.
How does work during the COVID-19 pandemic look from your perspective?
Michał Kunze: Obviously, an application for conference calls has become my basic working tool overnight. Over 90 percent of SNP Poland employees work from home. Remote working is nothing new to us, although not on such a scale. Support services and software development have always been based on remote access to systems; we have also been increasing the share of remote work in implementation projects for years. The difference is that now consultants connect to customers’ systems remotely, instead of from the SNP office.
I think that, as an organization, we are seeing positive results in these difficult conditions. We have a properly prepared IT infrastructure, employee self-service systems and applications for team management. SNP’s organizational culture – that is to say, trust in employees and the high autonomy of teams – is now delivering solid results.
Therefore, we are staying in constant contact with our customers and continuing the projects we have started. Most of them are progressing according to schedule. This also applies to large-scale projects. For example, we are on the verge of launching SNP E-Time, a cloud-based time-planning platform for one of the largest logistics operators in Poland. At the same time, an e-leave request system for several thousand employees at the distribution center of a fashion retail customer will go live.
We are, by the way, an example that it is not necessary to postpone the go-live of an important system due to the epidemic. In the first quarter of this year SNP smootly switched internal SAP systems from ECC 6.0 to S/4HANA. We achieved success thanks to our unique BLUEFIELD methodology, which is also used in projects for our customers. We transferred data, configuration and custom development in finance, sales, HR and project system to S/4. The migration of SNP companies in 12 countries was carried out in less than six months.
This is not the first crisis you’ve seen in your career, including the bursting of the “dot-com bubble” in 2000 and the financial crisis of 2008. What will it be like this time? Are you expecting a similar scenario?
The fundamentals of economics dictate that the first thing to do is to ensure the survival of the company by minimizing losses in the short term and maintaining the potential for growth in the future. In both of these activities, the role of IT is crucial.
Drawing conclusions from crisis situations, in order to reduce fixed costs, companies are more willing to buy IT or SAP support services outside. They outsource the maintenance and administration of systems, as well as user support to specialized partners. Looking for savings in operational activities, they reach for business process automation solutions or employee self-service. After every difficult period, the demand for Business Intelligence solutions is also growing – up-to-date information, reliable and quickly available reports are the basis for effective action.
What will it be like this time? Are you expecting a similar scenario?
The scale of what’s happening now is incomparable to anything else. Recent months have shown how important it is for an organization to be flexible and able to react quickly to changes. This has long been talked about, however this time it’s become a reality. On the other hand, the range of opportunities is now much wider than in 2008, for example. Everyone can quickly scale IT solutions in the cloud model. SaaS also means greater financial flexibility: The costs are spread out over time, depending on the number of user accounts or another metric of service usage.
Remote access to applications and mobile solutions is already common. More and more documents exist only in digital form, even in communication with government agencies that are not perceived as the technological avant-garde – for instance the Electronic Platform of Public Administration Services (ePUAP) which is a nationwide platform for communication of citizens with public administrations in Poland. This is why the mass transition to working from home, which took place in many companies literally overnight, would not have been so smooth 20 or even 10 years ago.
SNP Poland supports customers worldwide, but now the focus is on Eastern European and Middle Eastern markets. How has SNP Poland’s offer been adapted to these challenges?
Today, of course, we are helping companies adapt to the new reality and trying to respond efficiently to new inquiries – sometimes urgent ones resulting from changes in our customers’ priorities. At the moment, the most important issues are the ability to work remotely, retaining access to corporate systems and networks, maintaining standards of information processing security, and legal compliance. No one has relieved companies of the obligation to generate SAF reports, and no one is guaranteed cyber security during the pandemic.
Customers can count on us – more than 300 of our specialists are prepared for remote work at the touch of a button. Apart from SAP consultants and developers of various technologies, we also have specialists in operating systems, databases, virtualization and IT infrastructure.
Now let’s take a longer-term look at the SaaS approach, which is becoming dominant in the SAP offer, and thus also ours. Currently, all areas of business can be handled in this way. HR solutions: SAP SuccessFactors and Employee Central Payroll, a new generation of CRM solutions, i.e. C/4HANA, e-commerce services and finally the S/4HANA ERP system – all available in the cloud – are already operating at our customers’ companies.
In addition, we have a wide range of extensions to SAP, facilitating the work of users, automating selected processes, helping adapt quickly and with minimum effort to new internal or external challenges, such as new legal regulations in Poland. PPK, SAF, a white list of taxpayers, split payment, sugar tax, environmental waste records – to name just a few. Let’s add to this the process automation implementations using RPA (Robotic Process Automation) tools.
Finally, we develop solutions ourselves to improve the operation of an organization and free up time and resources for other tasks. Here I’ll just mention the BeeOffice platform for managing daily team and office work, and SNP ECM – a system supporting electronic processing, archiving and flow of documents. In line with our strategy, SNP solutions are made available as a service, together with a mobile version.
Last but not least, I would like to mention what makes the SNP Group’s offer unique, that is, solutions and services for the transformation of SAP environments: CrystalBridge – The Data Transformation Platform and the BLUEFIELD approach. The usefulness of these solutions in the “post-pandemic” era is indisputable. Examples of this are SAP migrations to the cloud or for system carve-out or merge projects following the reorganization of companies, which are inevitably connected with times of big changes in the economy.
But how to plan IT development projects in the current uncertain situation?
Let me say this: A responsible company cannot afford not to plan them. It is important not to lose sight of the longer perspective when focusing on the most urgent activities. Even if we are currently operating in a crisis-saving mode, we cannot completely freeze IT development.
Once we start to recover from the economic stagnation phase, there will be no time to catch our breath. On the contrary, the fight for customers will be as fierce as ever. Therefore, we are encouraging companies to use the current situation to review and improve their processes. In each company, there will be several important matters that have been neglected so far due to a multitude of other urgent issues. Now might be the time to find the determination to deal with them effectively.
Let me give you an example from our backyard. It is very important for our Consulting Department to know which employees and with what competencies are involved in projects in a given month and where our work is delayed or cancelled. We delegate less busy consultants to help with other projects, including internal ones. It is tempting to organize such an “early warning" system as quickly as possible, in the form of several Excel files and e-mails from project managers to team leaders. However, we are expanding this functionality as a web application integrated with the SAP PS module of S/4 HANA in SNP. This creates a system solution for optimizing project staffing for better times as well, rather than a makeshift for crisis management.
To sum up: yes, the products and services offered by SNP are tailored to both the challenges facing companies today and those they will face in the future.
The hot topic of the SAP ecosystem is the prospect of migration to SAP S/4HANA. Although recently the deadline for support for old solutions has been extended to 2027, the migration still has to be done. How will the current situation affect companies’ decisions in this respect?
So far, few companies in Poland have decided to migrate, while on a global scale several percent of SAP ERP users have migrated. Probably now, in the short term, many companies will temporarily put their plans on hold. But I think that, paradoxically, in the long run, the current situation will be an argument for making the migration as soon as possible.
For several years now, SAP has been concentrating the development of new ERP functions in S/4HANA, and previous versions of the system are updated only to meet legal requirements. Therefore, companies will more and more often discover in the S/4 migration a chance to obtain an effective competitive advantage, rather than the need to carry out a complex project imposed by the software manufacturer.
Besides, the approach developed by SNP and the experience gained so far prove that the involvement of resources, project duration and cost may be lower than assumed. We have a proven Bluefield methodology and CrystalBridge platform dedicated to such SAP transformation projects.
You have been involved with the IT industry and SAP for 25 years. With BCC, and then SNP Poland – for nearly 20 years. I’ve been trying to count your roles during that time. My result is about 10: a programmer, a consultant, a project manager, a head of the Project Office, a Program Manager for SAP rollouts, a board representative in steering committees, a board member, the Software Development Department Director and finally the Consulting and AMS Department Director.
What has changed most in the organization of SAP projects and large IT projects in general?
On the one hand, of course, it is a constant technological progress. In the first SAP R/3 implementation, which I remember from the 90s, the disk array for the entire production database had a dizzying capacity of… 60 GB – that is as much as an average smartphone today. A remote access to the SAP system (outside the company office) was rare at that time, and files with system documentation were opened from a CD instead of a web browser.
Therefore, certain limits, which previously hindered the development of solutions, do not exist any longer. We can store, upload and analyze huge sets of data without worrying too much about aggregating them and losing sight of the details. Businesses are approaching their ideal of analyzing individual consumer behaviors, rather than investigating “why total sales in this quarter are less than planned".
On the other hand, despite huge advances in technology and telecommunications, several challenges in implementation projects remain unchanged. For example, how to reconcile the participation of employees in a project with their current responsibilities in the company? For conceptual work, we need to involve people who know the business well – only they can describe the target processes, functional requirements and other details of the solution with the consultants. At the same time, such experienced people are simply very busy. They take part in other parallel projects and support current business activities. It is difficult to involve them in conceptual workshops or a session of testing a new system that take a few days in a row.
Another timeless issue is the communication between the consultants and the customer’s team. A well-organized project methodology, refined document templates, etc. support communication, but are not a substitute for clear formulation of thoughts and description of requirements. Each party knows its field well: that is, the company’s employees – their own organization, and the consultants – the system. For example, it is clear to the consultant that the system will calculate the price of the product only according to the conditions strictly listed in the concept, and for the sales manager it is clear that the special discount for the key customer must be automatically calculated in the system. Unfortunately we often make a mistaken assumption that the other party knows the same thing as we do, so we do not mention certain issues because… “they are obvious.” The result is some of these “obvious” elements missing in the blueprint, or project plan and surprises later during the system tests. Chip and Dan Heath in their book “Made to stick” called this phenomenon “the curse of knowledge.” We take these issues into account in training for new consultants, but they are worth being reminded of at every opportunity.
The role of a project manager, or rather a duo of project managers: on the side of the customer and the consulting company, who work together efficiently and in partnership, must not be ignored either. Coordination of work, solving integration issues between different workstreams, motivating project participants to deal with difficult tasks for many months of an implementation project are issues that are critical for the success of a large IT project – invariably from the beginning of our industry until today.
Finally, I would like to ask you about your career plans. Have they changed recently as well?
I mentioned before the constant competition between urgent and important matters. Therefore, in parallel to reacting to the current situation in SNP Poland and the business environment, I try not to lose sight of the longer perspective.
We have just initiated an internal project to prepare a new version of the pre-configured SNP SPRINT system. At the turn of 2018/2019 we certified SPRINT for S/4HANA.
Now we are updating model descriptions of business processes, test scenarios and training materials. This will allow for more efficient presentation of the SAP system to customers at the stage of project bidding and at the concept stage. We plan to use SPRINT more often as a starting point for new implementations. This is in line with the SAP Activate approach, which during the fit & gap analysis assumes presenting a working preconfigured solution to the customer and collecting a list of additional requirements for this template – instead of designing processes from scratch.
For several years now, the importance of the SAP Application Management services that we provide to customers has been growing. We continue to develop our service organization and SNP Service Desk application. In the coming months, we will start servicing contracts for two new international customers – together with SNP Application Management organizations in Asia and America.
Depending on the type of request and time of day, a task will be automatically sent to an appropriate SNP department. This is a milestone in the development of our offer, reaching a truly ‘global’ level of operation.
To sum up, despite the atypical situation in the first quarter of the year and the uncertain future of the economy, the strategy of SNP Poland does not change substantially. We are strengthening our role as the leader of the SAP services market in Poland and we are gaining new customers in foreign markets.
Interviewed by: Mirosława Huk