Bart & Associates Shares Insights on Moving to a Hosted Cloud Solution
Bart & Associates, Inc. is comprised of 500 consultants that specialize in large-scale modernization and custom-development efforts across the federal government. Additionally, the business focuses on implementations of financial, human resources, and supply chain management solutions for commercial customers.
Jonathan Evans, Vice President of Service Delivery, is responsible for service delivery for all Bart & Associates projects. He manages the project staffing, recruiting, resource requirements, training, quality assurance, and account management. He also responsible for managing the firm’s corporate technology partnerships and alliances. He oversees all client-facing operations and manages the functional and developmental consulting side, as well as the SAP practice.
insiderPROFILES recently interviewed Evans regarding Bart & Associates’ own SAP implementation and the decision to bring it to the cloud.
Q: Why did Bart & Associates decide to move to the cloud with SAP software?
Moving to the cloud and selecting SAP software was a decision made in conjunction. As part of our evaluation of the SAP products, we decided that we would not manage the hardware and the back end of the system in-house and elected to go not only with a hosted solution, but a private cloud solution.
Because we run a number of other products, we wanted to give a fair shot to everyone and evaluate those options accordingly. We did our due diligence up front and underwent a six-month evaluation period to prepare the information we needed and build a business case. Then it was another two months of negotiations and decision making to get where we were comfortable and wanted to be.
As an IT provider to the government, we’re well versed on technology and are aware of what the products can do, but we were ultimately looking for a comprehensive all-in-one solution to be in the cloud versus just bringing something else in house.
We invited a handful of vendors to present. Given the integration, real-time data, and cloud capabilities, SAP came out at the forefront. The service-oriented architecture coupled with the ability to put it in the cloud also added value because we did not want to have to manage or service the SAP hardware and infrastructure. Also, some of the other vendors didn’t offer online capabilities. The majority of our 500 consultant base is out at 10-12 different sites. We need all of them to have access to the web base in real time.
We selected the SAP Business All-in-One solution suite, which consists of SAP ERP, SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM), and SAP BusinessObjects solutions. Within the ERP solution, we’re leveraging functionality for financials, controlling, project systems, sales and distribution, human resources, and employee self-service. On top of that, we are using SAP NetWeaver Portal for our resources to enter the system.
Q: What are the business benefits of moving to an all-in-one cloud solution?
We chose to move straight to the cloud with a hosted solution from the start to save significant costs as well as gain the flexibility we need as a global workforce. The biggest benefit we wanted was one monthly invoice for the hardware, support, and services, and have one vendor manage the capacity, staffing, and performance of our solution.
The benefits we were looking for when choosing a solution were a completely integrated system, a single platform, real-time data, real-time analytics on the data, the ability to add more applications as needed, and certainly the functionality of a project management system. What the SAP software did for us was to bring all that together in a single integrated platform with business analytics, project management, and the ability to see all of this information in real time.
Going to the cloud with our solution improves performance and allows us to access it anywhere we are. Backup and disaster recovery are in multiple locations, so at any point, we should be able to have what we need when we need it. And with a consulting base around the country at numerous different offices, it gives us the support we need to be able to leverage the solution and log in from anywhere.
Q: Did you have specific business requirements for the new cloud solution?
Previously, we had four disparate systems that didn’t talk to each other. There was no integration and certainly no service-oriented architecture or ability to go to the cloud with our systems. And we were at the point that we were outgrowing our financials system and needed project management capacity.
We are a continuously growing company and in our 24-year history, we’ve turned into a company that is at over $100 million in revenue and has 500 consultants. As we add new projects, we need the ability to quickly deploy solutions to 20-plus individuals. SAP was able to give us that in a single solution and by adding more users to the system, we can meet those goals quickly.
Flexibility was key, as we’re always looking to improve our processes. So within our new SAP landscape, we have a completely separate development environment, and we can have people in our SAP practice build those solutions or improvements and test them before we deploy them into production. It’s important for us to have that flexibility so we can continuously improve what we’re doing and where we’re going with it.
Another key piece we were looking for was a company where we could leverage its history and client base with not only those technical best practices, but the business best practices learned from the industry gurus. With SAP, we were able to pull those together and leverage them into best-practice templates from a technical and a business standpoint.
From an implementation perspective, we also wanted to bring people to the table who we know and trust, and leveraging our own talent was the answer. We took an integrative approach as our SAP consulting base has participated in a number of these implementations already. There was no need to look to an outside organization with an experienced SAP practice in-house. We were able to balance our own consultants’ schedules and timing to make it work.
Q: What did you take into consideration when selecting your hosting partner?
Given how we work with our clients, we were looking to achieve a partnership based on value and service level. We have a number of clients that we’ve worked with for 24 years. We wanted to select a partner that we knew we could personally recommend with confidence to clients that were considering leveraging a cloud solution. We wanted someone we could really work with going forward, as opposed to someone who’s just there.
We decided to go with Group Basis. What it came down to was we had a level of trust with them, their cost was reasonable, their service-level agreements (SLAs) were very high, and we did not have to compromise service or expectation by going with them.
Q: How many people are using the solution and how did you train them?
In terms of people actually accessing the system, we have 30 headquarters staff performing financials, accounting, billing, and HR functions, and 20 project managers utilizing the project management functionality. In addition, our 500 consultants are leveraging it for employee self-service and time entry.
The actual training and rollout is going on right now. Our in-house consultants are training super users in each of their respective job functions who will in turn train their staff. We’ll maintain Basis support from our hosting partner and have no intentions of changing that as the functional work is really being done by our consultants who are part of the implementation team.
The reaction from the user base has been extremely supportive. Project managers are excited to have real-time access to their day-to-day needs. Because the solution is not reliant on a month close or a quarter close, the headquarters staff will have a lot more visibility into data when they want it. Data for accounting, HR, and contracts will be fully integrated so we can have a single source of the truth.
All in all, people are excited and we’re looking for the solution to improve a number of processes for the company as a whole, but also help individuals do their jobs more efficiently.
Q: Did you encounter any technical issues or business challenges that you weren’t expecting?
We put together a pretty extensive plan regarding what and how much data we wanted to transfer into the system. Leveraging some of SAP’s best practices and available tools to export flat files from our legacy system, format them into Microsoft Excel files, and bring them into the SAP system has helped us avoid any technical issues.
We have dealt with competing priorities arising within the organization, so we’ve taken longer lapses in time from the implementation than we originally intended.
One business challenge we face is that a number of our business processes focus on a single individual — when four different functional areas are trying to leverage one individual from a business process configuration standpoint, it becomes a challenge.
Q: What’s next?
We hope to continuously add functionality and processes into the SAP environment and leverage the true capability of the software. We’re touching the tip of the iceberg on what we can get. The message from executives to the staff is let’s take it one day at a time and get this out there, but as a company and at the top, we’re looking to leverage our investment as much as we can. It’s not only an improvement for the company internally, but we will also leverage the software as a sales tool for other organizations in our industry.
Q: What advice would you give to those who are thinking about moving their SAP systems to the cloud?
My advice to them is to take the time to evaluate what you need and what you want as a company. I think there is a lot of value in that. Coupled with a good partner, it will help your organization not only save dollars and space, but also improve operational efficiency.
July 01, 2012