One of our Veterans asked me recently to make an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of SAP as a system.
Like every other tool or weapon SAP is only as good as the people using it.
Don't get me wrong - I think SAP is a fantastic tool that delivers on most of the promises in the sales chatter - technically. The SAP product suite includes a seemingly endless list of custom products tailored to the specifications of the user. For any given business process you want to enact there might be anything up to twenty different transaction options available for the operator to choose from. Just about every military operating SAP is operating some form of custom developed platform.
In many ways that's the problem (and in my mind the biggest barrier to user engagement). Unless the business has clearly communicated the desired option (called a Tcode or Transaction Code) to the user, the poor old data entry operator has to make a choice from a mind bogglingly long list of options - all of which achieve the same task. If the individual is poorly trained on the system, time poor and discouraged from making independent decisions (or doesn't want to) the level of engagement on the use of the Database is likely to be poor at best.
If you add in a poorly managed Change Management implementation where the "Business as Usual" phase actually does revert back to business as usual - it's likely that any gains in efficiency offered by the implementation of SAP will be shortly lost when disengaged or change resistant employees revert back to "the good old spreadsheet". Sadly, although a huge amount of learning content for SAP is available on the internet (and I mean huge) businesses are unlikely to set aside time and resources for employees to self educate. I've never even heard of a business that ran formal refresher training - even those who had a 90% turnover of staff in a 2 year period (almost completely wiping out any corporate knowledge).
Only two significant things happen with data in SAP - it gets entered and it gets analysed. Data quality becomes shaky when people manually enter data. If the data entry operator is ill informed, careless, tired or malignant then the potential for harm is quite significant. For example; I knew of a case where one data entry operator caused a $60000 stock write off in her plant because she either didn't know or didn't care about the consequences of making an extra manufacturing item (value $180.00) to stock every day to use up leftover raw materials. She made the managers daily waste KPI's look good but masked the problem of wastage in mix production. The cost impact on the plant would have been much lower had she scrapped the mix from stock - but no-one ever checked her work (or she hid it well). Worse - her manager didn't know she was doing it.
SAP has an extremely powerful analytics capability suite - which is useless if no-one ever runs or understands the reports. The real "Bang for Buck" in SAP analytics lies with the ability to compile custom searches for targeted analysis. On the old Graphical User Interface (GUI) the extremely powerful custom search capability is confronting for the average user without a basic understanding of your standard search operators - >, <, >=, <= and the wildcard search operator *. If you haven't been taught how to search - you haven't got a hope. If no-one has taught you that you can look at the report using an Excel compatibility Business Add In (BADI), or export a .csv file - it's unlikely you'll work that out for yourself - especially if the interface makes you grind your teeth in frustration. Fortunately S4 HANA has improved on this quite a bit.
In the hands of a trained and motivated individual SAP is a force multiplier - in the hands of a team of trained, motivated and curious individuals the possibilities multiply exponentially.
SAP is only as good as the people using it.