IT underpins many business-critical operations in organisations of all sizes, whether it be managing the supply chain, customer billing or employee payroll. A lot of this work is done by enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools, yet it isn’t uncommon for 10 different organisations to carry out the same function in 10 different ways. In an age where operational efficiency is becoming increasingly important, it surely makes business sense for similar organisations within industry sectors to speak to each other and take a more collaborative approach when it comes to their use of IT. By doing this they can become more efficient, solve common problems and at the same time yield greater influence when it comes to working with IT vendors.
Collaborating for success
A good example of an industry sector attempting to take a more standardised approach towards its IT is the utilities sector, where SAP is used by the majority of the leading companies in the UK. These firms have started to come together through the UK & Ireland SAP User Group to try and standardise their SAP processes as they felt it would help the sector on the whole and also be hugely beneficial to the customers they serve. Led by Centrica, the single largest SAP utilities customer in the world, other utilities companies are beginning to share best practice and use their collective experience to address common problems.
One such problem has been in the area of pre-payment, a service that has provided customers with greater flexibility it has broken traditional billing processes. Working with SAP, Centrica has already pioneered a customer solution for SAP that allows pre-payment. Now other utilities are creating their own solutions based on this template, which is ensuring there are no inconsistencies in how they operate and ultimately improves customer service. Centrica is also now using the User Group to start driving discussions around smart metering and how that could impact on its use of SAP. By having these discussions now it will help ensure that both the utility companies and SAP will have compatible software in the future.
Cross-industry problem solving
Of course not all IT problems are industry-specific. Therefore, it also makes business sense to talk with the wider user community, as often you will find that other organisations in different sectors are facing the same problems. We have seen countless examples of organisations from different sectors collaborating to come up with workable, and often, cost-effective solutions.
Take for example Yorkshire Water. When it was looking to configure its SAP software so it could offer an employee salary sacrifice scheme, it began speaking to other companies who had looked into the legislation and created their own solutions. As a result Yorkshire Water was able to come up with a working solution in-house rather than having to pay for a costly external consultant to help with the work.
Power to the people
Irrespective of your industry sector, user groups can play an important role in fostering collaboration and providing a channel to influence IT vendors at the highest level. So at a time when IT budgets are shrinking but business demands are on the increase, the phrase "it’s good to talk" has never been more pertinent.
Alan Bowling (pictured) is chairman of the UK & Ireland SAP User Group.
This was first published in March 2012