SAP go-live in Somerset - are initial problems "normal"?

An unpleasant side-effect of media coverage of IT-related project failures is that people have come to expect a decline in an organisation’s service at and after the installation of a large system.

Failure has become acceptable, in the same way as the public has become accustomed to lost information about them on CDs, memory sticks and laptops.

Below is an email from the well-meaning and energetic Chief Executive of Somerset County Council, Alan Jones, who writes to staff a week after the go-live of a SAP system on 1 April 2009. Jones refers to “weeks of turbulence”.

Gone, it seems, are the times when it was considered unacceptable for new technology to bring an organisation to its knees, even for a short period. To avoid this many extra staff were recruited for the go-live.

Now it doesn’t seem to matter if an organisation all but closes its doors after a go-live. As long as there’s an official email in circulation which includes a written promise of a return to normality sometime in the future.

Missives such as this were sent to NHS staff at Barts and The London and the Royal Free after their NPfIT go-lives. And before this, to NHS staff and doctors at Weston-super-Mare and Barnet and Chase Farm in north London.

Managers innocently assured them that things would improve after the “initial” problems with the Care Records Service.

In fact the problems at both Weston and Barnet lasted much more than a year.

This is the Jones email. Regular communication with staff is one of his strengths. Thank you to Ian Liddell-Grainger, the local MP in Somerset County Council’s area, for the email:

From: Alan Jones
Sent: Wed 08/04/2009 17:04
To:  AllUsers
Subject: SAP Update

Dear Colleagues,

Further to my e-mail yesterday, a great deal of work continues each day, and throughout the night to deliver the full functionality of our SAP system. At a meeting with my Directors today, we have received a full briefing from the senior Project Manager and Project Sponsor on the latest position.

All calls which have been received by the ICT helpdesk, the issues which have been escalated to our ‘Super Users’ and the messages from our Change Team are being logged and resolved as quickly as possible, and your feedback is valued through these channels. We have seen good progress.

There is clearly much more work to do, but I want every member of staff to understand that we do care about the difficulties you are facing, and we are working hard to make sure they are resolved quickly.

The biggest concern we are working to resolve is related to procurement, and the ability to order goods and services. This problem mainly relates to making sure every user, or ‘requisitioner’ has the correct budget codes assigned to them. We have prioritised the County Council’s Requisitioners to ensure that these business critical people are supported appropriately.

As I said stated yesterday, this is a huge project, and it is not without its challenges. No new system of this scale and complexity can be introduced into an organisation like the County Council without some implementation difficulties.  It is perfectly normal for those issues to be worked out in the first full month of its operation.

Whist we expect continued turbulence over the coming weeks, particularly when the further elements of the SAP system are launched, please be assured that your concerns are being monitored and addressed quickly. We have also put in place contingency arrangements to ensure that your service requirements are fully supported.  At senior management level, we will continue to receive a daily briefing in my office to ensure we understand what is going on ‘one the ground’ and to keep you informed of the latest position.

Once again, thank you for your patience.  This system will improve every day and become fully functional over the next few weeks.  As it does and as you become more familiar with it, the current concerns will recede and we will find that we are in a much stronger place to manage our services than we were before.


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