Evaluating CM Tools to Implement a Successful ERP Application CM Strategy.
How effective is your organization at identifying and managing change to your ERP Applications? IT is
becoming more accountable for maintaining Business Process integrity during ERP-based business changes. Now you will learn about the CM tools that not only reduce the pain associated with ERP change, but also help your IT staff tap into new efficiencies.
In the first article we examined the change management challenges that are introduced by managing
change to ERP software. Packaged applications for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) are a strategic asset in all organizations. They provide the backbone for day-to-day business and e-commerce applications, but are rarely used out-of-the box. Many compare an ERP installation to rewiring a nervous system. With this in mind, I began my search for a best of breed solution to the common change management challenges of ERP applications; there were some common capabilities that were considered to be critical evaluation criteria. The features I was interested in were capabilities to manage the complexity of these applications, automate repetitive and time-consuming change events, as well as features to support analysis of changes, regardless of the source of change.
Advances in complex ERP applications, such as multi-tiered architectures, have extended beyond the capabilities of most conventional version management and configuration management tools. Consequently, new ERP Change Management tools have evolved out of necessity to address the demands associated with patches, and analyze the impact of changes before changes are applied in production. Without these capabilities, many IT infrastructures simply can’t support projects as complex as ERP.
ERP applications are a target-rich environment for Application Change Management (ACM) case studies. When I began the process of evaluating ACM tools for ERP applications, I was amazed at the
complexity of the average applications environment vs. the typical level of automation/tools used to manage the complexity of these environments. For the most part, Application managers have either
had a bad experience with tools, or assume that most of their change management issues simply cannot be addressed by tools or automation. In this article, I have defined ACM tool evaluation criteria, explored some of the ACM implementation issues for Oracle’s ERP applications, as well as provide some lessons learned.
ACM vs. Traditional
To differentiate these new capabilities from the broader and more traditional Change Management concepts, we focused on a subset of CM functions we considered essential to managing change to Enterprise-class applications. Accordingly, I addressed this CM subset as Application Change Management (ACM), and defined some fundamental capabilities needed to implement an optimal ACM framework for Enterprise Applications. This quest for an ACM framework would identify tools that would equip any apps support group with capabilities to analyze and process change much faster, and with greater accuracy.
Matching an ACM Strategy with the Right Tools
Many IT organizations have invested in Application Management tools only to see their expensive investment in improved application management capabilities gather dust on someone’s shelf. Many
organizations have made genuine attempts to evaluate and implement application management tools.
Unfortunately, without a well-planned ACM strategy, a tools selection process may be doomed before itstarts. At the same time, these organizations have a formal promotion protocol established to manage the testing and release of custom-developed software.
When ERP applications, or other large package applications are introduced, a number of new Change
Management issues are encountered that are associated with maintaining and reconciling custom and
packaged applications (i.e., ERP, SCM, CRM, etc.).
Managing Concurrency Issues across an ERP Implementation
Project concurrency issues are fairly common to ERP projects that involve some combination of Financials, Manufacturing and HR modules. Project concurrency issues can surface fairly quickly after a medium to large sized ERP implementation gets under way. While there are cases where an ERP implementation requires a “Big Bang” approach, most implementations are staggered based on the module deployment schedule, scope of the implementation effort, required functionality, etc. ERP modules are commonly phased in as new functionality is evaluated, configured, tested and released. The underlying benefit of the ERP architecture, a common data and application architecture, also presents one of the biggest challenges. Since the various modules are tightly integrated, patches can affect modules which were not the original target of the patch.
Large patches (or family packs) can affect many modules, not just the modules where the fix is desired. It is almost impossible to isolate changes to prevent unexpected consequences. As a result, extensive regression testing is used to validate even seemingly minor changes. Also, it is not unusual for the finance, manufacturing, or HR to have completely separate testing and instance refresh schedules. The right Application Change Management strategy can mitigate the project risk that is inherent to these concurrency issues.
Maintaining a Documented Baseline
One of the biggest challenges to supporting ERP applications is to understand what makes up the current production baseline, and how to keep up with changes to the baseline. The best defense the support organization has is a well-documented baseline so the support staff can quickly determine which changes to the production baseline caused problems. Also, automated change tracking capabilities can be used to monitor the production environment(s) and provide a daily or weekly change reports.
Comparing Application Environments
One of the more common issues that ERP developers encounter is the problems associated with inconsistencies across development, testing and production environments. More often than not, these environments get out of sync as various changes (usually a combination of application patching and routine promotions) are working there way through development and testing/UAT environments. Frustrated developers and testers expend a lot of effort to determine why code that works fine in the development environment does not work correctly in the testing environment. The larger the applications, the easier it is for the various application environments to get out of sync and the harder it is to diagnose and resolve these differences. At any given point in time, differences across application environments can produce misleading test results. The results of inconsistent environments can be both disruptive and embarrassing. This problem, more than anything else, can both delay and even invalidate User Acceptance Testing.
Automating Promotion & Compilation Processes
Since Oracle ERP Applications rely on extensive object referencing capabilities, an effective change management strategy must consider application dependencies across Oracle Forms & Reports (Oracle Developer), as well as the database. An effective Application Change Management Strategy will improve your organization’s change analysis capabilities, and provide more fluid and efficient change implementation/migration processes.
Prevent Problems from being Promoted to Production One of the biggest opportunity areas for realizing both improved productivity and faster adoption of ACM is to provide automated code promotion and compilation processes. With the right promotion & generation tools, you can even implement compile checks to ensure that a program compiles error-free before it is moved into a given environment. At the same time, automated promotion and compilation process are easier to both implement and enforce controls.
The following capabilities are key capabilities of a successful ERP ACM strategy:
1. Automate repetitive processes to reduce the risk associated with human error (code
generation, change documentation, impact analysis).
2. Finding the customizations made by your organization and the changes made by Oracle.
3. Comparing instances/environments to determine differences.
4. Performing impact analysis on your changes to forms, libraries, reports, server code, and
5. Migrate AOL Object Definitions with custom code.
6. Manage change migration processes across development, test, and production
What to Look for in Application Change Management Software
To address these new ACM challenges, a new breed of ACM software has been introduced to automate change management, and provide change analysis capabilities. Application Change Management software now provides the enabling technology for managing change, and improve impact analysis capabilities. In this article we will examine the various features of change management software and evaluate the key functions to look for in change management software. There are many facets to ACM and consequently ACM tools. One of the common shortcomings of ACM initiatives in IT is that they may not consider the ACM process from start to finish.
ERP applications now challenge IT to view ACM from an enterprise perspective. A number of new software products have appeared specifically to address many of the challenges associated ERP applications changes. One of the more common functions addressed by these new breed of ERP Change Management applications is automated promotion & compilation of application code.
Keeping up with Multi-Tiered ERP Architectures.
ERP application architectures have evolved to support web servers and multi-tiered architectures. Database servers and application servers have been separated to isolate web traffic from database transactions. These new multi-tiered architectures offer a greater variety of configuration options to address load balancing. Some of the most important features of ACM would also seem to stem from some of the pervasive issues that impact all ERP software customers. One of first questions is how will this software help me prepare for and manage significant software changes resulting from new vendor releases, major patches, and local customizations.
Normally, promoting and generating application code would not present much of a technical challenge. ERP applications present a much bigger challenge just to manage application dependencies, and process changes in the correct order based on these dependencies. Some of the key change management capabilities I identified for ERP applications include (but are not limited to): Maintaining a current application baseline & tracking changes to the baseline.Automating the promotion process.
Analyzing change resulting from vendor software updates & local extensions/customizations Comparing multiple application environments/instances to identify differences Preparing for changes resulting from new releases/versions To better understand the capabilities of ACM tools, I have developed a matrix that rates capabilities based on change analysis capabilities and also on automation for common change adaptation and migration/promotion functions. The following Change Management Matrix provides an overview of Application Change Management capabilities/functions based on varying ERP and custom application scenarios.
Advanced capabilities that support change detection, advanced/cross-release impact analysis, as well as automated code migration and generation capabilities:
Products: Applimation Change Manager (Oracle Apps); Quest Software Stat (Peoplesoft); Serena ChangeMan;
Preparing IT Controls to Support Compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act last year following the financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom. The legislation seeks to make companies’ accounting procedures more transparent to investors and regulators. Eight-five percent of 60 companies that responded to the AMR Research survey said Sarbanes-Oxley will require changes to their IT and application infrastructure. Section 404, which public companies must begin to comply with by the end of the year, pertains to the certification of financial reporting and controls. The following key ACM areas/capabilities will have a direct impact on demonstrating IT controls that support compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley:
Implementing application change traceability capabilities.
Implement promotion & generation processes that provide for stricter security/controls over
Implementing passive change monitoring for application objects/logic (both database & non-database objects).
Implementing passive change monitoring for application setups.
Analyzing the Impact of Change from All Sources
One of the common shortcomings in current and earlier generations of SCM & CM software is the absence of support/features for performing impact analysis on changes. Impact analysis support for software changes is no longer just a desired capability; it is quickly becoming a required feature for IT organizations that are evaluating Change Management software. Arguably, ERP applications present an especially daunting challenge for CM software vendors. When you are supporting ERP or other Enterprise applications, impact analysis capabilities should span changes resulting from local customizations to vendor software updates/patches. Also, if you embarking on a major new ERP release/upgrade (e.g., Oracle Applications Release 10.7/11.0 to Release 11i) and your ACM tools don’t provide any features to support this migration, you may want to revisit your evaluation criteria.
How to Avoid the Common Mistakes While Implementing ACM
According to the Yankee Group, “75 percent of application downtime is caused by ‘self inflicted’ errors”. In today’s world, IT spending is under the value microscope as never before, 80 percent of IT budgets are used just to maintain the status quo. CEOs and CFOs want to see more return on their ERP investments. In addition to spending wisely on self-funding, higher performance IT investments, IT executives must provide change controls on business critical applications that support collaboration, visibility, speed and audit-ability.
The Delta Challenge
Virtually every Oracle Apps support organization has experienced the “Delta Challenge”. This occurs on a day, like any other day, that starts out normally, but quickly transforms into a panicked search to find out what was changed the night before. An important feature is not working, and to make matters worse, you are also in the middle of a month-end close.
If you are responsible for production support, you must begin searching for a needle in a virtual haystack to identify what has changed, what is affected by the change, and why the change was made. If you are fortunate enough to have automated change tracking to monitor production changes, this becomes an academic exercise. Otherwise, the search is on.
Avoid Disjointed Development and Promotion Processes.
An effective Change Management strategy simplifies and automates the processes that a developer must go through to manage and migrate changes. Without Change Management, too much time and money will be spent manually managing the environments and resolving day-to-day problems. The fastest way to make an ACM strategy fail is to encumber the developer with extra control processes without providing automation to reduce the total effort required to maintain the ACM process. Most development teams are already overloaded and will quickly find a way to shun new responsibilities that
don’t add value to the development process.
Key indicators of an effective ACM strategy include the following:
· Source code management;
· Change trace-ability;
· Maintaining a current Baseline;
· Change impact analysis & dependency analysis;
· Both application & database Change Tracking processes;
· Automated code migration processes;
· Vendor software patch analysis.
Avoid Communication Breakdowns on Critical Project Issues
One of the common areas where Change processes can break down is in the area of Issue Management (typically referring to issues raised during the analysis, design and development phases). A common solution to issue management is a combination of email and spreadsheets. On ERP projects, this approach rarely does justice to the magnitude of the coordination problems, and the importance of tracking and managing issues & defects during the pre-production phases.
Spreadsheets quickly become unwieldy and difficult, if not impossible, to keep current. Invariably, the issue management process breaks down because it quickly becomes overloaded. Workflow tools designed for Issue Management & Software Change Requests, like Merant’s Tracker product, are ideally suited to this problem and satisfy most audit requirements for change traceability.
Avoid an Incomplete ACM Strategy
A common ACM strategy disconnect is that the people implementing ACM do not understand how development and promotion processes work for a given ERP Application. Some of the most important features of ACM can be discerned from some basic questions directed to the ACM Software Vendors.
These questions should start with “How will this software help me prepare for and manage significant software changes resulting from new vendor releases, major patches, and local customizations?”. From an internal standpoint, ACM also requires a certain amount of cultural change. Like other undertakings that require cultural changes, you can implement ACM in phases; however the final state should be a fluid application change model that follows the entire lifecycle of application change, from the inception of the request (e.g., Issue & SCR Tracking) to the promotion of the change.
At the end of the day, ACM is not just a change management protocol, it is part of a larger IT project controls function. Project managers are now looking at ACM strategies to implement tactical project controls. Since project change can cause the even the best project plans to unravel, a project manager’s best defense against this project variable is an effective ACM strategy.
For a large percentage of ERP customers, ERP implementation was their most complicated and costly software project they have undertaken. Companies have made big investments in ERP software, and leading CEO’s now want to see IT contributing more to the bottom line – producing higher value at lower cost. Notwithstanding, patches and new releases create ongoing support and business adaptation challenges that can chip away from the returns on ERP investments. Unmanaged changes to ERP applications have generated some of the most recounted project horror stories. Needless to say, Change Management is becoming the focus of attention in many IT organizations.
By equipping IT with the appropriate ACM tools & processes, a more intelligent and deliberate change framework can be created that allows IT to facilitate, and in many cases even drive, business process change.
Allan B. Hooks
InterNext Group, LLC
12777 Jones Rd, Ste. 297
Houston, TX 77070