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  SAP - Winner or Loser?
February 21, 2004

There are many City employees on my E-FORUM distribution list, so this is addressed primarily to them because I have no way of automatically separating them out. To others, please indulge me. Perhaps you will find this interesting anyway. 

When I first took my seat on the City Council in 1995, there were all kinds of problems with the financial accounting system. Annual audits were chronically late, and the auditors’ reports were filled with exceptions and recommendations for improvement. Staff said it was all due to the City’s obsolete computer hardware and software. 

Well, said the City Council, let’s fix it. So, staff recommended replacing the existing system with a state of the art industry leader, SAP. The City proceeded to spend millions on a new SAP information technology and accounting backbone system. According to the SAP web site, “SAP has 12 Million Users, 64,500 Installations, 1,500 Partners, and 23 Industry Solutions. Founded in 1972, SAP is the recognized leader in providing collaborative business solutions for all types of industries and for every major market. Headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, SAP is the world's largest inter-enterprise software company, and the world's third-largest independent software supplier overall. SAP employs over 28,900 people in more than 50 countries.” 

Now, nearly nine years after I first took my seat on the City Council, there are all kinds of problems with the financial accounting system. Annual audits are still chronically late, and the auditors’ reports are still filled with recommendations for improvement. So-called “e-government” solutions used in many cities, such as smart permitting, automated code enforcement reporting and complaint tracking have been promised for years but have failed to materialize.  Many staff members tell me it is due to inadequacies in the SAP system, employees’ inability to use the system, failure of the City’s IT (Information Technology) Department to provide appropriate support for departmental needs, or a combination of all three. 

In December of 2003, I contacted SAP and asked to meet with someone familiar with Richmond’s system to try and discern the facts. Ultimately, I was contacted by Peggy Sucle (415/898-1775). Peggy first told me that she was the principle SAP project contact for Richmond. Before I could say anything else, she gave me an uninterrupted five-minute passionate speech on how Richmond was SAP’s best example of a municipal customer, how successfully Richmond had embraced SAP and how proud SAP was to be able to hold Richmond up to other potential municipal customers as the ultimate success story. 

When Peggy eventually stopped to catch her breath, I told her that maybe we were living on different planets. I told her that all I had heard from Richmond employees were tales of woe about SAP and how a number of management level employees, and even some department heads, had told me privately that it simply wasn’t working for them.

I went on to ask Peggy if she, and perhaps other SAP people, would be willing to participate in a meeting where I and other City Council members, as well as City staff members who have had problems with SAP, could try to find out what is really going on. Is SAP the answer to our dreams, or is it still a major impediment to municipal operations? I envisioned the meeting as an inquiry that would be City Council driven. I asked Peggy to get back to me with some potential dates; then I planned to shop it to my City Council colleagues. I ran into Peggy briefly a few weeks ago, and she told me she was working on it and would get back to me with a proposed date.

Well, I never heard any more from Peggy, but today, I get the Green Sheet for the week of February 23 and see “SAP Presentation for City Council Members” set for 1:00 PM, Tuesday, February 24. The meeting is to be coordinated by the Information Technology Department, which is, according to many of my City staff informants, part of the problem. 

I guess this is the meeting that I discussed with Peggy. I plan to attend, but I also want to invite any City staff member who has complaints about SAP, IT, Finance or anything else related to information technology and SAP to attend and bring up your issues. If your manager won’t let you attend, please let me know. For those City employees who either cannot attend or don’t wish to air their concerns publicly, I am asking you to respond to me with your specific concerns in as much detail as possible. I will then bring them up. If you wish your identity to remain confidential, please let me know, and I will honor that. If you are a City employee and receive this, please forward it on to other City employees who may not be on my distribution list. 

This may be the first opportunity to find out the real truth about SAP and how well it is serving the City’s needs.