ASUG’s Pulse of the SAP Customer each year is a treasure trove of information on what SAP customers are doing--and not doing--to meet the challenges they face in matching their business needs to SAP’s software and services offerings. The 2022 study is no exception, especially when it comes to an important issue: staffing.

The ability of organizations to retain and maintain a knowledgeable staff was the number one challenge highlighted by respondents. And while respondents were clear about the impact of this issue, it’s also clear--based on answers to other questions in the survey—that this year’s data show some interesting disconnects between staffing issues and how customers are trying to resolve them. (To explore more on this matter, and all else in the 2022 study and ASUG resources, begin with the “Behind the Data” webcast conversation.)

Back to the topic: Staffing challenges are well-known across the global economy and tech sectors. SAP customers’ concerns about staffing and its impact are familiar to anyone who’s followed this issue, particularly during the pandemic. It’s no surprise that Pulse respondents indicated staffing problems lead to the loss of valuable internal expertise, a lack of knowledgeable replacements, and the inability of organizations to make progress with new initiatives.

Barriers to Resolution

What’s more telling are the barriers that prevent companies from resolving these problems. When asked what inhibits resolution of staffing issues, almost one-third of respondents cited a lack of willingness to adjust to shifts in culture, such as work/life balance, competitive benefits, and salaries, as top barriers. Budget challenges and an increasingly competitive marketplace for talent were also cited.

Despite an awareness of barriers and their causes, a separate question asking respondents to list top areas of focus adds more detail to the scope of the problem and to customers’ resolution efforts. One important detail is training, or a lack thereof. As an area of focus for 2022, “training and onboarding of staff” came in last place in the top 10 list. It did not budge a percentage point between last year and this year’s survey results. Another detail, looming at a lowly seventh position on the priority list, was “change management;” it also posted an identical number of responses in 2021 and 2022.

This is important because change management–or more importantly, a lack of change management--is a huge reason why employee satisfaction with technology of any kind goes south during implementations and/or upgrades. And the 2022 Pulse of the SAP Customer shows that 44% of respondents--up from 33% in 2021--are already live on S/4HANA or are in the process of implementation. In other words, a significant number of organizations are grappling with new technology and processes that are guaranteed to create change management issues. Yet, once again, acting on this problem is pretty far down on the priority list. For anyone steeped in the process of enterprise software implementation, it’s almost too easy to draw a solid line to connect change management and end-user dissatisfaction, which, in turn, leads to employee retention and staffing challenges.

Training And Budgetary Constraints

The lack of focus on training, of course, also squares well with a lack of focus on change management. Training is always the first budget item to be cut (did I mention that budgetary constraints were a barrier?) and the post-mortems of many a failed project cite poor training as a primary reason for that failure.

So, combine a lack of focus on change management, which negatively impacts employee satisfaction, with a lack of focus on training, and its similar negative effects, and what do you get? Is it any wonder that there’s a problem with staff turnover, the loss of valuable expertise, and the ability to move forward on new initiatives? With those burdens looming over an enterprise, my sense is that some of the focus areas for 2022 that figured much higher on the priority list--process standardization, automation, analytics, and integration--are themselves threatened by problems that directly impact employee satisfaction, and hence retention. Fixing the latter could have a big impact on ensuring the former have a better shot at being successful.

What ASUG’s Pulse of the SAP Customer tells us is that SAP customers are proceeding toward priorities that are only increasing in complexity--with more new technology and more non-SAP applications in the mix--at a time when the skills needed to deal with them continue to be lacking. This is a double-edged sword for SAP customers: the U.S. economy has been rocked by the Great Reshuffling, as employees look for better jobs at better pay, just as moving ahead with digital transformation is an increasingly time-sensitive priority.

It’s classically penny-wise and pound-foolish to skimp on training and change management, classic in that we’ve known about these problems for decades. The 2022 Pulse of the SAP Customer makes it clear that these decades-old training and change management issues need to be dealt with now, before the Innovation opportunities presented by SAP S/4HANA, SAP Analytics Cloud, or other offerings languish for want of the people and skills needed to see them through.

Joshua Greenbaum is principal at Enterprise Application Consulting.

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