Third-party support: not just about money

The role of IT should be primarily about serving the business: providing the necessary infrastructure and innovation platforms that enable enterprises to survive and thrive. Too often, however, that ability to make a difference is diluted by patching, maintenance and keep-the-lights-on tasks. It’s my strong belief that wherever possible those sort of tasks should be delegated but in ERP that has historically not been easy. Instead, customers have been stuck with vendors charging an annual fee of 20 percent or more for maintenance even though as a rule of thumb one of every two patches will break things.

When I joined BrandSafway, a leading global provider of access, specialised services, and forming and shoring solutions to the industrial, commercial and infrastructure end markets, we were operating on the basis of multi-year Oracle ERP rollouts to a country. We wanted to move faster and we wanted to work smarter to deliver value back to the business without losing efficiencies. We found a highly effective solution to this conundrum, together with a different way of working with vendors and using Rimini Street’s third-party support.

Often, third-party support providers are thought of as a way to reduce spend and it’s true that we saw direct savings of about 50 percent on support. But, just as important if not more so, we also are clawing back the time and focus to build and innovate, and have been able to roll out and extend our financials, supply-chain, HR, project accounting footprint in new countries, adding timesheets, forecasting and other solutions, faster than would otherwise have been possible. We have not only been able to leave the break/fix hamster wheel but have an internal team that can really focus on projects. We believe that the indirect savings are perhaps 30 percent on top of the direct savings.

Some fear the effects on vendor relationships of moving to third-party support but we didn’t find any deterioration in our relationship with Oracle.

There have been other successes too: the initial onboarding took just eight weeks, faster than we had anticipated, and support is superior. Our patches are bespoke and they work first time. An early experience with a major tax and regulatory update was that it was delivered with just one small issue, which was fixed with a 48-hour turnaround. The days of calling ‘Brian or Sue’ at a big software provider with offices in the UK are long gone, but with Rimini Street we have a largely familiar set of faces to work with. There’s no escalation of support tickets ending up with somebody new to the issue that you can get with a blue-chip software vendor.

We needed a partner that could operate not just narrowly in understanding the minutiae of the ERP system itself but the complex ecosystem in which the system sits: hardware, operating systems, networking and the applications that ERP touches. That partner didn’t need to have a specific deep domain knowledge of the sector we operate in but did need to understand our set-up, including the fact that we operate across jurisdictions all over the world and we have to keep up with all the various tax regulations and governance activity.

Rimini Street is proactive and we are alerted to changes in the regulatory scene before we know about them: there’s no sense of chasing them to help with a problem. The partnership has even extended beyond the core competency of having deep, specialist knowledge of applications. When I was struggling to make sense of how I could use AI, a Rimini Street employee talked our leadership team through how they were using it and how it can be applied, for example, to incident tickets. We learned that we could use AI to identify immediately if a customer was angry (all-caps text), or likely to be frustrated (where multiple similar tickets have been issued multiple times), how to prioritise tasks and find the right person for the task (areas of expertise and availability). In short, they helped us open our eyes.

One challenge was internal. We needed to lose the mindset that by the time you’ve explained to an outsider how you work, your technical infrastructure and specific needs and priorities, it’s quicker to fix it yourself. Working with a third-party support vendor is more than just offloading; it requires the internal team to adopt the role of educator of the partner and it means that there has to be trust and teamwork across internal and external teams. You need open lines of communication, an understanding of product functions that are important to the business, a process for handing off responsibilities, clearly mapped priorities and KPIs for measuring progress. But once we had addressed the ‘let’s just keep on doing it the way we always have’ syndrome, we found onboarding and the relationship was rapid and painless.

Some fear the effects on vendor relationships of moving to third-party support but we didn’t find any deterioration in our relationship with Oracle. We explained clearly our strategy, our decisions and we communicated throughout. Oracle knows why we are not moving to R12 or Oracle cloud but we remain a valued customer and we are treated as such.

Today, we view Rimini Street as a long-term strategic partner across Oracle, JDE and Salesforce applications and we have a roadmap with them extending 10 years ahead. Third-party support means we don’t have to be a jack of all trades: if I’m implementing GST for India, JPK in Poland, or e-invoicing for Latin America, why wouldn’t I go to a specialist who really understands that?

Today, BrandSafway is reaping the benefits of a mature, low-cost footprint, in part because it broke with tradition and invested in a new way to support our applications and a modern approach to vendor management. I see companies spending millions on ERP rollouts and I want to tell them that you really don’t have to do it that way. We’ve separated project delivery from support, and we’re convinced that approach is the right way to go. Start small with third-party support and then expand, but most of all find a true partner that isn’t just providing a body shop but acts as an independent trusted advisor. You will find that your ERP maintenance is enhanced but also that you can concentrate on the work that makes the difference to business. 

*Simon Lytton is global applications director at BrandSafway