How leading SAP S/4HANA implementation partners compare

Advisor firm UpperEdge attempts to pin down the differences between how SAP S/4HANA implementation partners Accenture, Deloitte and IBM approach client projects.

While a recently published comparison of Accenture, Deloitte and IBM's approaches to SAP S/4HANA implementations did not declare a "winner," the study did identify "specific tendencies that need to be considered" during a customer's selection process.

The study, Implementing SAP S/4HANA: Accenture, Deloitte, and IBM Compared, published by advisory firm UpperEdge, examined how the three companies handle four implementation stages across the S/4HANA transformation lifecycle: strategy and planning (or Phase 0); evaluation, selection and negotiation (request for proposal, or RFP); project mobilization (award to explore); and program delivery and execution.

All three systems integrators deliver on S/4HANA implementations, but they take distinctly different approaches during the project lifecycle, according to John Belden, project execution advisory service leader at UpperEdge.

For example, "as they enter an engagement, Accenture, overall, tends to focus on the roadmap journey, Deloitte focuses on enterprise value and IBM emphasizes cost calculations," he said.

Comparing Accenture, Deloitte and IBM's approaches

For the study, UpperEdge measured the approaches of the three SAP S/4HANA implementation partners using 12 factors.

One factor, stakeholder engagement, examined how the companies typically position themselves to present the business case to the client organization. Criteria here included who they align themselves with within the client organization, how well they know the organization and whether they speak the language of the business case, Belden said.

SAP S/4HANA attitudes chart
Research by ASUG and DSAG showed a general positive impression for SAP S/4HANA among SAP users.

Another factor was delivering a fully integrated sourcing strategy, which surveyed all the sourcing components. "A lot of our clients aren't aware as they're going through the sourcing process that there's an opportunity to gain a significant amount of value from the contestants within the sourcing process," Belden observed. "A lot of the systems integrators you're working with won't make clients aware of those opportunities."

This could occur if the systems integrator has preexisting relationships with suppliers. Because of those relationships, "there's a mutually aligned goal to get the client to sign the deal," he said. "Where the opportunity for value comes in is when running competing suppliers in an engagement, you can leverage the RFP process to request that the vendors provide you with solutions options alternatives, decision-making criteria, risk profiles and the methodology they might use going forward." The vendors will make a lot of that information available for free, Belden noted, "but you need to know to ask for it."

Another factor UpperEdge used was staffing model tendencies, which is the number of people the vendor will propose do the job, as well as the staffing composition -- i.e., senior versus junior level, the ratio of offshore to onshore staffing, and the number of people the client will provide, Belden said.

If a client is not paying attention to all the footnotes, they'll be left holding the bag with a lot of change orders coming in down the road.
John BeldenProject execution advisory service leader, UpperEdge

Additionally, UpperEdge measured the companies against common estimating gaps, which delves into the process of how the project price is derived. "Sometimes that price is derived by rate cards," he said. "Other times, the vendor may make assumptions associated with the engagement and leave certain things out purposely in order to lower the cost of actual engagement."

Typically, the three SAP S/4HANA implementation partners are upfront about leaving something out and will put it into the contract as a line item or footnote, Belden added. "If a client is not paying attention to all the footnotes, they'll be left holding the bag with a lot of change orders coming in down the road."

In researching the quality of the three system integrators' oral presentations, UpperEdge discovered this factor could carry a lot of weight in clients' decision-making processes. "One of the partners I talked to at Accenture conveyed to me that on his team, they believe roughly 80% of their wins on big engagements have come as a result of the oral presentations, so they put lot of effort into that," Belden said.

The factor regarding contracting value erosion, meanwhile, considered whether the terms of Accenture, Deloitte and IBM's contracts are actually met. The systems integrators will "take things out that, perhaps, you thought were promised or will back away on some of the terms now that there isn't competition," Belden contended.

From a client perspective, he advised organizations ensure they carefully word their requirements in the RFP. Belden also suggested getting the terms of the contract "locked down prior to making the final acknowledgement" of which firm won the bid. "You have to maintain your leverage all the way through to the contract stage," he explained.

Finally, the commercial-competitiveness factor addressed how well the SAP S/4HANA implementation partners compete against one another and compare to the others in the market. "Accenture tends to have a much richer, more robust rate card than IBM," Belden said. "In general, you will pay more for Accenture resources than you will for IBM resources because IBM often competes on price."

IBM's management consulting approach

In response to UpperEdge's conclusions, Matt Schwartz, IBM's vice president and managing partner and the vendor's global SAP practice leader, said the study missed the mark on what IBM offers.

"We're more than a systems integrator, and what they missed is our management-consulting approach," Schwartz said. "We're not always just selling to the CIO. In fact, of the 400-plus programs we've done, they have been sold to the CFO [and CIO]," he said, because the company delivers a value-based approach.

IBM has over one dozen prebuilt offerings for different industries, Schwartz added. "Literally, I can show up on Monday and flip a switch, and you have a solution specifically built for that industry."

IBM recently announced it is acquiring TruQua, an IT services and consulting SAP development partner that specializes in delivering finance and analytics solutions. In July, IBM and SAP said they would jointly develop new offerings also as part of their digital transformation partnership.

Deloitte and Accenture declined to comment on the UpperEdge study.

Focusing on SAP best practices

As with any major business decision, there are plusses and minuses to Accenture, Deloitte and IBM's approaches, observed Brad Hiquet, vice president of client engagement in the S/4HANA Movement division at Dickinson + Associates, an SAP consultancy based in Chicago. The most effective implementations start by aligning the business needs to the approach ultimately taken, he said.

"While these three partners have their own processes, there's really a fourth option: SAP best practices. Both AcceleratedSAP, which uses a waterfall methodology, and [SAP Activate], which uses an agile methodology, provide a more consistent, stable solution built on industry best practices," Hiquet said. "We can't underscore enough the importance of finding a partner that will listen closely to your business needs and only then recommend an implementation strategy."

Shared risk commitments

UpperEdge also examined how the three SAP S/4HANA implementation partners differ in terms of shared risk commitments. This factor looked at whether there are budget overruns and how willing the system integrators are "to accept their portion of the blame and make concessions and support the client in paying for that overrun," Belden said.

The study found Accenture "tends to be more willing to share in the risk," Belden said, while "IBM is less willing to share in the risk," mainly due to the level of contingency IBM might be carrying in its bid and price premium. "So, you may pay more for Accenture, but Accenture will accept, in general, more risk, and you're not going to get ticky-tacked on small items."

IBM will offer lower prices on resources but won't carry a lot of contingency and will put more obligations on clients, Belden noted. "You may see more change orders there. But, in essence, you're paying for that in changes … on price."

Schwartz dismissed this finding, saying that IBM is known as "the ones who do the least change orders."

"I was shocked to see that," Schwartz said. "We don't change order our clients to death. We see our competitors doing a lot more change orders than we do."

Deloitte, meanwhile, tends to fall in the middle, and will spend a lot of time with an organization's senior management trying "to convince them it's the client's fault for any big problems," Belden said.

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