back to article In deepest darkest Surrey, an on-prem SAP system running 17-year-old software is about to die....

Surrey County Council is shopping around for a new £40m ERP platform as the existing SAP system has been running on in-house servers for so long it is in danger of falling over. A tender notice published last week says the southern England authority is looking for a "fully integrated ERP system on a software as a service basis …

  1. Korev Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Between 2012 and 2014, measures included migrating the system to the Surrey County Council data centre and bringing it under in-house operational control; creating a new procurement framework in conjunction with East Sussex County Council that was used by both Councils and resulted in annual cost saving of around 40 per cent for support and maintenance services, according to the council docs discussing the need for new support arrangements.

    In 2015, the council contracted with an independent support provider which effectively "froze" the council into its version of the software, with limited options for maintenance, upgrades or patching.

    So bringing the system back in-house saved loads of cash so they decided to outsource it again in a way that prevents an upgrade...

    A big victory for management there -->

    1. JimboSmith Silver badge

      Had something similar at one employer where a couple of companies who made software everyone liked were replaced. The new one was not as good and their software (designed to do both major functions of the predecessors) required propriety hardware too. I mentioned increased support costs, unreliability of previous versions, being locked into their ecosystem, loss of functionality etc. I was ignored because I was seen as being overly critical and didn't have as much clout as would be needed.to make a difference. What happened was interesting, after 6 months someone with clout said they wanted nothing more to do with it. There had been a few incidents and failures and the company over promising customisability or exaggerating existing features. At this point it was decided to keep one half of the suite for one function and get another supplier for the other. Impressive given the management speech about how wonderful and much cheaper it was to integrate everything under one supplier at the start of the project.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "So bringing the system back in-house saved loads of cash so they decided to outsource it again in a way that prevents an upgrade..."

      I can see the logic. Sort of. Bringing it back saved money, ie reduced running costs. They now have a cost benchmark to work to so outsourcers bidding have to come under that benchmark making it it cheaper again. (naturally, it will cost more, but the headline "basic service cost" will be a headline grabbing saving. They;ll just try very hard to hide the costs of the extra little tweaks and services they forgot to put into the original tender which will increase, not decrease the annual bills.)

      1. Confuciousmobil

        Outsourcing always saves money.

        Bringing it back in house always saves money.

        If you do both often enough, it pays for itself!

    3. andy 103 Silver badge

      Management's view tends to be let's do the opposite of whatever the current situation is, so they can "create change" usually justified by "saving" money.

      So if something is currently outsourced there are obviously gains to bring it in-house. If something is in-house - woah that's expensive - let's outsource it.

      All the people in these positions do is try to justify their case using meaningless data that nobody can really be bothered going through with a fine tooth comb. Meanwhile collect a large salary, pension and other benefits. When everything goes tits up, resign, and leave other people to sort out the mess. Repeat every X years (where X depends on the circumstances / magnitude of what's being "changed").

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Planning

    "The existing server hardware has reached end of life and is on expensive extended support, with costs increasing every year."

    Hmmm...I wonder what operating system has just reached end-of-life and is now on expensive extended support?

    Surely they could have delayed this work for a few more years to ACTUALLY reach end of life/extended support/ok, this time we really won't support you any more...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Planning

      The existing hardware is nearly 20 years old. I suspect the OS has little to do with the need to replace the hardware. I'm sure most people would be getting a bit nervous at running business critical functions on that hardware.

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: Planning

        What was the latest and greatest 20 years ago?

        You could probably virtualise it on a Raspberry Pi and get better performance.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Planning

          A PIII Xeon at 933MHz. Or, if it was late 2000, a P4 at 1.5GHz for bleeding edge, which is unlikely for a local Council.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LoL we had a parking system that was a bit like that but less important. All it did was count how many spaces were left in carparks then put that up on a sign.

    It was running on an NT4 desktop. It hadn't been switched off for about 15yr and no one knew it was there since it just sat on a shelf doing its thing as teams were relocated around it. When it was found and needed upgraded to something current we couldn't since the company that wrote the software went out of business about 10yr before, there were no disks and no backup. No one knew if it was switched off if it would come back up again.

    Problem was solved although I never did find out how. It might still be on that shelf yet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Oh is that how those signs that no one takes any notice of work in towns?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Software that just works, such that people forget its even there ?

      What kind of business plan is that - no wonder the company went bust !

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Boffin

        Gluxo Smythe Klone had a similar issue where all the gates were controlled by two PC's (Not even in Security\Fire Dept offices). One day the inevitable power outage occurred & would not come back up allowing control of the gates.

        It was out of scope for us in the IT Dept (Don't have anything to do with it, its not a Corporate issue said our boss wisely & we all concurred as nobody wanted to inherit that can of worms.)

        We had a guy (Who claimed to be one of the minds behind IMDB), running parallel to us in IT, neither was he connected with Lab Support (IT) (I always got on well with Dr Derek & his team thus there was a little bit more help & assistance given in both directions than the powers that be would have liked if they had been made aware of our inter-departmental co-operation) who resolved the issue.

        He discovered that one PC needed to get to the boot menu (NT4) before the other machine was powered on in order for handshaking to commence between the two as the second one came on-line.

  4. oliversalmon
    FAIL

    Learn the Lessons

    1. Don't use SAP

    2. If you do, it's magnitudes cheaper to change your business to work like SAP than to change SAP work like your business

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Learn the Lessons

      In the SAP world, there are two ways to do things, the SAP way or the wrong way. There is no other alternative.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Learn the Lessons

        Are SAP a Microsoft subsidiary?

    2. johnfbw

      Re: Learn the Lessons

      That is pretty much the way of the world for any software - particularly ERP software. SAP just gets the most stick because it is the biggest

  5. Nick Porter

    Pedant mode

    Surrey County Council is not in "deepest darkest Surrey". In fact they are not even in Surrey. Surrey is the only county that has an extra-territorial county seat: Kingston-upon-Thames, which was annexed by London in 1965.

    1. not.known@this.address Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: Pedant mode

      Actually, SCC has offices in several places within Surrey - many of which should be considered deep and dark - as well as County Hall in Kingston which is, technically speaking , in Surrey - depending on which years' county boundary you use; as you say, That London annexed the land in 1965 because they were running out of green space so decided to steal someone else's. And with the current trend of trying to move everything out from the South, Surrey might get it back again when there's bugger all left in the centre of the Smoke and all the interlopers move back ..

      Troll, 'cos there's still a few in the wilder areas of Surrey (rumor has there's a few still working the night shift at Ryka's...;-) )

      1. hmv Silver badge

        Re: Pedant mode

        Those who were born in Kingston before 1965 tend to insist that it's a temporary arrangement; they also tend to go up in flames if you claim they're Londoners (my dad for one).

      2. dogcatcher

        Re: Pedant mode

        Actually Surrey County Council are on the move to Midas House in Woking. They probably need some new wires to connect their desktops. Writing as a ratepayer, I have never discovered what SCC spend our money on, apart from themselves. £40M would sort out a lot of potholes.

        1. Nick Porter

          Re: Pedant mode

          Really? It's literally right here: https://www.surreycc.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/finance-and-performance/surrey-county-council-budget-202021

          Most of it goes on social care - particularly adult social care as there is a large elderly population.

          1. IGotOut Silver badge

            Re: Pedant mode

            "as there is a large elderly population.'

            Are we on about the servers again?

            1. TimMaher Bronze badge

              Re: Pedant mode

              Nope. They are on about me.

              I’m in the panhandle, which is great.

              It borders Kent, the Sussexes and Greater London.

              Yaayyy!!!!

          2. johnfbw

            Re: Pedant mode

            oddly there is zero spent on council housing. Or maybe that is lumped in with 'adult care'

            1. Degenerate Scumbag

              Re: Pedant mode

              In areas like Surrey with a 2 level County/Borough Council system, it's the boroughs that manage housing.

              https://www.politics.co.uk/reference/local-government-structure

        2. Huw D

          Re: Pedant mode

          For a minute I thought you mean SCC (https://www.scc.com/), not SCC.

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            WTF?

            Re: Pedant mode

            For a moment there I thought you were linking to Somerset County Council.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pedant mode

      Well their Data Centres are in Surrey

    3. JimC

      Re: Pedant mode

      Surrey's data centres are indeed in Surrey.

      The headquarters building in Kingston is a few hundred yards over the boundary, so they're going to spend hundreds of thousand per yard moving headquarters.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Civil servants never learns..

    Every time I read about how local and national government manage their IT, its seems their is a vicious cycle of short-term self-interested middle management, who seem follow a pattern:

    1) new manager negotiates a fat bonus or promotion if he/she can sort out the IT budget

    2) Manager engages external "consultants", who provide a flashy line-chart that proves savings through outsourcing

    3) Manager proceed to outsource

    4) Manager then proceeds to cheerlead about how brilliant it will be in the years to come (Whilst silently ejecting the in-house team)

    5) Manager supplies evidence of savings (gained through redundancies... not the contract)

    6) Manager collects bonus/promotion/senior role in other agency, and runs for the exit before the shit hits the fan

    Now the fun begins...

    7) Outsourcer starts increasing costs, due to "unforeseen issues" or "maintenance not covered by the contract"

    8) Council/Agency realises it would be cheaper to in-house, but are stuck in a 5 year contract

    9) Council/Agency take legal action or pay a golden-goodbye (to get out of the contract, X times its total value) the eventually in-houses

    10) Council/Agency sets an unrealistic budget, provides no staff training, offers 50% market value salaries

    11) Council/Agency realises their IT is in tatters, they recruit a hot-shot new manager, who has troubleshot a dozen different agencies.... in the past 5 years!

    12) Goto 1...

    1. tin 2

      Re: Civil servants never learns..

      Agree entirely. But this is definitely not limited to civil servants.

      1. neilfs

        Re: Civil servants never learns..

        I’ve just been ousted by one. Back to step 1. You see them get appointed and you can predict everything for the next 18 months. The non-technical seems to worship their every last word. Anyway onto a new challenge, that’s the fun part.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Flame

    If it's a hardware issue, then why not replace the hardware ?

    Brand new, SAP-compatible hardware and the issue is done with. SAP doesn't run on special SAP PCs, now does it ?

    Really, everything about SAP screams lock-in and expensive. On top of that, you have administrative muppets to manage the thing. They signed a contract in 2011 and nobody bothered to wonder about the hardware's end-of-life and what solutions were possible ?

    This was not an unforeseeable problem. Somebody should have been paying attention, but no, back in 2011 it was Bonus Time, Yee-HAW !

    Now you have paid millions for an ERP solution, and you're going to pay millions more for the same thing (but, in The Cloud !) because you couldn't be arsed to actually manage things.

    Oh well, that how the market survives, with idiots paying the same thing several times over. On public money. No biggie.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If it's a hardware issue, then why not replace the hardware ?

      I thought that - £2m for an upgrade to what they have? Bargain!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If it's a hardware issue, then why not replace the hardware ?

      The bigger issue is the software going out of support. For a payroll system in particular, there’s always a raft of new legislation changes that need to be catered for each year. Some of the calculations for deductions such as court orders are simply bizzare.

    3. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: If it's a hardware issue, then why not replace the hardware ?

      > They signed a contract in 2011 and nobody bothered to wonder about the hardware's end-of-life and what solutions were possible ?

      To be fair, 2011 was right at the start of full-on austerity measures so there would have been no chance of spending more than the absolute minimum necessary.

      1. JimC

        Re: If it's a hardware issue, then why not replace the hardware ?

        I don't really recall a time in the too many years I worked there that BAU at SCC wasn't on max cost savings. Going away to conferences and things and finding out how much better funded one's oppos up north were was always kinda depressing. Even more depressing, though, was the way funds could always be found for exciting big projects that would look good on an execs CV, but never for little low profile stuff that might say reduce the number of helpdesk calls and give a better service to the users and thus taxpayers.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    The business case warns the new system would potentially "reduce back-office staff costs" and "reduce the number of business support staff required to support a SaaS-based technology".

    They never learn.

  9. Wayland Bronze badge

    In danger of falling over?

    Is it really?

    What's the best approach from this point on? Migrate the existing SAP to new hardware so that does not break, then upgrade the SAP software?

    I don't know about SAP but I would expect them to issue new versions like stepping stones. You don't need every version update but you can only step so far. Yes the one they use may stop being supported in 2025 but the next one up from that would last longer.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In danger of falling over?

      "I don't know about SAP"

      Next time you write something like that, delete it rather than carry on writing your view of something you're completely unaware of. Just a thought :)

    2. johnfbw

      Re: In danger of falling over?

      SAP is generally going to SaaS. The upgrade to a supported version could be technically be difficult depending on how far behind and how much 'customization' they have done

      1. Lusty

        Re: In danger of falling over?

        Migration. The word is migration.

  10. TeeCee Gold badge
    Facepalm

    The SaaS system would be good value...

    Er, no. It doesn't matter how much bullshit you apply after this, still no.

    Remember that "locked in with limited change options[1]" contract that dropped you in this pile of shit in the first place? Same thing.

    [1] Unless you pay at "got you by the balls and we're going to squeeze really hard" rates.

  11. cschneid

    Lack of received wisdom

    <sarcasm/>

    I thought the received wisdom these days was that the solution to a Government IT problem, any IT problem really, is Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud.

    Repeat after me, in every meeting, at every opportunity: Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud. Outsourcing, DevOps, and Cloud.

    Your training is now complete. Pick up your diploma at the printer on your way out.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Lack of received wisdom

      That is indeed the received wisdom, shame everybody always forgets about security. And the problem with security is that it is very cheap if you embed it from the start and very expensive if you have to fit it in afterward. Been there and done that, the bill just about trebled.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lack of received wisdom

      > I thought the received wisdom these days was...

      Have we moved on from Docker and Kubernetes then?

      Is agile still a thing? An enquiring pensioner wishes to know.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lack of received wisdom

      Cloud first, Mobile first. DevOps is soooo Ballmerian.

      1. JokerQB

        Re: Lack of received wisdom

        I think that DevOps outsourcing processes are pretty important nowadays.

  12. waineo

    Should there not be a national government initiative to standardise these platforms under one umbrella agreement? Something like ServiceNow should be able to address many of the processes.

    1. MrNigel

      'National Government initiative' misty eyed memories....

      I have only worked on one - the MOD CHOTS contract in 89-90. This was a wonderful initiative to get all three of our armed forces to use a common email and desktop infrastructure. I was the Uniplex (MS Office features/functions for UNIX on a Wyse 60) solutions expert and spent a happy 18 months working with Air Commodores, Air Vice Marshalls, Miss Moneypennys and lower ranks in pipe-smoke filled, oak lined offices at an MOD location in Central London.

      The biggest issue in that time? We introduced automatic document labelling that put Classification/Caveat in the page footer which caused outrage as letters to bank managers and golf clubs had UNCLASSIFIED stamped on them.

      1. a pressbutton

        Re: 'National Government initiative' misty eyed memories....

        I worked with an analyst who worked on that project.

        He was sort of sad to see it complete as he was working on a large base west of london and if the officers wanted to discuss something they would get up, and take their dog for a walk to the other person's office.

        He said the dogs were sad and real productivity fell.

        Being forced to work with MS teams (say the name three times holding an image of the person you hate in your mind and an outlook reminder will pop up on their screen and remove any useful thought from their mind) things have not improved.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does anyone else here remember when large payrolls needed a couple hundred staff with the skills to do it on paper? Now, you need the more staff, enterprise IT, licensing, and permanent upgrade cycles at higher TCO to do the same. ERP in general needs shooting and done well by a little indie developer. Can't be that hard...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS/DB support

    Given the system is that old. The version they are on is only likely to run on certain OS/DB combinations. In order to get to a release that will run on a current OS/DB combination they will have to upgrade the software.

    In fact they may have gotten to the point where there is no upgrade path at all.

    Hardware is so old latest OS version will not run.

    The OS they are on will not run on new hardware.

    Current DB will not run on latest OS. New DB version will not run on old OS version.

    The only upgrade path is to get old of hardware revisions that where released between old system and new.

    To use cheaper hardware they may even have to do an "endian" migration.

    If it's Oracle on HPUX they will be right Royally screwed.

    In this case I'd say, definatly not an SAP problem, just them not keeping up with normal release cycles for a business critical system.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: OS/DB support

      just them not keeping up with normal release cycles for a business critical system.

      In other words, business as usual for government bureaucracies.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deployment cost

    And now they will have to discover all of their business processes that were implemented in SAP, taking people out the business to help with the implementation as no doubt all of the original scoping work was sat on a shared drive somewhere, that has since been archived to /dev/null.

  16. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    You wish

    The business case warns the new system would potentially "reduce back-office staff costs" and "reduce the number of business support staff required to support a SaaS-based technology".

    'potentially' is the key. This is standard boilerplate for proposals and means nothing. When did you ever see a government system that required less civil servants than the one that preceded it ? In fact it will take three times as many staff for the 5-year transition and twice as many thereafter.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: You wish

      The existing staff will be long gone before the need for any support staff is realised. BTW this is local government so they're not civil servants, they're local government officers.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Someone tell them about AWS

    Save your tax payers a pile of cash.

    1. Clone the existing ECC6.0 servers into AWS. Hardware stability issues fixed and saved on hosting costs.

    2. In 2025, when 95% of SAP customers are still not on HANA, gratefully accept the extension of support, even if they up the cost a bit.

    Can I have the rest of the millions?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Someone tell them about AWS

      No you can’t have the rest of the millions because you haven’t fixed the issues. If my experiences of AWS in the enterprise are anything to go by, there are no savings to be made if you have anything other than lightweight web services - the WS bit of AWS.

    2. Fenton

      Re: Someone tell them about AWS

      Cloning is not possible if it's a RISC based system.

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. mbiggs

    Just wondering....is the SAP software HEAVILY CUSTOMISED?

    Once upon a time, in a land far away, a huge retail organisation bought Peoplesoft and then had it HEAVILY MODFIED. For the next ten years, it was almost impossible to apply any patches issued by Peoplesoft. Duh!!

    Then -- when the penny dropped -- said huge retail organisation paid a fortune to RE-IMPLEMENT the latest version of Peoplesoft with NO MODIFICATIONS.

    Guess what.....huge consultancy bills at the beginning, during the ten year life of the modified sotware, and during the conversion back to "standard".

    Why am I not surprised?

    1. johnfbw

      It is exactly the same with every software.

      I worked at a company that was sold SAP as a solution to their problems. When the consultants came in (who may or may not have been the same as SCC) they asked 'what do you want', 'the same system on SAP' was the reply, and that was exactly what they got - an SAP system heavily customized to program in all the shit of the last system. 10 years later they stripped all of that out and decided to go with a fairly basic implementation fixing the underlying business processes and everyone was happy

  20. Richard 51

    Re: Working as intended

    Eh, I don't think the software is 17 years old, ECC 6 is a lot more recent than that. Assume its the underlying operating system. Either way SCC have only themselves to blame

  21. AndyD 8-)&#8377;

    Well of course....

    "In 2004, the council worked with Capgemini to implement SAP R/3 to run finance, HR and payroll" see above.

    So now the options are £2 million for a hardware upgrade, and ongoing software costs a bit more than before ..

    OR £40 million for all the current buzzphrase gaga stuff that sure as hell won't match current work practices - just like the SAP dinosaur shit didn't.

    Anyone noticed a strong smell of brown-paper envelopes?

  22. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Not sure why all the negativity...

    It sounds like an interesting project to be honest. Taking an OLD old R/3 system and migrating it all out to SaaS is perfectly decent work and would grant a whole bunch of relevant contemporary experience and skills to all involved. If I wasn't already up to my eyeballs with an EBS migration programme I'd be tempted to give them a call...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Here's my prediction: They will spunk 100 million on this new system which will be delivered around the end of the decade. All council workers on the current system: Your jobs are safe until then !

  24. Mike Friedman

    Wow. 16 years old? And never been upgraded? That's insane.

    Makes me think of the client I had who was running their entire business on a database written in 1993. Yes, they were still running 16 bit Windows in 2008.

  25. colinb

    Each council is unique

    There is no reason to use a common ERP system in the UK. None. Take Surrey for example.

    It is unique.

    Unique air, in fact as it passes over Surrey it's improved for the next borough

    Unique Roads, the smell of freshly laid Surrey tarmac in the morning is like nothing else.

    Unique Trees, we even have a hill named after a tree.

    Unique Paths

    Unique Bins

    Unique People

    Truly Unique and deserves its own stand alone system not some insanity like this https://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/02/oracle_r12_for_6_london_councils/

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