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SAP professionals view the enterprise resource planning vendor as a crucial business partner and an important industry leader, but are increasingly dissatisfied with support and documentation, a recent survey of 300 SAP professionals revealed.

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While support earned reasonably high marks in a 2002 and 2003 SearchSAP.com survey, this year's numbers show a marked decline. Users were asked to rate support on a 1 to 5 scale with 5 indicating a high degree of satisfaction. The majority of this year's responses fell between 2 and 3, between unsatisfied and neither satisfied nor unsatisfied.

Respondents were especially displeased with crisis and presale support; both down from close to a rating of "very satisfied" a year ago.

Joshua Greenbaum, principal with Enterprise Applications Consulting of Berkeley, Calif., said the results don't necessarily match what he has heard from SAP shops, but conceded that dissatisfaction could rest with some anxiety over NetWeaver, as well as licensing and upgrade questions.

"It's legitimate to say SAP has been making a lot of changes lately, asking customers to upgrade and change what they've got and how to use it," Greenbaum said. "Change can be seen in a negative light by customers."

SAP spokesman Bill Wohl said the vendor's in-house support ratings indicate increased customer satisfaction with support. Wohl would not disclose those numbers. Wohl was especially adamant SAP's crisis support was better than the survey results indicate.

"Service and support issues rank highly with customers. If you're using Enterprise to run your business, you want absolute assurance the solution is up and optimal," Wohl said.

Greenbaum said SAP is aware of the uncertainty surrounding NetWeaver.

"It's a continuously evolving process for SAP, and they'll be the first to say they need to refine things. It's a mixed bag," Greenbaum said. "It's the same problem with presales: over-promised, under-delivered and complexity of implementations."

Gary Lempert, manager of SAP services with NorskeCanada, a newsprint and groundwood paper product manufacturer in Vancouver, British Columbia, said SAP support is solid.


"Generally, SAP support is excellent. We still have problems with SAP front-line people who do not read our notes thoroughly or immediately assume that 'the system is working as expected.' But that happens less now than it used to," Lempert said. "When the problem is urgent, they are there, and solution delivery is often surprisingly fast. When they cannot deliver quickly, they clearly say so."

Users also reported some issues with documentation, a problem that is not unique to SAP, Greenbaum said.

"Documentation has not come up as a major issue," Greenbaum said. "The overall issue of training and the implementation issue come up time and time again. Expectations are low for quality documentation. Documentation is one of the great black holes of enterprise software -- of software in general. Who ever reads the documentation that comes with the software they use? I wouldn't use documentation as a bellwether for success."

In particular, users said there is a lack of basic examples in SAP documentation. Mitch Cummins, a competency leader with office equipment manufacturer Avision Inc., of Newark, Calif., said SAPnet, an intranet portal for partners, customers and suppliers, is sometimes slow to access, compared to fixed-line access to SAP's online service system (OSS).

Lempert had high marks for the OSS notes, but wants version-specific results returned, something that's not happening today.

"The OSS note search area could be improved by including a single line (in the result listing) identifying the version(s) in which the OSS notes are applicable," Lempert said. "We spend a considerable amount of time drilling down into each note to determine whether the correction could be re-classified for our 4.5B environment."

In contrast, the satisfaction of survey respondents is much higher this year around SAP's corporate image. The majority said SAP was a key business partner, an innovative technology leader and a flexible, customer-centric organization.

"SAP, while not always the early starter, is an accomplished follower with a record of bringing in a superior product," Cummins said. "SAP's ongoing commitment to R&D means we can continuously improve our ERP processes to ensure conformance to best practices."

In fact, 85% of respondents said SAP products offer good value for their money.

"SAP is expensive; high maintenance, high manpower to configure, [and runs on] somewhat [high-priced] hardware," said one SAP professional who asked he not be named. "But, I would hate to think of the manpower required to design, build and maintain a functionally compatible system. Overall, I think it is a reasonable value."

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