Months after helping to force SAP to reinstate its tiered maintenance and support model, SUGEN is tackling its next task -- gaining greater influence over and transparency into SAP's product roadmap.
Members of user groups worldwide will pool together to discuss enhancements to products with SAP, instead of solely one-on-one as they currently do. They think that gaining greater visibility into the changes users are requesting globally will help them better influence SAP product development, and working as one will give them more clout to do so, said George Mansfield, director with responsibility for Special Interest Group (SIG) development for the SAP UK & Ireland User Group.
The hope is that SAP will push enhancements that work for many customers, not just the largest and most strategic ones. SUGEN hopes to reduce the number of change requests customers make once products come to market, improving the product user experience.
"I think SAP has always listened. It's just a matter of the amount of clout," Mansfield said. "This will enable us to say, the bits that really matter are these bits. This is more useful to everybody than getting all of the bells and whistles around it. This is a better way of running the organization, and getting global agreements and global pressure on SAP."
SUGEN most recently made headlines by convincing SAP to roll back a blanket maintenance and support cost increase. SAP reinstated its tiered maintenance and support model in January – Standard Support at 18% -- a graduated cost increase for Enterprise Support that ends up at 22% and MaxAttention, for the largest SAP customers.
SUGEN will have the greatest influence over usability and template development, and SAP's development of on-demand software, Mansfield believes. But he wasn't so sure how much influence the group would have over the core Business Suite – because many changes in modules like FI and HCM have to be made on a national level in order to comply with local laws.
SAP's new CEOs have made listening to customers and enabling greater transparency the centerpiece of their leadership. In that vein, agile development – in which teams of 10 engineers work for four weeks with a group of customers on developing new working iterations of the software – will be the major development method going forward. At last count, SAP had rolled out this process to 20% of its software development and will scale it to its 12,000 engineers.
About once a month, representatives from each user group will get on a conference call with SAP -- probably with Marco Dorn, SAP's designated SUGEN contact -- to learn what enhancements users have requested worldwide and what the vendor is thinking of pushing forward. The representatives will bring these ideas back to their respective user groups for input.
Mansfield expects that, at least in his user group, the process will then work something like this: The user group representative on the call will issue a monthly email to Special Interest Group (SIG) chairmen summarizing the proposed enhancements, probably in an Excel spreadsheet. The SIG chairs will pass that along to their members, who will have three weeks to weigh in with what they'd like to see. He hopes to have this process working by the U.K. & Ireland SAP User Group meeting in the fall.
Of course, user groups aren't being forced to do this, and there's no telling whether it will have the intended effect, Mansfield acknowledged.
"Whether it gets the right people in the organization to react accordingly, we can't control," he said.