Johnson Products Co., a hair care goods manufacturer that was one of the first adopters of SAP Business ByDesign, had been looking forward to upgrading to version 2.6 because of the touted benefits around faster reporting and improved response times.
The results have been a little less than what they had hoped for, according to Eric Brown, CEO of the Dallas-based company. “We went from a very stable environment to a somewhat, at least initially, unstable environment,” Brown said.
They’re not alone. WL Plastics, a manufacturer and seller of polyethylene pipes based outside of Dallas, has also run into a number of problems.
The transition disruptions should have never happened. That’s where I think SAP dropped the ball.
Neil Briggs, CFO, WL Plastics
Business ByDesign is SAP’s on-demand ERP software for small and medium-sized businesses. The company released version 2.6 in February, calling it a “turning point” for the Software as a Service suite. Among the benefits was the inclusion of a software development kit.
Now, just a month after having gone live on 2.6, Johnson Product’s IT manager says the company is happy with a lot of the new features included in the release, but disappointments around lost changes and slower response times have tempered that enthusiasm.
“Once we were up on 2.6, we found not only was system performance a lot slower than 2.0, but we noticed we started having a lot of issues that we had come across when we were on 2.0,” said Will Pence, the company’s IT manager. “[That includes] issues that had been resolved early on, a year or a year and a half ago in some cases.”
Once they went live with Business ByDesign 2.6 in early July, WL Plastics also encountered a number of similar problems as a result of the upgrade process, according to CFO Neil Briggs.
“The transition disruptions should have never happened,” Briggs said. “That’s where I think SAP dropped the ball.”
Loss of fixes and slower speeds
One of the fixes that Johnson Products lost in the upgrade is the ability to efficiently prioritize customers in their supply chains. In 2.0, the system initially only looked at the delivery dates, Pence said, a problem that SAP later fixed. With 2.6, a similar problem has returned: The system sorts customers in descending order of priority, opposite of the way it should be, he added.
In 2.0, Pence said, changes made to monthly forecasts were updated automatically in the company’s supply planning reports. In 2.6, however, changes to those same forecasts are not being reflected in the system. SAP is taking care of the problem until it’s resolved, according to Pence.
“They’re taking a look at that right now,” he said. “In the meantime, they did go ahead and say, ‘If it’s OK with you, we’ll go ahead and manually take those demand planning numbers and manually put them in the supply planning for [you].’”
Most frustrating, Pence said, is the poor performance his team encountered in 2.6. The new upgrade allows users to customize the user interface to a higher degree than before, but when that happens, the system slows down.
“The more you personalize the screens, the slower it is,” he said. “I’m not sure if it’s just the population of the data, or what it is, but it just takes forever for that data to come up.”
Both Pence and Brown said that SAP had been responsive to the company’s problems and were working to find answers.
Other aspects of Business ByDesign have had a more positive impact on Johnson Products, Pence said, particularly the real-time analytics reporting SAP says is built on in-memory technology.
“The reporting has drastically changed. I absolutely love it,” Pence said. “It’s much easier to write your own reports, and you have more access to data in the reports.” Pulling in additional data into those reports no longer requires using the Business Explorer (BEx) Analyzer tool, he said.
“Now you don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “You just go in and create a report and add that data yourself.”
The move to multi-tenant servers
SAP is still working on solving Johnson Products’ problems, according to Frank Iannotti, head of SAP Business ByDesign for North America.
Johnson Products’ instance of Business ByDesign was recently moved to a multi-tenant server as SAP scales to accommodate growing numbers of ByDesign customers, but that shouldn’t affect the performance of the application, nor should customizing the user interface, Iannotti said. The problem may be that additional space is needed to accommodate the large amount of data coming through the company’s environment.
“We’ve seen that happen before, and we’ve taken corrective measures for other companies,” he said.
As far as the lost changes go, Iannotti explained that changes made to 2.0 versions didn’t automatically port to later versions, which means that those changes have to be re-created. Just why they weren’t in Johnson Product’s case, Iannotti wasn’t sure. However, he added, Versions 2.5 on up don’t have that problem, so changes that are made to those versions will transfer automatically transfer during subsequent upgrades.
“The beauty of the new technology stack is that you can do custom configurations, custom reports. You can add on third-party reports," Iannotti said. "I’m talking extensive capabilities to customize, and it will not affect the customer’s ability to migrate them.”
No time to decide
Although WL Plastics was able to test a generic Business ByDesign system in the weeks leading up to the upgrade, it only had a week to test and evaluate an upgraded version of their own specific instance of ByDesign before having to decide whether to move forward.
“The test system came up late,” Briggs said. “They had issues.”
Briggs believes WL Plastics lost at least one of the fixes that had been made to its 2.0 version. Previously, the company had been unable to copy sales quotes and proposals without incurring an error message. That same problem – or one very similar to it – returned in 2.6. The company also initially had problems with ByDesign 2.6's print functions, with print jobs taking up to five minutes to show up at the printer – or getting lost completely. SAP has since fixed both of those issues, according to Brad Crimin, the company’s IT manager who oversees the deployment of Business ByDesign.
Response times are still not as good as they should be due to the ByDesign servers being located in Germany, Crimin said. SAP has said it is in the process of moving the North American ByDesign customers to a data center in Newtowne Square, Penn., where SAP’s U.S. headquarters are located. That should help performance once it's complete.
Apart from the “pain” some of the glitches have caused the company, Crimin said 2.6 includes a number of improvements. “Overall, the navigation is a lot smoother, getting place to place,” he said. The way that documents are handled within ByDesign is also much better than before.
Despite the frustrations, Briggs said they’re still glad they went with Business ByDesign, even if it requires making a little noise from time to time.
“We’re a very persistent, obnoxious customer. We just keep pounding them to [correct flaws in the system]” Briggs said, chuckling.
“We’re not overly negative of 2.6, I just think it was a little bit disappointing,” he said of the upgrade process. SAP has been responsive to solving their problems, he added, “but you can argue some of that stuff should have never happened.”
It’s also important not to get too bogged down in the inevitable shortcomings of any new system, he said.
“Expectations are always difficult to manage, sometimes the fault of it is your own for getting carried away. We just want to [keep things] in perspective.”