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At SME Summit, SAP Anywhere growing pains revealed

Attendees at an SAP SME Summit lauded the e-commerce front end, but some said back-end integration and payment-processing features are needed before a full migration to the platform.

SAP Anywhere has gained traction since its U.S. launch in May, and it now boasts 100 customers in the U.S. alone....

But at the SAP SME Summit earlier this month in New York, it became clear, despite its strengths, the cloud-based e-commerce platform for small businesses is still very much dealing with growing pains as it accommodates the U.S. market. Some of those pains are needed features not present in the initial release, while other challenges stem from moving companies to a new e-commerce platform.

For a company that has been engaging in e-commerce since 2001, moving to a new system and importing more than 350,000 customers and tens of thousands of SKUs would pose problems for any migration. Microbattery.com, which sells to both businesses and consumers, needed a new system to run its e-commerce, including a front end to process orders. After meeting with SAP representatives at a trade show, the company went with SAP Anywhere.

SAP had originally planned to have Microbattery.com live in 30 days, but the volume of e-commerce, combined with over 2,000 images, product descriptions and other facets, means SAP Anywhere is currently "like a bicycle still in the box," said Microbattery.com CEO Jeff Becker.

Once SAP realized what his company was dealing with, the vendor deployed a support team, Becker noted. Still, he doesn't expect to fully utilize SAP Anywhere until 2017. He has been working with SAP to develop features that were absent from the U.S. release, such as being able to process credit cards over the phone and Payment Card Industry compliance to store credit cards on the system. And data that has accumulated since 2001 needs to be scrubbed.

"What I don't look forward to is going through the data out of NetSuite and making sure it's good data," Becker said, adding that an army of SAP engineers and a small platoon of Microbattery.com employees are programming the back office. "We don't see that kind of support with a typical cloud vendor," he said.

SAP Anywhere can simplify the front end

SAP Anywhere is nevertheless poised to simplify how Microbattery.com serves its customers. The company is using it for its aggressive marketing plans, according to Becker.

Microbattery.com uses its separate customer relationship management software for the back end and connects to SAP Anywhere for fulfillment purposes. As a result, customers -- particularly consumers ordering directly from the company -- need fewer keystrokes to find out where their orders are. The new setup is reducing the clicks by 25%, he said.

"A system with SAP Anywhere is a lot easier to engage with," Becker said.

Other SAP Anywhere users have already seen simplified order processing. Los Angeles-based M.R.K.T., which began using SAP Anywhere prior to its U.S. release, was able to reduce the number of spreadsheets it had been using, as well as streamline order processing, invoicing, payments and accounting, according to CEO Shaun Nath. "It's much lighter than an ERP system, more of an order-management system," he said. "But SAP Anywhere functions as an ERP for us."

However, M.R.K.T. is hoping to get reports to better analyze data collected by SAP Anywhere, as well as a new B2B ordering section in an e-commerce-type interface, Nath said. "It's something we've requested from SAP. They've been very on top of ... developing it with us," he added.

SAP Anywhere development plans outlined

SAP intends to continue developing features for SAP Anywhere, including enhancing the e-commerce experience, customizing checkout and offering a payment gateway, according to Edward "EJ" Jackson, senior vice president and general manager of SAP Anywhere. Also on the horizon is channel expansion, which will allow customers to do things like analyze return on investment from Facebook campaigns or Google searches, he said.

"Right now, we're focusing our efforts on one particular persona, B2B2C [business to business to consumer], which is typically a B2B company that has a B2C part of their business," Jackson said. SAP also plans to get SAP Anywhere to the point where it can handle a 250-person company; although, right now, the software is best suited to a 50- to 100-person company, he said.

Overall, it sounds like SAP Anywhere has been performing well as front-end e-commerce software, said Ray Boggs, vice president of small and medium business research at IDC. While SAP Anywhere is designed to work optimally with other SAP products on the back end, the fact that it can integrate with a small business' existing environment is a positive attribute. "Small businesses hate to throw something away if it's working," he said.

Other growing pains exist, particularly as SAP restructures its organization and bundles SAP Anywhere under the SMB products umbrella overseen by Barry Padgett, the former Concur executive who was named an SAP president in July, according to Boggs.

If what the users have had to say, both at the SAP SME Summit and elsewhere, is indicative, SAP Anywhere has a lot of potential as a front-end platform, but SAP must continue developing it to meet the needs of customers.

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