LONDON -- The first SearchSAP.com Conference Europe opened Wednesday to 200 SAP decision makers from dozens of countries. Those individuals represent $1 billion in annual IT budget dollars at a time when most companies are facing crucial investment or upgrade choices.
AMR Research senior vice president Jim Shepherd delivered the morning's keynote presentation, highlighting the early successes of SAP's R/3 Enterprise software, outlining the recently announced mySAP ERP offering, and warning against relying on SAP to be a business consultant before the company has found sure footing in that new role.
"I think, in many cases, the SAP products really do deliver value, and there really is excellent ROI from them. But the problem is that SAP, as a company, can't quite figure out what their role is when it comes to helping companies get that ROI," Shepherd said.
Business consulting is one of the newer areas where SAP is putting some energy as it taps its installed base for business, he said.
Shepherd offered a road map guiding customers through SAP's long-term strategies and the range of new products and packages made available during the last year by SAP, which recently announced a first-quarter rise in profits, even though revenue remained flat. SAP, Shepherd said, has a new attitude toward customization.
"This is amazing," Shepherd said. "Prior to this, SAP would never have done customization. In fact, they didn't want you to do customization.
However, Shepherd said, that has changed. "I'm not talking about joint development with customers. This is real customization, where you want the software to do something other than what they intended it for, and they are willing to bid on it, as a third party would."
Much of Shepherd's presentation, like the minds of many attendees, was focused on upgrades.
Many of the SAP professionals said they were currently at a crossroads. Some, such as Stuart Gittings, an SAP professional based in Basingstoke, England, and an employee of the giant pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co., were headed for R/3 Enterprise before yesterday.
''I came here for some information about [R/3] Enterprise, because that's where we're headed -- maybe,'' said Gittings, acknowledging that mySAP ERP -- a combination of Enterprise and SAP's new strategic platform NetWeaver with some financials and analytics to that combination -- had changed the landscape in his shop, which runs R/3 4.6C.
Gittings' colleague, John Goodwin, specializes in centers of excellence [COE] reporting. Like many attendees at the invitation-only conference, he came in search of expert advice and networking opportunities with SAP pros facing situations similar to his.
Goodwin's division has been running SAP BW since 1999, making his unit an early customer. ''We've had to face a lot of pain,'' said Goodwin, who is currently searching for the right data extraction tool and has found that SAP, Crystal and Cognos don't have what he wants.
''SAP BW is getting there,'' Goodwin said. ''It seems like every release answers the last problem we had.''
Shepherd, who was briefed by SAP on its mySAP ERP plans, told conference attendees they were not the only ones caught off guard by the announcement.
SAP sales representatives, he said, were also apparently surprised when they were besieged by inquiring minds the day after the announcement.
Still, Shepherd encouraged attendees currently planning R/3 Enterprise upgrades to consider the new mySAP ERP option, which gets customers closer to the full mySAP business suite at a lower cost.
For new customers, it makes even more sense, he said. ''MySAP ERP creates much more of an attractive, broader offering than R/3 Enterprise,'' Shepherd said.
Shepherd mapped four options for SAP existing customers: mySAP business suite; mySAP ERP; a combination of mySAP ERP and some other mySAP solutions; and, finally, a combination of R/3 Enterprise and parts of NetWeaver, such as SAP Portals or SAP Business Intelligence (BI).
Shepherd gave high marks to R/3 Enterprise, which only about 200 SAP customers worldwide are running. ''Going by the early reports, this looks like one of the cleanest releases that we have seen,'' Shepherd said.
Richard Stewart, who works closely with the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO), said that he hopes to determine the value of implementing the mySAP.com license his company currently owns. Currently running R/3, Stewart echoed the concerns of several conference attendees who said they owned a mySAP.com license but have not implemented its many modules yet.
''It's more about the implementation costs than anything else,'' he said. ''It comes down to value.''
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
The SearchSAP.com Conference Europe is being held at the Commonwealth Institute in London. The vendor-neutral event is free for pre-qualified SAP professionals. For complete coverage and a list of corporate sponsors, check out the SearchSAP.com conference page.