reborn55 - Fotolia

SAP Anywhere: Front-office software for the small business

SAP is known primarily as a vendor of large enterprise systems, but it's going after another kind of business with the SAP Anywhere front-office software for very small businesses.

When David Blake, owner of Blue-9 Pet Products, first heard about SAP Anywhere front-office software, he figured, no way. After all, with fewer than 10 employees, his company is a relative speck compared to most of the enterprises in the SAP orbit.

However, his business was growing, and Blake needed a new inventory management system, so he investigated SAP Anywhere while at a trade show.

"When I first saw it, I gave them five minutes and told them they had to give me some type of pricing because my guess was that we were not going to pair up because SAP is such a big company," Blake said. "But the more they told me, the more I was intrigued to the point that I didn't believe it. I thought there must have been something missing."

Blue-9 Pet Products manufactures and sells pet goods wholesale and direct to consumers, and Blake said that he was looking for an integrated platform to replace the company's pieced-together, front-end software system.

Screenshot of Blue-9 Pet Products website
Blue-9 Pet Products uses SAP Anywhere front-office software to create and manage a B2C e-commerce site.

"We were on a WordPress website, so we just had plug-ins for everything we needed, whether it was shipping or different things," Blake said. "We just kept adding plug-ins, and that was challenging to make sure that they were all integrated."

SAP Anywhere said to provide all-in-one solution

Blake realized that he found everything he was looking for when he saw SAP Anywhere at the trade show.

David Blake, owner of Blue-9 Pet ProductsDavid Blake

SAP Anywhere is a cloud-based, front-end software platform designed specifically for very small businesses that includes multiple business functions like e-commerce, inventory management, order fulfillment and CRM in its core. It also integrates with Intuit QuickBooks, which is important for the many small businesses, like Blake's, that use it as their accounting system.

However, the most attractive part for Blake was that all the business functions are offered in one system for a monthly subscription rate.

"After a few discussions, I figured out that I was going to be paying more for one inventory management system than what they were offering for the whole front office, so we signed on in November 2016," Blake said.

SAP Anywhere has enabled Blake to set up and manage Blue-9's B2B and B2C e-commerce sites, and it has provided the inventory control system that he was looking for. He also knows that there are potentially valuable functions that remain untapped.

"We don't capitalize on everything that's in there as we continue to learn more about what we can do with the system, but the immediate need and result that I got from SAP Anywhere was the inventory side of it, which did exactly everything I was looking for, if not more," he said.

Blake was concerned about the level of support a giant company like SAP would provide to a tiny one like his, but he has been very satisfied with both the help in transitioning to the new system and in the ongoing support.

The most important aspect to SAP Anywhere, however, is that Blake can pay more attention to running his business rather than his front-end software systems.

"There are a lot of things that came with it immediately that I was hoping to get to someday in the future, and I'm paying less per month than I was on my old system," he said. "I think I've set myself up for the next couple years in that I don't need to worry about what I need to put into my system next to manage the growth. From an owner perspective, that takes a lot of mind space because there's a lot to do in trying to figure out what you need next on the systems side, and that can consume a lot of time."

SAP needs to get the word out

SAP Anywhere is an impressive system for very small businesses, but in order for it to really take off, SAP needs to overcome the same concerns that Blake expressed, according to Laurie McCabe, co-founder and principle analyst at SMB Group.

"It is a pretty big departure [from what SAP usually does], but I'm pretty impressed. SAP hasn't really gotten the word out as strongly probably as they should have, but the customers that have found it somehow and use it seem pretty happy," McCabe said.

SAP Anywhere has undergone some growing pains in the past year, but McCabe said it appears to be on the right track for both the technology and the market.

"They have a pretty strong direction for this, and now they're focused on picking up the pace in development, and it seems like they're rolling out these new features and building more into the core product at a pretty good clip," McCabe said.

Core functionality is key for small businesses

One of these new developments now included in the core functionality of SAP Anywhere is SAP HANA-based enterprise search, which is important for small businesses because e-commerce sites need enterprise search, and it's expensive to add a plug-in to e-commerce platforms like Shopify or Magento Marketplace, McCabe explained.

There are two other new functions in the latest SAP Anywhere release that add crucial core functionality that are costly add-ons for other systems, McCabe said. One is a unit of measurement function that's aimed at wholesale distributers who buy things in bulk lots and break them down into smaller units, and it enables accurate reconciliation of inventory across multiple channels. The other is an enhanced reporting feature that essentially bridges the gap between Microsoft Excel and the complex reports of SMB ERP software like SAP Business ByDesign or SAP Business One.

"I think those things really do represent value, and I'm not saying it's the right solution for everyone, but if they can get the word out, I think they're going to get into consideration more because they do have some good differentiators," McCabe said.

The most important feature for many small businesses is the integration with QuickBooks, McCabe explained, because that's what the majority of businesses with fewer than 100 employees use, and most are satisfied with it.

"I don't see a lot of these small businesses saying, 'I have to upgrade accounting,' unless they're really on a growth tear. Some are like that, but the majority are not," she said. "Many SMBs want to grow, but for many, it's about how they can be more profitable and grow at 5% a year; they're not all trying to be the next Amazon."

Opening the gates to SAP technology

The combination of SAP's vast technical resources and many years of business experience differentiate SAP Anywhere as an SMB software platform, according to Tyler Merritt, SAP director of product innovation.

"We have distilled all the years of experience in best business practices down to the lowest common denominator," Merritt said. "We can go into businesses and say, 'we understand how to grow and run businesses and you understand whatever product or service your business was created to offer, so we can marry these two things together.'"

The SAP Anywhere development team acts like a startup company within the huge enterprise of SAP, Merritt said, making rapid innovation, like the unit of measure functionality, possible in the product's six-week development cycle.

SAP is using SAP Anywhere as a vehicle to open up SAP technology to a new market, with the intention that these new customers can move to more complex SAP systems as they grow.

"If SAP is going to continue to grow as an organization, there's only so many large enterprises in the world, so we're going to have to help the next class graduate to that next midmarket or enterprise level, and that's the whole impetus behind SAP Anywhere," Merritt said. "We're trying to open the gates and introduce people to the ecosystem, but not be priced in such a way that it's impossible, and not be so difficult to implement that it takes a consultant to guide them through."

This is an area where SAP needs to tread carefully, however, according to McCabe. Many small businesses are content where they are, and SAP risks alienating them if they start pushing them into more complex systems than they need.

"SAP Anywhere is truly their most entry-level SMB software, so if they are too aggressive or put too much into trying to sell you these other SAP products when they're not necessarily the best fit for very small businesses, I don't know if that's going to work out so well," McCabe said. "But if they stick to listening to the customer -- what their top concerns are and what they really need -- there are probably other needs that SAP can unearth, and that may be a better opportunity for them to grow their footprint in this space."

Next Steps

See how David Leadbetter Golf manages its business with SAP SMB software

Read how large ERP vendors are getting into the SMB space

Find out how and why Cardinal Health implemented SAP ByDesign in just five months

Dig Deeper on SAP ERP software and modules