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Understanding the new world of SAP support services

SAP support services is focused on expanding beyond incident handling and updates to include knowledge centers and on-site project management.

In today's landscape of interconnected on-premises enterprise servers, appliances, managed services and cloud-based applications, the customer needs for SAP support services are fragmenting just as fast as their IT environments are shifting. On one hand, new cloud-delivered applications include support, maintenance and enhancements built into a tidy monthly price, negating the need for a separate support contract. And yet, an enterprise that launches an SAP HANA-based application from the cloud might also have a highly stable traditional ERP system that has little need for support or enhancement. One customer, two very different support needs.

And the customer scenarios only get increasingly complex as organizations add new SAP software like SuccessFactors, Ariba, HANA and mobile applications.

According to Jens Bernotat, vice president of strategy and business development for SAP's maintenance go-to-market organization, today's customers expect SAP to deliver far more than technical management and fixes for their SAP systems -- they expect SAP to help them keep the lights on, reduce complexity and pave the way for innovation. Consequently, Bernotat said SAP is transforming its support programs to better serve client expectations.

ONE Support key to SAP's support services transformation

This transformation focuses on SAP ONE Support, which Bernotat said SAP is evolving -- and will continue to evolve -- over time. SAP's primary goal is to harmonize and integrate its many support programs into a centralized point of contact for customers. "ONE Support is a program that is embedded in and delivered by our existing support offerings, so it is not coming with a separate fee -- so you have it if you're a customer on support," Bernotat explained.

SAP announced in April that it has simplified its portfolio of services so that it can provide a single service and support lead for most client engagements. The lead's role is to drive the development of customer innovation road maps and facilitate engineering. SAP has streamlined its support contracts with a new set of global terms and conditions and a single order form.

"The main trend from SAP, which I really applaud, is that they have woken up and have stopped thinking that their responsibility ends once the contract is signed," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at EAC.

"Even though the customer may be going to a partner like Accenture or IBM Global Services to do the implementation, SAP has a responsibility to provide long-term support and they recognize they have to change how they deliver service and support -- ONE Support is very customer-centric and it is a good healthy start," he added.

Value realization -- A new land of SAP support services?

Meanwhile, SAP is focused on expanding support services beyond incident handling and updates. At a basic level of support, SAP provides knowledge centers and learning materials. At higher levels of engagement, SAP support services extend into on-site project management as well as helping to lead enterprises toward more efficient use of SAP software. SAP calls these proactive support efforts value realization.

"We can give customers further advice on how to capture value on the way they have deployed their solutions, driven by how they use their solutions," SAP's Bernotat said. "For example, we have a service where our customers can see how business process KPIs run together -- we can benchmark certain KPIs and give advice on which support services they could use to improve their business performance. That is an activity that is not directly driven by an incident or technical problem, but it is an expanded service we deliver on the basis of the support infrastructure that we deliver."

If this sounds as if support and education are intertwined at SAP, they are. In fact, Greenbaum said that training is like the third leg of an application -- beyond implementation services, customers need application lifecycle support, supported by lifecycle training.

"Everybody cuts training out of the equation ... and it's a really bad way to leverage a strategic investment that can cost millions of dollars," he said, noting that when SAP invests in training, there is far less mess to clean up later. "It's the difference between preventative medicine versus heroic surgery," he added.

SAP has three levels of support, all of which include elements of education:

SAP Enterprise Support, the base level of SAP support, is designed to help your IT experts run your systems. It includes the SAP Enterprise Support Academy, which helps your IT staff develop skills and knowledge. Plus, SAP Solution Manager helps you manage your applications and business processes while providing a conduit to the SAP Active Global Support team to help fix problems.

SAP Active Embedded Support places SAP engineering professionals on-site to work with your IT and business teams as part of your Customer Center of Excellence. SAP's experts collaborate on projects, as well as help manage projects and your SAP support experience. SAP also provides access to other senior SAP product engineers to help hurdle technical challenges. Plus, SAP actively helps you streamline core business processes and drive innovation.

SAP MaxAttention, SAP's flagship support offering, helps customers manage technical IT operations while also helping organizations adopt continuous improvement practices. SAP's embedded engineers manage new releases and upgrades, and implement new applications, while addressing your company's pain points and tracking and monitoring KPIs. SAP provides experts that continuously help implement, operate and innovate through SAP software and services.

Third-party support offers infinite variation

Of course, SAP's 291,000 global customers have widely different support needs. "This is where the third parties come in," Greenbaum said. "If you're on an extremely stable environment where things aren't going to change, you're not that interested in high levels of service and support -- you don't need it."

Currently two primary third-party support organizations -- Rimini Street and Spinnaker Support -- specialize in providing full-service support for SAP customers. Both offer a wide range of services, including assistance for older releases of SAP software that might be deemed too expensive to support through SAP directly . . . or no longer effectively enhanced or supported by SAP.

And yet, there are many other elements of support available to SAP customers. As Greenbaum alluded to, other companies that specialize in consulting and integration services are also starting to provide higher -- and longer-lasting -- levels of support.

"One trend is that more customers are taking an application lifecycle view and therefore consider design, build, deploy, measure and optimize activities as being a single cycle to be performed by a single organization," said John Clark, vice president and SAP service line leader for Capgemini. "In addition, excellence in SAP support by [third-party] service providers is now considered basic 'table stakes.' Customers demand insights and innovation as inherent in the services contracted," he explained.

"For our SAP client base, Capgemini offers a wide variety of managed and staff augmentation services that are adapted for our client's needs," Clark said. "Staff augmentation support consists of Capgemini providing SAP professional service experts on a time and material basis to our clients for targeted areas of support." In this scenario, Clark explained, "the client manages and staffs most of the support organization but looks to third-party service providers for targeted SAP expertise."

In addition, third-party consultants and integrators are now leveraging industry-specific expertise to give them a competitive edge while also bundling more traditional support services -- managing not only custom, industry-focused applications, but also the underlying hardware that delivers it all.

To bundle or not to bundle?

One clear trend for both SAP and third-party support providers is the pressure to bundle support services into a single, simplified yet all-inclusive contract. But where is this pressure coming from -- customers or providers? A bit of both, of course. As their systems become more difficult to manage, the ability to shift support from an internal cost center to a service is tantalizing. For SAP and others, capturing a larger contract not only results in additional revenue, it could lead to efficiencies to help make support services more profitable.

Unfortunately, simplification has a dark side -- the cost and inability to extricate your company from a contract when your business needs change. So what can be done to maintain simplicity and retain flexibility?

The priority for most companies, said R "Ray" Wang, principal analyst and founder of Constellation Research, is to drive down the overall cost of SAP ownership so they can innovate on new products as well as new SAP offerings.

"We always recommend to our customers to start with a third-party maintenance support option, and then we suggest that clients do a complete audit of their licenses to see what's being used and what's not. From there, we suggest organizations look at how they can park their licenses -- basically put licenses on hold and not pay for maintenance -- or return unused licenses," he explained.

"Another key thing is to not -- I repeat -- to not bundle contracts with vendors. Always sign a separate contract that does not go back to the master," he added, noting that enterprises should be evaluating all support solutions well in advance of contract deadlines so if they need a lever during negotiation, they'll have one.

So many support choices

Of course, some SAP customers on older, customized and stable ERP versions sometimes choose to stop paying for support altogether in favor of in-house support and community-based assistance through SAP user groups or even through online communities like the SAP Community Network for support and maintenance

As enterprises look to reduce the cost of support by letting applications coast, Greenbaum warned that such strategies are short-term options.

"The thing about SAP's customers is that no one can afford to stand still for very long -- that's the nature of the global economy today," he said. Plus, changes in software delivery are necessitating a fresh look at how support becomes intermingled with business process strategy.

"Software as a service has really upped the ante for support because support has become a service that has to live side-by-side with software as a service -- you're paying operations expenses and you expect it to be like a utility. So now you're not buying technology, you're buying a business process ... SAP, so to speak, is not selling compressors, it's selling compressed air, and that mentality is permeating our IT delivery world," he explained. "Which is where SAP wants to go, selling business processes no matter where they are located. It'll take a while to get there, but that's where business processes as a service are going."

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