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Duet, upgrades and MDM problems on users' minds at Sapphire 2007

Duet, master data management, and governance, risk and compliance were some of the topics on the minds of Sapphire 2007 attendees.

ATLANTA -- The thousands of SAP users who descended on the city for Sapphire 2007 this week were attracted to the show for a wide range of reasons, from excitement about Duet and governance, risk and compliance (GRC) to upgrade pain and master data woes, according to informal discussions with attendees.

Practically everyone spoke with had either just completed or was planning an upgrade, most of them to mySAP ERP 2004 or 2005. SAP has been advocating upgrades since announcing that there would be no more core upgrades until 2010. It seems the user community is beginning to heed the call. SAP's discontinuation of R/3 4.6x support last year may have helped drive the momentum as well.

Kathy Ward, an IT manager at oil giant Halliburton in Houston, Texas, said her company is currently running R/3 4.6C and is in the assessment phase for an upgrade to mySAP ERP 2005 next year. The plan at this point is to do a Big Bang implementation, which requires quite a bit of preliminary legwork. That's proving to be a bit of a problem, Ward said.

"We're trying to bridge the gap between 4.6C and mySAP ERP 2005, but it's hard because there's no delta training," she said. "I wish we had some training CDs, online education and the like, but all we've been offered by SAP so far are expensive custom classes."

[According to SAP Global Education COO Nina Simosko, SAP Education's ERP delta training does include both classroom and e-learning content.]

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Duet was another hot topic, coming on the heels of SAP and Microsoft's plans to deepen their commitment to the product. Claudius Christmas, Jr., director of HRIS & payroll at The Scotts Company in Marysville, Ohio, attended Sapphire primarily to get a handle on SAP HR's strategic direction, but couldn't help noticing the positive buzz.

"Duet is very promising," Christmas said. "I see great things in the future for SAP and Microsoft working together."

The reason is simple, he said: SAP can be difficult to work with, while people are more comfortable with the familiar look and feel of a Microsoft-style interface. That makes training and use much more intuitive.

Interest in compliance has cooled a little after the last few years of Sarbanes-Oxley frenzy, but risk management and governance appears to be picking up some of the slack and driving interest in SAP's new GRC initiative.

Gretchen Rodrigo-Eng, BIC manager at Direct Energy in Toronto, was at the show to learn more about SAP GRC. The company's U.K. parent is already running SAP GRC, meaning that the odds are good the Canadian branch will soon be asked to follow suit. That's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Rodrigo-Eng.

"Right now, we have virtually no security tools," she said. "We have to rely almost exclusively on security auditors. It's time to get more proactive about these things."

Another topic of interest for Rodrigo-Eng was business intelligence (BI). Direct Energy is planning an upgrade to NetWeaver 2004 in the near future, and she was hoping to learn about the new BI functionalities this will enable. Indeed, many users spoke of "looking into" BI as a way to streamline and differentiate themselves in their industries, although few put it as the No. 1 reason for coming to Sapphire this year.

Many companies consider a master data management (MDM) solution the way to get the most mileage out of their new analytical features. Cheryl Young, global master data manager at multinational healthcare company Johnson & Johnson in Bridgewater, N.J., had some unfortunate experience in that department.

"We actually stopped our SAP MDM project," Young said. "It turns out standard XML just didn't read the same in SAP, and we needed a better way to store financial data. SAP MDM simply couldn't deliver."

Johnson & Johnson runs several instances of SAP, ranging from R/3 4.6C to ECC 6.0, so Young was here to keep the ship afloat and find new alternatives for dealing with global data quality.

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