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ASUG on SAP Sapphire 2009: What's new, what's hot and what's not

ASUG holds its annual user conference as part of SAP Sapphire each year. In this interview, ASUG board member Anthony Bosco explains why ERP upgrades, SAP Solution Manager and SAP Enterprise Support will be hot topics at this year's conference.

It's almost time for SAP Sapphire 2009. On the week of May 11, thousands of SAP customers will head to Orlando, Fla., for news of SAP products, to network with peers and to attend sessions to help them better run their businesses.

Each year, the annual user conference for ASUG, SAP's largest user group, is co-located with SAP Sapphire. For a preview of what's in store, spoke with Anthony Bosco, who serves on ASUG's board of directors as the vice president of finance. Bosco is vice president and CIO of SAP customer Day & Zimmerman.

Bosco is expecting a lower turnout this year because of the economy. But that's not a bad thing, he said, as the more "intimate" setting will allow attendees better access to one another and more focused educational sessions. Bosco, who has been attending Sapphire conferences for more than 10 years, talked about this, as well as why he thinks ERP upgrades, SAP Solution Manager and SAP Enterprise Support will be hot topics at this year's conference.

SearchSAP: What do attendees gain from having the two conferences at the same time?

Bosco: Besides the economies of scale, I think it's kind of an interesting perspective. Because you get the traditional -- what I'll call -- software supplier-software vendor extravaganza and promotion and information; then the ASUG leg kind of gives you the real context. What's the message? What does it really mean, and how do I really work with the message? I really enjoy the fact that the two organizations and the two programs are together because I think it really is a balance -- again, you get the benefit of all the promotion and the hype, but I think it's also tempered with people who are using the product and have been successful with it and are learning the tricks of the trade.

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SearchSAP: What are some hot topics and can't-miss sessions at this year's conference?

Bosco: In terms of some of the sessions and topics, I'm always in favor of the keynotes. I think the keynotes are things that really point you in the direction in terms of where you need to be thinking. As a CIO, I need to be thinking two, three years out. What's important to me is … where are they headed with some of the new offerings? What's going on with Enterprise Support, Solution Manager? I think [Solution Manager] is an area that, according to SAP, it's imperative that you be using as recommended. I know that talking to folks from various companies within our ASUG membership -- some are right where they need to be and others are far behind.

I think upgrades are important. There's been a lot of discussion about upgrades in the past, and I've seen some statistics.… I was amazed at how many people still have to get on the upgrade bandwagon. So I think upgrades will be a big topic. I think total cost of ownership will be a topic. I think Solution Manager will be a topic, and I think support and maintenance are going to be topics.

SearchSAP: Let's talk about SAP support and maintenance. What are attendees going to be looking for on that topic?

Bosco: Nobody really likes to hear the price of anything is going up, but you know from where I stand we have been tremendously successful with SAP software in our business. It has enabled us to more than double our size. When we started with SAP, we were about $1 billion; today, in the last nine years, we've grown to $2.5 billion. We service business employees in our customers in ways beyond our expectation, and all of that is running on SAP software.

So, in my mind … cost always matters. But what really matters is value. And I think that, as I said in the past, SAP is very pervasive, and we have a number of technologies that work in conjunction with SAP, from mobile devices and such. And when things don't work, it's very difficult to try to sort this out. I think SAP is making a real attempt at trying to be the first stop on that solution path. That's value, and you know -- if you're a fair person -- [that] if you're getting value, you should pay for it.

So I'm optimistic. I found that the people at SAP you talk to about this are very eager to hear what we have to say and listen to our concerns. They're going to make an effort to do what they said.

SearchSAP: So let's talk about SAP "doing what it said," as in the KPIs it promised to gauge the success of Enterprise Support. Will those be out by the time of Sapphire?

Bosco: I think that's the goal. I've seen drafts of these, but I'm really not at liberty to say since I'm not part of the approval or acceptance. I just provided some feedback. But I think they were trying to get some of those out there for Sapphire.

SearchSAP: What are some of the things you'll seek out at Sapphire this year?

Bosco: Things go in cycles. When [Day & Zimmerman] started on the ERP path [more than] a decade ago, there were a number of things we were looking at. But it was really about driving efficiency in the enterprise and driving down total cost of ownership. We realized those benefits in the early part of 2000, 2001, and then we went through a period of three to four years of really extending our enterprise beyond our borders and working with partners, suppliers and customers to have a more collaborative business environment, all using SAP technology as a foundation. With some of the challenges we're seeing, I think we're going to go back to understanding. We need to look at total cost of ownership again.… And so I'm going to be looking at what is the next round of driving up efficiency, productivity, while we drive costs out of the enterprise.

SearchSAP: Cloud computing has received a lot of attention recently. Do you think it'll be a big topic at Sapphire? Do SAP customers care?

Bosco: Interestingly enough, I actually got an email today from my CEO, and he pointed to this link from the Wharton School about cloud computing. I mean, you can always depend on the national meeting to have a few topics that are almost Star Trek. And I would put cloud computing, at least within the context of large enterprise technology platforms -- SAP -- for big companies, as a little bit of Star Trek. I think cloud computing is out there. I think it is on the horizon.… When you really get into ERP type technology and solutions, I think we've got a way to go. I don't think there are any two SAP configurations that are exactly alike. So we're all using the same software in theory, but we're doing many different things with it. So I think that's the challenge. I think there'll be some talk, and I'll listen. But that's not really -- beyond just tickling my interest -- that's not really where I'm going to be focusing.

SearchSAP: Is there anything about this conference that's different from past conferences?

Bosco: There's a couple things. I think that with the economic times, we're probably going to see the crowds down a bit. We hope that they're not down, but I think we all have to be realistic. I think it'll be a little bit more … cozy. Last year, it was just amazing the number of people who were there, and it was almost overwhelming. … [With the] educational sections, we've actually had to compress the number of offerings. I think they're going to be very pointed, and I expect very high quality. So we've really focused on higher quality and lower volume.… It'll feel a little more intimate than it has in the last couple of years.

SearchSAP: You've been going to Sapphire for more than 10 years. Do you have any advice for first-time attendees?

Bosco: I would use the resources on the Web. Look at the agendas in advance, plan your time in advance. If there are sessions that require you to sign up ahead of time, do it, because you don't want to get shut out. You can't boil the ocean; focus on what's important to you. Look for the sessions that you think meet your goals, and then don't plan every minute. Allow a few audibles to be called, because when you get there, you're going to find some really interesting sessions that maybe were added at the last minute.

And then use the time to network. I've been going there for 10 years, and as a CIO, what's most important to me is kind of direction and vision, within the SAP product set. I want to reacquaint myself with some folks I only get a chance to see once or twice a year at ASUG events. So to me, it's all about the networking that I get to do, and that's where I spend my time, just meeting old acquaintances… seeing what they're up to in their organizations, and finding out what their successes and struggles are. We kind of compare notes.

If [they're] on the fence, people should go. There's a lot of new information out there, and just by virtue of what's going on in the economy, I think this is going to be a little more of an intimate setting than there's been in the past. So you should have some real access to people who can help.

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