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ASUG's plans for 2009 include finding new CEO, more software influence

SearchSAP.com caught up with Rod Masney, past chairman of ASUG, during this year's Sapphire conference, to learn about the user group's plans for 2009.

ORLANDO -- It's been an interesting time for the Americas' SAP Users' Group (ASUG).

Back in the fall, ASUG drew attention for appearing to support cost increases associated with SAP Enterprise Support, while the rest of the world's largest user groups sounded the rallying cry against it. In November, it said its first full-time CEO, Steve Strout, was no longer with the organization and that it would pursue new executive leadership.

But ASUG has big plans for 2009, which it discussed at its annual user conference in Orlando -- held in tandem with Sapphire. With more than 2,000 member-companies, 75,000 members and 300 volunteers, it is the world's largest user group.

SearchSAP.com spoke with Rod Masney, past chairman of the organization and current board member, about some of those plans. Masney is global director for IT infrastructure at O-I Global, the world's largest glass container manufacturer. The company is based in Perrysburg, Ohio.

SearchSAP.com: Is ASUG looking for a new CEO?

Masney: We have been searching for a CEO. We have clarified the profile of the individual that we're seeking. It's an interesting challenge. We want someone that's a strong operator and can run and execute for us, but there are some other things we want. We want someone that has a strong technology background … SAP specifically.

It's really a service-based organization, and that's not an easy hire. Steve [Strout] left the organization and we wish him well, but we're looking to find another great person to help move this organization along.

SearchSAP.com: What specifically is ASUG looking to influence SAP on this year?

Masney: Certainly, the Business Suite, Enterprise Support, BusinessObjects -- with the addition of BusinessObjects and that becoming more and more an important part of the SAP portfolio…. We even met with the lead of the BusinessObjects NetWeaver development team yesterday to talk about that.

And quite frankly, together, working with SAP, we're looking at how to build an influence model that spans the entire lifecycle of an SAP product or service -- really providing feedback and input to their roadmaps and where they're going.

SearchSAP.com: Can you elaborate on how you'll influence the product roadmaps?

Masney: Part of this whole lifecycle, strategic influence is built around where SAP is within the portfolio. When SAP has developed its portfolio, [we can help get] the right customers in place to take a look at it. It's not easy. And they run hundreds and hundreds of projects every year.

We certainly want to plug in our membership not only at a technology level with the IT folks but also at the business level in driving more C-level business engagement. I think it's very important, especially when you want to start influencing a technology company at a very strategic level.

SearchSAP.com: Did you influence the recent decisions on SAP Enterprise Support?

Masney: Certainly we've had influence. We've had many conversations with SAP about Enterprise Support from a customer perspective. And our approach is different from other user groups. We want to work on these issues collaboratively so that it becomes a win-win for the member, for ASUG and ultimately a win for SAP. I think you get there by working collaboratively on these things, not butting heads together, if you will.

SearchSAP.com: Has SAP laid out product roadmaps satisfactory to the customers?

Masney: I think so. I think they've been consistent about innovation without disruption. And that was the story during the Enterprise SOA years, when they presented the roadmap there -- and they're at the point where it's becoming more and more ingrained into their overall offering, by enabling enhancement packages and the switch framework in the Business Suite.

Certainly the message is there that SAP is trying to move its existing customer base from the big monolithic upgrades of the past to something much more nimble, based on enterprise services.

SearchSAP.com: Are companies pursuing SOA-type projects now?

Masney: Customers are still quite frankly trying to figure out what it's all about. Some companies have adopted by going to ECC 6.0 and don't even know it. When it becomes a part of their mainstream development lifecycle, then I think it becomes a different deal.

I think it's a way of SAP opening up the Business Suite in a way they've never done before and trying to … protect customers from themselves in terms of modifying the core.

SearchSAP.com: Is there anything that SAP isn't doing well?

Masney: I can't think of anything right offhand. I'm a technology guy, so at the end of the day, I engage with a lot of technology companies. And I think [SAP is] best in class when it comes to customer engagement. They do care about what the customer says -- that doesn't mean they do everything the customer says. I think they're demonstrating that with the collaboration on Enterprise Support.

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