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SAP needs to do more with centers of excellence, analyst says

SAP is not sufficiently promoting its "centers of excellence" program, competency centers that directly correlate to successful SAP deployments, according to AMR's Derek Prior.

The SAP support organization has done an admirable job of supporting and promoting SAP centers of excellence (COEs)...

among its customers, but it's still not doing enough with the program, according to one industry analyst.

Derek Prior, analyst with Boston-based AMR Research, believes that SAP needs to be doing more to support the COE program at all levels of its organization. He recently issued a research note on the subject.

"This is so important that SAP, at the highest levels of the organization, needs to take much more ownership of this program and try to help customers across the globe," Prior said.

Most SAP customers have a COE in some form or another -- a way to share best practices and ensure that SAP talent stays within the organization. In fact, there's almost always a direct correlation between an SAP COE and a successful deployment, Prior said.

"When SAP talks about the 'best run companies,' nearly all of them have a highly effective SAP COE," he said. "Companies that have done this deserve more recognition and more assistance from SAP to help them become persistent."

Yet companies are still struggling to maintain effective SAP COEs, Prior said, particularly when it comes to attracting, retaining and motivating SAP talent; retaining ongoing ownership and support from business executives; and refocusing efforts from managing projects to managing the business value achieved from SAP.

And while the recession has alleviated the SAP skills shortage, talent management and retention remains a pitfall for companies.

"In spite of the economic downturn, everyone wants the best people in the organization to work on their projects and activities," Prior said. "Successful SAP COEs have a business-led manager, and they try very hard to set out a compelling career progression for very senior SAP experts to retain [and] motivate them and capture their expertise. It's not about money; it's about motivation, recognition, people management and winning that war of talent."

According to Prior, the SAP Active Global Support (SAP AGS) organization has helped about 2,600 customers worldwide set up their SAP COEs, and about 1,000 of them have been certified by SAP at the primary level. Apart from a plaque, the certification ensures that support tickets are prioritized correctly by the support organization and provides access to online resources. In addition, SAP has been working with select customers to help lower their total cost of ownership (TCO) of SAP systems, using a new Application Lifecycle Management system aligned with ITIL.

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But while the renewed efforts are a start, and SAP is doing more than most of its competitors, it's not enough, according to Prior.

"I think they do a lot more than a lot of other enterprise software vendors, and they deserve recognition for that, but it's still low key," he said. "It's only the Active Global Support organization that worries about this. Given such a strong correlation between SAP's most successful customers and how good a job they've done setting up their SAP COE, that is compelling evidence to point out that there are things that need to be done if SAP is going to take the SAP COE program to the next level."

For all the money SAP pours into its "best run companies" campaign, there is very little mention of COEs at events like Sapphire. In fact, there has been greater emphasis on Solution Manager recently, but even that needs more attention, Prior said.

"It's got quite a range of modules and tools, which can only help, but it's a bit like a Swiss Army knife," he said. "The tool can do so many things that they haven't been that good at showcasing what it's really capable of in the past. Solution Manager has suffered because of that."

SAP's board executives should be talking up the COE program and connecting it with the "best run companies" marketing initiatives, Prior said. The SAP Value Engineering and Business Consulting organizations should also work more closely with AGS.

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