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View from DSAG’s show: SAP’s made improvements, but has a way to go

Reliable delivery of SAP products is still on the minds of DSAG members, according Helmuth Guembel, who attended DSAG’s annual user conference. asked Strategy Partners’ Helmuth Guembel to write a column of his impressions of DSAG’s annual user conference. DSAG has about 2,370 member companies and about 32,000 individual members in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The group recently held its annual Congress in Nuremberg, Germany.

The annual DSAG Congress has developed over the years into an event that is arguably the best source of SAP-related information in German-speaking central Europe.

It sure has become big. There were more than 3,500 people attending  this year, up 15% from last year. There were 150 exhibitors, up 20% from last year.

The new SAP CEOs have made a favorable impression on DSAG. Jim Hagemann-Snabe comes across as a genuinely hard-working, trusted partner. He’s getting better at speaking German, and he acknowledges many of the things DSAG finds lacking. This year, for example, Hagemann-Snabe made a promise to improve SAP’s quality and delivery schedules.

Atmospherically, this is certainly a great improvement. On the surface, the harmony between SAP and DSAG was reaching record levels after a few quite rocky years. In the past, when Henning Kagermann and then Léo Apotheker were heading SAP, DSAG -- traditionally viewed as an extension of SAP’s marketing department -- became outspoken and critical. The arrogance of both managers frustrated users, and DSAG openly expressed that despair. This culminated when SAP started to rock the boat with the infamous SAP maintenance price increase, stubbornly ignoring customer needs and the impending recession. Copying Oracle is not without risk.

The maintenance increase and its impact have since been mitigated. This was in large part due to the success of user organizations like DSAG and others.

DSAG board members have expressed great delight over the improvements. But they also felt that, with SAP making promises left and right to appease customers, a greater focus on reliable delivery and execution was necessary.

Some progress has been made, but the top points of concern have remained conspicuously constant over the past few years. They revolve around product quality, complexity reduction and total cost of ownership. The new SAP Business Suite 7 is definitely not viewed as a positive contribution with regard to these issues; there are too many inconsistencies in user interfaces and too many competing data models.

In his keynote address at DSAG, Gerhard Oswald, COO of SAP AG, took up some of these points, and talked briefly about SAP’s solutions. A few highlights include:

  • Selective downports of newer products into older SAP-ERPenvironments (including some that are out of standard maintenance). Further details were not available at the event.
  • A new delivery mechanism for smaller product improvements. This can be read as an admission that the Enhancement Packages were not successful in reducing cost and complexity. Details of the new approach were not disclosed.
  • Extension of extended maintenance for 4.6C until March 2013
  • Improved remote support for Business Objects products, requiring usage of SAP Solution Manager (no mention was made on how Business Objects users without SAP ERP could benefit from this).

That said, users show interest in SAP’s new offerings. The SAP sessions on mobile strategy, in-memory products and NetWeaver BPM were very well attended. Here, customers have not (yet) had bad experiences.

On the other hand, the session on Enterprise Support was only half full. Customers have had their trauma, and recovery will require lots of time and a very convincing performance on SAP’s side.

SAP is still busy defining new benefits and features of Enterprise Support. Although SUGEN has essentially discarded the idea of using KPI measured by a select group of customers as a yardstick to measure improvements, SAP continues to use a modified version to communicate value. While this idea has merit, SAP still has not convinced a broad public that its offerings provide a useful contribution. One of the evident drawbacks is that this approach – in due SAP fashion – assumes that nothing impinging on the KPIs happens outside of SAP’s sphere of control. To me, this is somewhat anachronistic in an age where application integration is more prevalent than ever. Most SAP shops are far more heterogeneous than SAP assumes.

Helmuth Guembel oversees and directs Strategy Partners' German-speaking market activities. Widely acknowledged as a leading expert in IT business applications, Guembel is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on the organizational and implementation-related issues associated with SAP products and services.


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