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SAP SME strategy banks on support from partners

SAP SME success is tied to SAP's implementation partners. But making full use of the SAP suite remains a challenge for small to midsize businesses.

Historically, small to midsize enterprises have shied away from an SAP implementation, perceiving it as too large and too complicated for their small shops. But at the SAP SME summit held in New York last month, not only were SME customers using SAP products, they also had a secret weapon in their corners: SAP's network of implementation partners.

Lynch Fluid Controls, based in Mississauga, Ontario, is on the SAP Business All-in-One platform, using SD, MM, PP and FI/CO as its four key modules. Its SAP Gold Channel partner, Toronto-based Contax, has been instrumental in the success of Lynch Fluid Controls' implementation, according to CIO Gavin Lynch.

"Our IT department is three people," Lynch said. "When you line up different software packages against each other … they all do the same thing -- different terminology, different data flows, but achieving the same thing for the business. It's the partner that will make the difference between success or not." Part of that comes from Contax being able to leverage its consulting expertise to explain business problems to Lynch's team and match the problem with an SAP solution, he added.

Features can be friend or foe

Taking advantage of SAP's features is the biggest challenge Lynch Fluid Controls faces with its implementation. "We can't do everything at once and don't have the resources to support that, so we take things in bite-size chunks and implement as we go," Lynch said. For example, in 2015, the company plans to implement CRM and SuccessFactors to help capture more revenue, provide customers access to order data and manage talent.

Another SME customer, WL Plastics, based in Fort Worth, Texas, is using Business ByDesign but is taking advantage of the full suite: financials, inventory management, supply chain management and manufacturing elements. The only feature it hasn't rolled out is project management because it's not needed, according to Brad Crimin, SAP analyst. WL Plastics has used Business ByDesign for more than four years and worked directly with SAP -- not an implementation partner.

"The thing that is best for us is that [Business ByDesign] gives us a single platform," Crimin said. WL Plastics has multiple, geographically isolated sites, and coming from QuickBooks, the company experienced a big, positive difference being able to fully view accounting and other details through a Web browser, he said.

Yet WL Plastics does need more support for mobility, as well as manufacturing, according to Crimin. "The interface limits what you can do with a tablet," he said, also noting that some of the manufacturing functions out of the box don't match the way WL Plastics does its planning. "We can pick and choose elements, but it doesn't really serve for what we'd like it to do."

SAP's 'big' reputation initially gives pause

For some companies, the perception of SAP as being too large for small business initially kept them away. That was the case for Embrego Ligado, based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which was chosen for an implementation of BusinessOne by SAP's Corporate Social Responsibility team and SAP partner Endeavor. And like Lynch Fluid Controls, Embrego Ligado credits the success of its SAP implementation to the SAP consultant used, TDS Solutions, according to Jacob Rosenbloom, co-founder and CEO. But the support from SAP, as well as networking, has been almost as valuable -- if not as valuable -- as the technology, he added.

"In terms of real value, SAP has been great about mentoring. We exist in a remote corner of the world," Rosenbloom said. That means access to SAP's sales and marketing team and support from TDS has been critical. For three months, TDS provided hands-on help to train Embrego Ligado on BusinessOne's functions. The company now uses BusinessOne for CRM and analytics to monitor client performance, he said.

However, that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. "What I haven't seen a lot of is context on Brazil or emerging markets," Rosenbloom said. "Plugging us into mentorship with people in San Francisco and Miami has been great, but in terms of local access, a Brazil office or an SAP office in the region would be great to hear more [about] best practices and sales strategies."

One of the highlights from the SME summit is that SAP has been able to reduce the time it takes to be up and running, whether with an implementation partner or an in-house SAP analyst, according to Christopher Chute, research vice president, SMB cloud and mobility practice at research firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass. "The fact that you can literally, with a credit card, be up and running in an hour … has always been a challenge for a company focused on enterprise sales cycles," he said. "For them to talk about that and have it as a proof point is pretty powerful, but [SAP] is going to have to really hone in on that." Time to market and being transactional -- being able to jump on software as quickly as it takes to input a corporate credit card number into a Web form -- is a challenge that everyone in the SME market, not just SAP, is facing, Chute added.

SAP banking on partner success

"Our partners are our secret sauce," said Carrie Maslen, vice president of SME global operations at SAP. The company expects its partners to be an extension of SAP to provide technical expertise and local support, mainly because the partners are the microindustry experts, she said.

SAP nurtures its partners, recognizing that SME success with the product is tied to partner success, according to Maslen. "We have this formula to help partners to transform their business model and challenge them to think about transforming their business partners," she said.

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