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SAP users confused by e-business applications, study finds

A new study found many companies that have made substantial investments to implement their SAP enterprise resource planning systems have not yet deployed e-business applications that link to SAP.

A new study shows that e-business initiatives that link to an SAP R/3 back-end -- even basic applications such as selling and purchasing on the Web -- are not in wide use.

Further many SAP customers view e-business initiatives with concern because there are so many different approaches and technologies.

The study was conducted in August and September by Gamma Enterprise Technologies conducted a study of 487 SAP professionals. Gamma, Woodland Hills, Calif., is a software company that helps its customers create, deploy and perfect business applications.

The goal was to get a reality check on how current e-business initiatives and products pan out in real life.

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Gamma Enterprise Technologies study

The target group consisted of SAP developers, integrators and managers from companies across the globe. The vast majority of respondents were on version 4.6x, with the rest being an even mix of 4.5x, 3.x, and other solutions.

The study shows that 53% of the respondents either had, or were developing an e-commerce application linked to their SAP data. The other 47% did not.

The primary business drivers across the board were process improvement at 24%, return on invest at 19%, and better customer satisfaction at 18%.

Most popular tools

Of those who were currently developing an e-commerce application, 77% were using SAP provided tools and technologies. Among the most popular choices were SAP's ITS solution, Web Application Server, Business Connector and MySAP CRM.

The primary reason for relying on SAP was simple brand recognition and the implicit assumption of compliance with SAP standards at 27%. Very few chose "ease of use" and "time to market" as their reasons for going with SAP, getting only 4% and 2%, respectively.

Twenty-seven percent of the companies with existing e-business applications said they were happy with the implementation and considered themselves finished, 25% were still looking for tools, technologies and vendors.

Of those who had not yet begun building e-business applications, a majority 42% responded they did now know where to start or what technology to use. Both SAP and third party solutions were way behind at 21% each, with the last 16% not having any plans.

SAP brand loyalty

The study showed a pattern of high brand loyalty in contrast with caution about individual products until they have been proven to work. The tardiness in adoption of new technology implies that getting a safe bet has higher priority than being first. One could say that it appears that many trust the SAP brand, but not necessarily its products.

Almost half of the respondents had invested in SAP solutions, but had yet to make full use of their investments by Web-enabling their SAP systems. The study suggests that confusion and lack of standards played a key role in this number.

However, this study was done before SAP's commitment to Java. SAP has since vowed to embrace Java as the open standard of choice, make all future products fully Java compliant. This may decrease the confusion and help streamline most aspects of e-business enablement, development, and deployment.

Monica Berndt, director of marketing at Gamma, is positive about Java but cautious about the short-term perspective.

"I believe that it will be very good in the long term and it's a wise move on the part of SAP," she said "In the short term, however, it will take a little while for the dust to settle."

"This is a recent announcement and in the mind of many SAP professionals, yet another approach, on top of a long list of solutions," she said.

All standards aside, we must remember that the human factor is, and always will be, a key factor for successful deployment. Organizational adaptation is an absolute requirement to succeed, as seen in this comment by one of the study participants:

"One of the most challenging aspects of our e-business project was changing the people and the culture in which we work."

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