LONDON -- SAP customers Sylvain Sabatier, Hester Camers and Michael Verschroeven traveled to the first SearchSAP.com Europe conference from three different countries -- but they are sharing a common journey.
Like nearly half of SAP's worldwide customer base, these three attendees are headed toward Enterprise, a place where all SAP R/3 customers must eventually arrive.
This is a period of enormous intensity for SAP customers, who are facing R/3 support deadlines and a slew of new technology offerings that could be hugely beneficial -- once they are fully understood.
SAP customers must cultivate their relationships with the software vendor, learning all they can about new technologies and determining which direction SAP is headed in.
Gartner Inc. vice president and SAP specialist Derek Prior, speaking at the SearchSAP.com conference last week, outlined the biggest challenges SAP customers will face in coming months. He also graded SAP on key issues, such as support, and drilled into the differences between Enterprise and the new mySAP ERP offering.
Prior dismissed a notion that he said many clients currently have -- that choosing mySAP ERP means sacrificing their R/3 investment.
"SAP R/3 Enterprise is part of mySAP ERP," Prior reminded the crowd. "Either way, you are going to Enterprise. You don't throw out R/3 if you buy into mySAP ERP."
Gartner: Enterprise worth the trip
There has been plenty of confusion in the SAP community in recent weeks, following the announcement that SAP is offering a sort of middle ground, a core configuration priced halfway between R/3 Enterprise and the full mySAP ERP business suite.
The confusion worsened, in part, simply because of new product names. SAP has dropped the dot.com from its mySAP suite, and the company has introduced the name Enterprise as the most recent evolution of R/3.
The good news, Prior said, is that Enterprise deserves to have its own name.
"The great news here is that the core product, from now on, remains stable, and life will become easier," he said. Upgrades to Enterprise will not impact the core system; changes will be made to Enterprise extensions.
"To be fair, SAP really listened to customers," Prior said. "That's a very customer-centric model."
MySAP ERP combines Enterprise with SAP's new strategic platform, NetWeaver, and also includes some financials and analytics.
So, is there any good reason for not going straight to mySAP ERP? Sure, Prior said. First, it costs more. And customers need to evaluate whether they need NetWeaver features such as Portals and BW.
During the next three years, Prior said, SAP will own the largest share of the business application software market. More surprising, he said, is that Gartner believes SAP will also become an "infrastructure superpower," with NetWeaver playing a key role.
Prior also graded SAP in several areas, including support, telling attendees that Gartner, like many of the customers in the audience, believes SAP should do a better job at support. Still, he said: "Compared to other vendors, SAP does a much better job. They are a leader, though. And leaders need to be way out in front."
The confusion SAP customers are currently feeling will have an impact, Prior predicted, and users will be slower to adopt new offerings such as xApps because of it.
Among other key challenges to customers will be the fact that SAP's application architecture remains proprietary, meaning that customers will be pushed to acquire SAP-related skill sets to support more complex technical environments.
Prior, like the other analysts who spoke at the three-day event, urged clients to establish an SAP competency center.
In Brussels, where Verschroeven is an ERP systems manager for Kone International, a $6 billion Finnish company, there is a large SAP competency center. It's currently home to 160 IT pros.
Verschroeven, whose employer has licensed the mySAP business suite license, is currently evaluating mySAP CRM.
However, like many attendees, Verschroeven is also overseeing another very large project, integrating 22 instances from an Informix database into an IBM UDB.
Camers, who works in the U.K., will focus on evaluating portals, while her colleagues concentrate on taking her company to Enterprise.
And Sabatier, who's based in Velizy, France, recently experienced trouble with SAP APOs, and that's taking up space on his to-do list, alongside Enterprise.
"There is a little confusion right now -- about what exactly we have licensed," Sabatier said. Smiling, he added: "Perhaps more than a little."
FOR MORE INFORMATION:Analyst details wrinkles in SAP licensing