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SAP pros rate support, seek upgrade advice

IT pros attending this week's user conference have concerns and questions about SAP technology, upgrade and support plans. Does SAP have answers for them?

CHICAGO -- Tenneco Automotive Inc. SAP business analyst Raymond Pouliot is revved up over SAPConsole, which he says saved his company an estimated $300,000 almost immediately after it was up and running in 10 locations.

"We got an immediate cost savings," said Pouliot, referring to SAPConsole, a thin software application whose purpose is to convert a standard SAP graphical user interface screen to a character-based screen that can be displayed on a radio frequency unit.

Like plenty of SAP customers, Pouliot is trying to keep pace with SAP as it rushes into the future. "We use a ton of functionality at a very integrated level," Pouliot said. "I need to keep track of where the company is going, from a technology perspective."

Pouliot, who works in Lake Forest, Ill., was among the nearly 375 SAP decision makers who this week attended a three-day user event. Project managers and planners, strategy consultants, and SAP business analysts like Pouliot arrived with questions and concerns about the projects currently topping their to-do lists.

Upgrades, and the support and licensing issues that go along with them, have been a top priority for SAP customers during the last year. Many conference attendees said they may reconsider their upgrade licensing options as a result of having attended the conference. On Wednesday, SAP America CEO Bill McDermott and analysts advised clients who were considering Enterprise upgrades to examine the cost-benefit analysis of going straight to mySAP ERP.

That newest migration option allows clients full NetWeaver capabilities, and SAP made clear at the conference that the future of its technology stack rests on the new integration platform.

In the long run, it's likely to be a more expensive, more complicated route to upgrade to R/3 4.7, which is R/3 Enterprise, than to go straight to the next largest offering, mySAP ERP, SAP said this week.

For customers running R/3 4.6C, a mySAP ERP upgrade is not as labor-intensive, or as costly, as it is for customers running prior versions. However, there are plenty of SAP shops running those earlier versions, said Hari Adusumilli, a manager of SAP support systems for the global consultancy T-Systems.

Many of those companies "would rather not spend the money to reach mySAP ERP now, even if it might mean spending some more money three years downs the road," Adusumilli said.

One challenge SAP project managers have is to explain to their CTOs and CIOs the benefits of the NetWeaver platform, many attendees agreed. "The BASIS people do understand it," Adusumilli said. "They are all excited about it. It's more robust. It's going to make life easier for them."

Many attendees said they appreciated hearing directly from McDermott, and several had suggestions for how he and SAP might improve the customer experience. Providing incentives for upgrades was one suggestion that was repeated by many conference attendees.

"They almost provide de-incentives," said John Atkinson, a senior partner at Alliand Systems Management Group, an IT consulting shop. "It's like they beat customers with a stick, threatening de-support. Then they tell you they will support your version, but only for additional fees."

However, McDermott pledged to extend the support deadline that many SAP customers currently face. If those customers commit to an upgrade plan this year, McDermott told conference attendees, SAP will extend support for current systems by another year.

McDermott also pledged a greater level of attention to customers, and a newly rejuvenated effort on behalf of SAP to consult and advise clients on complicated upgrades and implementations.

"I really liked hearing directly from Bill," Adusumilli said. "I really liked that he told customers that SAP wants to know exactly what is going on for them and wants to support them and guide them."

SAP support received mixed reviews from attendees but got especially high marks from Barb Oestreicher, an IT manager with Sargento Foods Inc.

"We always use SAP as a model for support," Oestreicher said. "They are kind of our golden example when it comes to support."


SAP: Skip Enterprise, jump to mySAP ERP"

Coverage of conference -- Chicago 2003

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