Montreal R&D team contributes to SAP ERP update

The Montreal arm of SAP Canada played a key role in the development in its latest ERP enhancement pack, including features specifically geared to retail and trading industries.

Waldorf, Germany-based SAP AG on Monday released the third in a series of packages whereby it is allowing customers to select functions on a piece-by-piece basis rather than rip and replace their entire enterprise resource planning system. The enhancement package brings more than 1,400 features to SAP users, which can be downloaded over the Internet.

SAP said around 30 developers were involved from the Montreal team. They focused specifically on Trade Development features, which would most likely be used by large retailers or other organizations focused on areas such as global data synchronization, merchandise and assortment planning. Montreal’s contributions include what SAP called a cross-docking interface which would allow users to see information about external warehouse management systems within their ERP environment. POS integration in-store food production interfaces, which might be used by grocery firms, were among the other locally developed features.

The last enhancement pack, which was released towards the end of last year, offered a bank relationship management interface, talent management tools to perform a series of HR functions and an upgraded Operations Centre that allows sales people to access customer data.

Philip Say, vice-president of ERP solution marketing at SAP Americas, said the enhancement package was also geared towards public sector and manufacturing industries. He said it was too early to talk about other industries that might be the focus of the next enhancement package.

“What we’re really seeing overall is that this technique has become a driver for upgrades,” he said.

Forrester Research Inc. ERP analyst Paul Hamerman in Cambridge, Mass. said SAP’s enhancement packs offer customers more flexibility, but that a sound ERP strategy continues to require some careful planning.

“It is SAP, and you need IT to manage the application,” he said, adding that IT departments aren’t quick to let go of the ERP reins. “We’re seeing more of that happen with their hosted product, Business ByDesign.”

Ray Wang, who also covers ERP at Forrester, said in an e-mail that the third enhancement package deliver what was originally promised by SAP for mySAP ERP 2007 which is now ECC 6.0. “What we hope to see is more robust capabilities given that current enhancements have been more incremental than real innovations,” he wrote.

While SAP is creating its own custom interfaces – such as a “cockpit” for purchasing and logistics designed by the Montreal team – it is also working on joint technologies such as Duet with Microsoft which tap into more familiar productivity tools. Say admitted this calls for some analysis at the R&D stage. SAP, he said, tries to take a “role-based approach” that looks at the kind of behaviour of the actual users of the system.

“If you observe most work patterns, most people find themselves in a Microsoft environment,” he said. “We try to figure out where is the best intersection point in the SAP business process we support and the interface tools that customers like to use.”

SAP said it plans a full release of its third enhancement pack this spring. There have been more than 4,000 “go-lives” of the previous releases since January of last year.

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