SAP to simplify and streamline applications

Looking to address some longtime user concerns about its business applications, SAP AG is pushing to make its software faster, easier to use, cheaper to operate and less complex for small and midsize companies.

At its Sapphire ’02 user conference here this week, SAP detailed a series of upcoming products and planned application changes designed to simplify installation, use and management of the software.

For example, SAP CEO Hasso Plattner said during a keynote speech that with input from users, the company plans to prune up to 50 percent of the features from its application suite because they’re now obsolete. That should boost the software’s performance and lower its total cost of ownership, according to Plattner.

He also said that SAP will replace the user interfaces in many of its applications with new ones built around the company’s browser-based and platform-independent Web Dynpro technology. Those changes will come with the next version of SAP’s customer relationship management (CRM) software, which was announced this week and is due in September.

The simplification plan isn’t an entirely new tack for SAP, which has been working for the past four years to make its software easier to use. Nonetheless, several IT managers who are trying to deal with the complexity of the applications said the company’s plans are a step in the right direction.

Gary Coleman, vice president of information systems at the aerospace division of Goodrich Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., said the quality of SAP’s flagship R/3 enterprise resource planning software is high. But he added that SAP needs to make its technology friendlier, especially for users at smaller companies.

The aerospace unit went live with R/3 in January after a relatively smooth 14-month implementation that retired 237 legacy applications, Coleman said. But he said some smaller Goodrich operations are hesitant about R/3. Persuading them to adopt the software “will be more challenging and place more emphasis on managing the total costs of ownership,” he said.

Complexity a Hurdle

Jenny Trautman, director of IT at Atlanta-based Cox Newspapers Inc., said the company is rolling out SAP’s application bundle for media companies on a test basis. The publisher plans to go live with R/3’s human resources module next month, but Trautman said there are two hurdles to selling the project internally: cost and complexity.

Cox is highly decentralized, and Trautman said some of its business units are worried about the potential difficulty of installing the software. “Various parties said, ‘It’s so complicated that we’re afraid to put it in,’ ” she said.

Other users and analysts noted that SAP’s software can be particularly complex for casual users who don’t want to master its nuances or navigate through multiple screens to process transactions.

Tom Ackerman, senior director of business information systems at Symbol Technologies Inc., said the Holtsville, N.Y.-based maker of bar code scanners and other handheld devices spent nine months configuring SAP’s mobile sales module, partly to “dumb down” the software for users.

“We had to keep it simple and mask the complex elements,” Ackerman said.

Otherwise, he added, the company’s sales staff likely wouldn’t use the software.

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