Software from SAP AG is viewed by many as too expensive, too long and hard to implement and targeted at only the largest of organizations. At SAPPHIRE 03, SAP’s international customer conference held in Orlando, Fla., June 16 to 18, it was clear that SAP is fighting that image on several fronts.

Leading the attack in Canada is Michel Vincent, vice-president of Small and Medium Size Business for SAP Canada Inc. Vincent stressed to press and analysts that both SAP globally and SAP Canada are committed to the small to medium sized businesses (SMBs). Surprisingly, half of all SAP software installations worldwide are in organizations with revenues of less than US$200 million and SAP has worked with SMBs for the most recent third of its three-decade history.

Vincent said that SAP Canada is bringing an expanded mySAP All-in-One to Canadian businesses looking for faster ROI and affordable software solutions. It is also preparing the way for the newer SAP Business One which will be available in Canada by the end of this year. To that end, SAP Canada has renewed channel agreements with existing partners Plaut Canada, The Resolution Group and Sylogist Ltd. of Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, respectively. Each company will resell SAP SMB solutions, and distribute and provide support services for the two SMB products.

SAP Business One is aimed at small companies with as few as 10 employees and US$1 million in revenue who require general business functionality. Based on open standards, it addresses accounting, reporting, logistics and sales force automation.

Vincent described it as “very simple, powerful, affordable” and a “good point of entrance” Remarkably, SAP claims it can be implemented in just one day. Introduced in 2002 in Germany, SAP Business One has 1,400 customers. Vincent said the goal for Canada is to have 100 Business One customers in 2004.

Moving up to mid-sized companies that require a high degree of industry-specific functionality, SAP offers the mySAP All-in-One which includes more than 270 pre-defined vertical solutions tailored, pre-configured and complemented by SAP channel partners to be customer-ready out of the box.

As a light version of mySAP Business Suite, the turnkey software addresses financials, human resources, supply chain, customer relationships and other business processes. New application, financing, and hardware options expanding the scope of mySAP All-in-One through new alliances with American Express, BearingPoint and IBM were also announced at SAPPHIRE 03.

Vincent said both SMB products provide a “seamless integration” to mySAP.

A journey of change

Even customers contributed to countering the criticism that SAP ERP has such a long implementation time that it is never really finished. Dinesh Rawley with Playtex Products Inc. in Connecticut described the implementation as a journey and also compared business software to an essential utility like electricity. “You need business software like you need electricity to run a building. If you expand one floor of the building, you put extra power outlets there.” Similarly, companies change and have different software needs, he said. “You have to upgrade the infrastructure or switches.”

Steve Wohlert, with ConAgra Retail Products, also sees change as inevitable, but said he was seeking “low cost change rather than high maintenance change.” He said the U.S.-based ConAgra had started with Order to Cash and had implemented several modules and were about to roll out CRM and the analytics tool Strategic Enterprise Management (SEM). This third year at SAPPHIRE he was exploring SCM and PLM.

“I thought our industry had the most jargon but I found more three letter acronyms at SAP,” he joked.

Better user experience

Probably the strongest attack on the negative image of SAP software came from Hasso Plattner, co-founder, former CEO and now chairman of SAP Supervisory Board where he serves as chief software advisor. In a demonstration of SAP’s recognition of the importance of communicating with users, Plattner responded to questions, albeit chosen in advance, from attendees who submitted queries earlier. He admitted to several problems, some unavoidable and others in the process of being addressed.

“We got sloppy with user interfacing,” he acknowledged, adding that while it got fixed, they are continuing to work on user experience.

“The real difficulty is to build the applications that are appropriate to the users,” he said. He explained that he had always focused on developing generic applications to reach a broader audience and disseminate the software quicker. However, that failed to meet the requirements of the individuals.

“What we have forgotten is to look at the whole process in a company of how people work together,” he added. “People have different views, different jobs and if we talk for example to developers in the engineering type company…the engineers have a different perspective towards commercial systems. If you don’t meet their expectations, they don’t use the system. Or, they bitch and moan about it for years to come.

“So what we do now is we write multiple user interfaces. If we find somebody who needs more complexity or a more feature rich functionality, then we go for that place. With the new technology we have in the SAP system…we have to write multiple user experiences, multiple user interfaces on top of the same application.”

He described the complexity of the SAP software, the company’s Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) and the recent ability with the introduction last January of SAP NetWeaver to create applications that don’t first require building a database.

“So this is what we have to learn in our industry, in our company especially: that we hide this complexity,” he said. “We have a wonderful gear box. But we don’t have to put all our options we have inside the gear box out and then let people struggle with setting it up.

“We have good functionality, we have stable systems. Okay, we can improve cost of ownership and we are working on that, but the number one issue in sales, in service, in post-installation experience is usability.”

Although he urged attendees to provide feedback with detailed commentaries, it sounded like for the most part, SAP had already got their message.

Customer tip: find good integrator

SAPPHIRE 03 attendee Richard Wurtzel, director of IS&S Business Applications for GM Electro-Motive in LaGrange, Ill., has had responsibility for the SAP implementation at the GM Defense plant in London, Ont., prior to it being sold to General Dynamics. The London GM facility went live in January 2001 with SAP for its aftermarket business and financials. When Wurtzel became involved, it was an implementation that needed to be fixed, he recalled. “Users and management were not engaged to what they should have been. Now it is stable and works fine.”

Wurtzel brought in Chicago-based systems integrator Technology Solutions Company (TSC) who is now half-way through a three-year support contract, taking over for the initial implementation team. Wurtzel found TSC’s industry expertise in capital goods manufacturing enabled a strong partnership.

He stressed the importance of working with “an implementation partner who understands your business without taking a lot of time to absorb the information. Then they can interpret what the (SAP) system does to support it and not just guessing.” When selecting an implementation partner, he advises one should ask “do these people know the industry or just know the software?”

Secondly, he said, the implementation partner selection must take into account if they can work with senior management. They need to have the role of a trusted advisor who “will tell if something is dumb,” Wurtzel explained.

Event reflects multi-faceted company

As would be fitting for a company with more than 19,600 customers with over 62,000 installations in more than 120 countries, this year’s single international customer conference, SAPPHIRE 03, was a massive three-day event.

In addition to the four keynote addresses by SAP executives and guest speakers, seven featured partner presentations, 17 expert forums and 160 presentation sessions addressing 15 concurrent conference tracks, there were about 100 exhibitors and numerous demonstrations of SAP products such as the new NetWeaver.

SAP NetWeaver is described as the technical foundation for all SAP solutions, integrating rather than just connecting IT systems to shorten implementation time and hasten ROI. NetWeaver is based on open standards and technologies and is interoperable with both Microsoft .NET and IBM WebSphere/J2EE technologies and products. It comes with promises of improved employee productivity and employee/customer collaboration and greater access to enterprise systems information.

Product announcements at the event included mySAP Customer Relationship Management 4.0, billed as “the most comprehensive, industry-specific CRM solution,” and mySAP Supply Chain Management. MySAP SCM has more than 20 new processes and over 30 process enhancements, including a new inventory collaboration hub, a Web-based offering to facilitate collaboration on one platform.

A new version mySAP HR is scheduled for this fall.

It was the first SAPPHIRE for Khalil Nasrallah from Montreal-based Bombardier who described the event as “a very good show, very high tech with lots of information.”

His Bombardier colleague John Bayouk seemed to appreciate the much more practical tenor of this year’s event compared to his first attendance in 2000. “There’s a big difference now. Now everyone is more practical and pragmatic. People don’t have 10 years to get ROI. It’s more low key now, like ‘here are five things to do to get it done.'”

Customer tip: find good integrator

SAPPHIRE 03 attendee Richard Wurtzel, director of IS&S Business Applications for GM Electro-Motive in LaGrange, Ill., has had responsibility for the SAP implementation at the GM Defense plant in London, Ont., prior to it being sold to General Dynamics. The London GM facility went live in January 2001 with SAP for its aftermarket business and financials. When Wurtzel became involved, it was an implementation that needed to be fixed, he recalled. “Users and management were not engaged to what they should have been. Now it is stable and works fine.”

Wurtzel brought in Chicago-based systems integrator Technology Solutions Company (TSC) who is now half-way through a three-year support contract, taking over for the initial implementation team. Wurtzel found TSC’s industry expertise in capital goods manufacturing enabled a strong partnership.

He stressed the importance of working with “an implementation partner who understands your business without taking a lot of time to absorb the information. Then they can interpret what the (SAP) system does to support it and not just guessing.” When selecting an implementation partner, he advises one should ask “do these people know the industry or just know the software?”

Secondly, he said, the implementation partner selection must take into account if they can work with senior management. They need to have the role of a trusted advisor who “will tell if something is dumb,” Wurtzel explained.

Event reflects multi-faceted company

As would be fitting for a company with more than 19,600 customers with over 62,000 installations in more than 120 countries, this year’s single international customer conference, SAPPHIRE 03, was a massive three-day event.

In addition to the four keynote addresses by SAP executives and guest speakers, seven featured partner presentations, 17 expert forums and 160 presentation sessions addressing 15 concurrent conference tracks, there were about 100 exhibitors and numerous demonstrations of SAP products such as the new NetWeaver.

SAP NetWeaver is described as the technical foundation for all SAP solutions, integrating rather than just connecting IT systems to shorten implementation time and hasten ROI. NetWeaver is based on open standards and technologies and is interoperable with both Microsoft .NET and IBM WebSphere/J2EE technologies and products. It comes with promises of improved employee productivity and employee/customer collaboration and greater access to enterprise systems information.

Product announcements at the event included mySAP Customer Relationship Management 4.0, billed as “the most comprehensive, industry-specific CRM solution,” and mySAP Supply Chain Management. MySAP SCM has more than 20 new processes and over 30 process enhancements, including a new inventory collaboration hub, a Web-based offering to facilitate collaboration on one platform.

A new version mySAP HR is scheduled for this fall.

It was the first SAPPHIRE for Khalil Nasrallah from Montreal-based Bombardier who described the event as “a very good show, very high tech with lots of information.”

His Bombardier colleague John Bayouk seemed to appreciate the much more practical tenor of this year’s event compared to his first attendance in 2000. “There’s a big difference now. Now everyone is more practical and pragmatic. People don’t have 10 years to get ROI. It’s more low key now, like ‘here are five things to do to get it done.'”



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