SAP German user group makes uncompromising demands

SAP's German speaking user group is far from happy. At its recent conference it set out four main areas of concern. these are something of a running sore.

DSAG, SAP's German user group is known for making its opinions and demands in a straightforward manner. They are not given to sugar coating complaints and demands which is as it should be by any user group.

Recently at its annual conference DSAG identified four main areas where it wants to see improvement. SAP customers generally will be familiar with at least some of the topics, which play well to issues regularly aired on these pages:

  1. Reliable road maps for planning ahead
  2. Technology: one server is enough
  3. SAP Business Suite 7: inconsistent GUI
  4. Support and license models without confusing pricelists

The first two topics got some SAP watchers a little flustered on the Twitterverse. One person describing the demands as 'making absolutely no sense.' Two others quickly agreed. the main bone of contention centers around whether it is wise let alone feasible to run production and test systems on a single box. I said that it is the job of customer representatives to ask the impossible in the hope that engineers will find solutions. These are challenges that SAP engineers usually enjoy. Surprisingly, no-one seemed to have initially thought through the potential for virtualised test and production systems. More broadly however, users are saying to SAP: 'help us bring down our environment cost.'

Another person talked to the complexity of systems customized over 30 years. While that is perfectly true, SAP knows it has made a rod for its own back. In recent years it has been steadily rationalizing the product portfolio but that hasn't stopped customers from being wary about enhancing what are sometimes brittle environments. SAP's answer has been to encourage use of Solution Manager. Until very recently, the number of well seasoned SAPpers capable of taking full advantage of SolMan has been tiny.

It is interesting to note that in recent weeks, Hasso Plattner Ventures took a stake in Panaya, a solution that helps identify and reduce risk for potential break fix candidates in upgrade situations. HPV is SAP co-founder Plattner's investment vehicle, often for SAP related solutions.

But even with this attention to the SAP environment, customers are aware that their environments are exposed to risk and they want SAP to come up with answers to that problem.

Despite SAP's statements to the contrary, this user group:

...think that SAP Business Suite 7 is too complex. What’s more, there’s no standard interface for SAP NetWeaver Business Client and the SAP GUI. Customers want solutions that are easy to use and value for money.

That does not surprise. Inside SAP Mentor discussions, there is plenty of talk about SAP UI but one has to wonder when SAP will, once again, make life easier for end users. Finally we come to that old chestnut - pricing and maintenance. The group said:

Users want needs-based and flexible maintenance with appropriate pricing structures – in other words, a mix of different support offerings. They should not be penalized financially for switching between the individual support services. This means that contracts need to be more flexible and tailored to each company’s needs...no customer wants a repeat of the situation whenSAP R/3 was replaced by mySAP ERP and then by SAP ERP. Such product switches should not involve purchasing new licenses.

This is a topic around which regular readers will be only too familiar. While SAP has in the past attempted to counter with arguments about value, it is clear that its efforts are falling on deaf ears. Fundamental issues around pricing are now at the point where customers are clearly annoyed. I know in my dealings that getting a price list is a nightmare. I'm not even sure that a single price list actually exists.

This contrasts with Oracle which, despite having a price book that would otherwise make an excellent coffee table addition, is at least out in the public domain. Most recently, SAP revamped its BOBJ price book - another tale of confusion is surely to unfold.

It is interesting to see DSAG asking for what I and colleagues prefer to call tiered maintenance. It is obvious that in the early stages of an implementation customers will need significant assistance and no-one argues it is unreasonable for SAP to charge a premium. But as customer deployments become more mature it makes no sense to have a 'one size fits all' maintenance price policy.

Like all other vendors that have become dependent upon maintenance fees, SAP faces the dilemma of satisfying customers while keeping its investors happy. I have long argued the two are not mutually exclusive but that investors will be far more upset if and when customers vote with their wallets. That's already happened with the rise of third party maintenance. Now it seems, the user groups are becoming more emboldened but it is exposing dilemmas for SAP:

Customers need to be given a better overview of the price models and only pay for the licenses that they actually use. Michael Kleinemeier, SAP’s managing director responsible for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, was reticent when it came to the question of deactivating individual licenses. He said it would be preferable to clarify such matter with customers directly.

Similar albeit nuanced conversations occur among Oracle, Lawson and Infor users so in this, SAP does not need to feel alone.

I can only see this situation leading to a stand off at some point. Cheaper, better SaaS solutions are already threatening around the edges. SAP is keenly aware of the risk presented by Workday, having already seen its customer base successfully attacked by Salesforce.com. Why it cannot respond rationally to these issues perplexes me. I guess it comes back to the Pavolov dog addiction to maintenance that seems to have infected enterprise solution vendor DNA. It's a myopic and ultimately self defeating position.

With more user group conferences scheduled around the upcoming TechEds and SAP UK&I UG, I will be testing broader sentiment. My sense is that where DSAG leads, others quickly follow. I don't see how SAP can keep a lid on these topics forever.

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