by Todd Morrison, News and Features Editor
This past week I caught Ray Wang’s webinar about optimizing SAP systems and reducing cost through things like proper test data management. Getting a handle on those systems is increasingly important due to the explosion in the size and scope of today’s test environments, Wang noted.
The aim of the IBM-sponsored webinar was to tout IBM’s Infosphere Optim application for test data management, so it’s no huge surprise that third-party vendors like IBM were touted as having advantages over SAP’s Solution Manager.
A lot of users feel compelled to use Solution Manager because it’s free, Wang said, and that’s a mistake. Third-party applications are typically easier to customize and integrate, and can be a better overall approach given that companies need test data management for both SAP and non-SAP systems.
“Go ahead, use it, and see what you like about it,” Wang said. “I guarantee in six months you’ll be using something else.”
Companies can have it both ways, according to Tony De Thomasis, an SAP Mentor who specializes in Solution Manager.
As SAP itself has pointed out, Solution Manager 7.1 includes tighter integration with third-party testing tools. That gives customers the chance to use Solution Manager testing capabilities, or use third party tools to address testing functionality gaps in Solution Manager, De Thomasis told me.
“Those customers with basic requirements can go with standard Solution Manager,” De Thomasis said. “Customers with existing alliances with third party solutions or more sophisticated requirements can integrate best of breed tools into the IT solution.”
It’s an interesting debate. What are you using at your company for test data management? Is Solution Manager working for you – or have you gone with a third-party tool – or do you use both?
I recently decided that SAP’s updated StreamWork app for the iPhone was just the kick I needed to try out SAP’s collaborative platform again. Yes, my name is Jackie and I am an app addict, with a side habit of organizing (just ask my local Container Store).
I had tried StreamWork when it was in beta, then known as 12sprints. My manager at the time thought it would be a good way to collaborate on articles. However, we found that we kept working around the system and soon abandoned it.
The 2011 version is much slicker than the beta I tried, so I’ve roped a couple of my colleagues into testing it out on a survey project we have due this summer. In the past, we used Google Docs and wrote comments in the document. This time, we’ll see how we do with places for comments, assigned tasks and timelines. SAP StreamWork integrates with Google Docs (as well as Evernote, Scribd, WebEx and email), so we shouldn’t be too far out of our element.
In the meantime, I asked several folks in the SAP community what they think about StreamWork. The majority of people I asked weren’t too familiar with it:
- “I’ve never heard of StreamWork”
- “I haven’t actually had a chance to use StreamWork at all yet. I do plan to, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
- “I don’t have any knowledge of the product.”
However, Jim Brogden, a senior consultant with Daugherty Business Solutions, had good things to say.
“My experience with StreamWork was behind the scenes last year during Reportapalooza. We used it to collaborate on ideas around Xcelsius, Crystal Reports, and Interactive Analysis (WebI). It served as a forum for us to communicate effectively while working in different time zones and with different scheduling conflicts.”
David Fox, a principal consultant at Claricent Inc., echoed the benefits of online collaboration.
“There are common threads … on why someone would want to use an online collaboration tool. The big selling point to me is the online presence feature. Regardless of the technology being able to ‘see’ across the population who is available in a distributed environment is of tremendous benefit.”
Fox went on to say that “as in a real-world physical office, ideally, a ‘space’ needs to be able to offer three things in balance
- 1. Privacy
- 2. Permission
- 3. Proximity
Even in the virtual world, folks need the ability to discuss freely in an ‘alcove’ or connect with someone in open communication.”
We’ll see how this initial project goes for the SearchSAP.com team. Right now we’re using the free basic version, which allows each user five activities, 250 MB of storage (for sharing docs) and the ability to save activities for one year. Other plans include a professional version for $9/month per user (100 activities, 5 GB storage, and two-year storage of activities) and an enterprise version ($16/month per user (200 activities, 10 GB storage and three-year storage of activities).
Have you tried SAP StreamWork? If so, what did you think? If you are interested, SAP has a case study with the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers up on the StreamWork blog that has screenshots from the desktop and iPhone app versions.
WL Plastics and Virtual Graffiti are two companies that started in similar spots with similar problems but ended up in different places.
For years, both used QuickBooks for their back office functions until it creaked so badly they had to find something that would accommodate their growth. For WL Plastics, a Texas-based manufacturer of polyethylene pipe, that time came when the company had to do a significant amount of work in Excel spreadsheets outside of QuickBooks. That created a lot of problems with data consistency, according to Neil Briggs, WL Plastic’s CFO.
Outgrowing QuickBooks brought up different issues for Virtual Graffiti, a California-based provider of software applications and consulting services that specializes in network security.
Although QuickBooks allows roughly 25 users on the system, the system began slowing down to a point where it was hard to get anything done with 20 users, according to Hillel Sackstein, Virtual Graffiti’s president.
“It was hardly usable,” he said.
Virtual Graffiti needed something that could be extended and modified to meet the demands of the company, which grew 30% over last year and now brings in over $23 million in revenue.
But where WL Plastics chose Business ByDesign because it comes closest to matching the functionality of the Business Suite in an on-demand environment, Sackstein went with the on-premises Business One application for small to medium sized businesses because he felt it was more flexible.
“I have previous experience using the NetSuite product and found that it was extremely limiting when it comes to integration and customization,” Sackstein said. Business ByDesign had the same kind of issues, he concluded.
SAP contends that it’s no longer just for large enterprises anymore. Now that SAP can claim they have a variety of applications that cater to the SMB market, each with a different set of advantages and benefits that businesses are responding to, is the claim finally valid?
At the recent Sapphire Now conference I met Mike O’Dell, a man with story to tell, about how he was saving money on IT by sharing his staff with other companies.
O’Dell is the CIO for Pacific Coast Companies, Inc., which makes and sells a range of home building products.
As I wrote earlier this week, O’Dell “shares” his SAP IT resources with other companies that have the same kind of environments – but which aren’t competitors of his -through a kind of informal “co-op” arrangement. Pacific Coast lets the companies use his IT staff at about 25% less than they’d typically have to pay a consulting firm, and Pacific Coast in turn saves money. Both sides win.
Additional cost savings come from Pacific Coast only working on an “as-needed” basis, even if comes down to thirty minutes during the day on a particular project.
Despite the success of the program so far, O’Dell is looking for more of a real co-op, in which companies are able to share resources interchangeably and outside consultants are unnecessary. He’s getting there, as he recently began helping one company, Idaho-based Woodgrain Millwork, which not only needs Pacific Coast’s SAP expertise, but has some resources around virtualization and VMWare that Pacific Coast wants.
When I spoke to O’Dell, he talked a lot about helping companies out with Basis support, routine SAP kind of stuff, as well as helping share his non-SAP IT staff around things like SharePoint.
But O’Dell was only telling part of the story.
Since I’ve been covering SAP, executives have told anyone who would listen about their focus on listening to their customers when developing software (which implies that wasn’t always the case).
How well is SAP listening once the software is released?
SAP insists it is putting its money where its mouth is with a new program aimed at making sure that customers are getting the kinds of enhancements and improvements they want and need.
In the past, user groups would come up with suggestions, do the work of coming up with businesses cases around them and then submit them to SAP via a special portal. And then wait.
“We would cross our fingers and hope that it would get accepted. Sometimes it would just disappear into a black hole,” Craig Dale, chief executive of the UK and Ireland SAP user group told me. “Nobody knew what was going on with it, we never got any feedback.”
Occasionally SAP would move forward with an enhancement, which they’d deliver between 18 months and three years later, Dale said. “Both [sides] recognized that it wasn’t cutting it.”
The new program with SAP — which includes the UK and Ireland user group as well as user groups from Holland, Germany and the U.S. — attempts to change that.
While SAP was successful in persuading at least some Sapphire attendees that HANA is well on its way to becoming one piece of technology they can’t do without, there were more than a few that still aren’t totally convinced, despite all the videotaped testimonials shown onstage.
I had a chat with Bruce Bothwell, the CIO for the athletic footwear and apparel company K-Swiss, who shared his thoughts on HANA. He said that the speed of HANA and its ability to manage large reams of data are only part of the picture. Like with any data set, he said, the real trick is to know what’s “meaningful and actionable.” “You’d be amazed how few people know what to look for,” he said.
At K-Swiss, he’s being challenged for better analysis – and not just another tool to do it.
Others were also looking for more details, period, beyond the numerous – but brief – testimonials from companies around the world that were using HANA. “The HANA information pretty much seems to be a re-labeling of what was already done,” one attendee said.
SAP did a great job of showing that companies are using in-memory in a variety of ways, and that it’s here for real – which is a pretty large step forward from last year’s Sapphire when SAP first announced HANA was coming. But what SAP has to do now is a better job of laying out the specifics of how in-memory works for the average company, and how it makes them smarter – not merely faster.
At the SAP Sapphire Now conference, I had the chance to listen to a talk by Dr. Andrew McAfee, from MIT’s center for digital business, and Paul Nannetti from Capgemini, both of whom talked about the power of analytics – demonstrating it with some pretty interesting examples in the world of sports.
McAffee (no relation to the security folks) showed an illustration indicating what Red Sox legend Ted Williams thought his lifetime batting average would be if he had only seen pitches to specific areas in the strike zone over the duration of his career.
As you can imagine, Williams had pegged points right in the sweetest parts of the strike zone at .400, while guesstimating that only getting pitches to the farther reaches of the strike zone might have meant lifetime averages in the .280 range.
Drawing upon a more European example, Nannetti spoke about how the Arsenal professional football (soccer) team in England had determined that it was struggling because one of its players was playing a tad too far forward. Passes to the player were taking a fraction longer to get to him, making it easier for opponents to intercept the ball. That changed once the player began hanging back more.
“Overnight, the performance of the team picked up again,” Nannetti said.
What are the lessons here?
Most companies buy licenses they don’t end up using. The question is, how much?
Down here in Orlando for the Sapphire Now conference, I met Paul Peters, the enterprise architect for the Tesoro corporation, an oil refiner with a number of retail gas stations in the U.S.
Months ago, Tesoro went through a software license audit. There were a significant number of unused SAP licenses – though Peters declined to say how many. “We’d own it, and people would not even know that we own it,” he said.
Tesoro then mapped its needs against SAP’s applications, and roadmaps.
Tesoro’s contract with SAP allowed it to trade unused licenses it wasn’t using, like Duet, for software it could use, such as more BusinessObjects, and Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM), for example. And since the company is now about 10 years, old, Tesoro also decided to opt for more Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) licenses for its archiving operations.
Peters calls the whole exercise a much-needed “rebalancing” of the company’s technology assets that leaves it better prepared to do business.
“The asset base stays about the same,” Peters said, “but the mix is different.”
NetSuite announced the winners of its second-annual Hairball awards this past week, which it gives to customers that have “untangled” themselves from unwieldy on-premises ERP applications, and implemented NetSuite instead.
I’d hate to see what a Hairball trophy looks like.
What was interesting that none of the newly-liberated “winners” are former SAP customers – unlike last year, when NetSuite announced they had convinced RedBuilt, a manufacturer of wood products to switch their ERP financials from SAP. NetSuite claimed then that it was the largest company yet to leave SAP for the NetSuite cloud. Needless to say, RedBuilt won the award.
This year, however, SAP was only mentioned in conjunction with Olympus NDT, a maker of electronic testing equipment, which had been nominated in the “best two-tier ERP” category. Olympus had deployed NetSuite, in conjunction with SAP at the corporate level. Olympus came up short, only getting a nomination, and not an actual Hairball itself.
It’s not exactly a dagger through the heart for SAP, though I’m sure it smarts a bit not to have been able to convince Olympus to have run Business ByDesign at the subsidiary level. Will SAP show up again in the same category next year? Or will SAP’s efforts in the two-tier field keep them out of NetSuite’s awards ceremony?
After a dramatic morning keynote, which involved actor Gabriel Byrne narrating the evolution of technology with an eye towards the future, I sat down with Ryan Goodman, CEO of Centigon Solutions. You may also know him from his blog and his work with Xcelsius Gurus.
Goodman is a former BusinessObjects employee who left to start Centigon, which offers location intelligence geographic data visualization applications that companies can use with SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (aka Xcelsius).
During our chat, Goodman noted a change that’s occurring in the marketplace regarding how both vendors and customers view dashboards. “For the first five years, vendors were telling customers what the dashboards were,” said Goodman. “Now customers are changing and telling vendors what they want.”
One of the main issues with this change is that communication is often lacking between the IT developers who create the dashboards and the business side who uses them. “Too many layers of abstractions between the stakeholders and developers cause dashboard projects to fail,” said Goodman. “Typically, companies treat dashboarding requirements like reporting requirements, but a dashboard requires closer collaboration between IT and business.”
As a result, he and Mico Yuk, Director, Sales and Business Development at Benchmarkers Business Intelligence, created dashboard methodologies to help companies overcome such pitfalls. They then “shared war stories” and created a list of seven steps to help companies successfully create dashboards with SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards.
If you are at SAPPHIRE NOW, you can catch Yuk’s and Goodman’s session “Xcelsius Gurus Dashboard Methodology 101 7 Proven Steps to successfully developing your SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard,” on Tuesday from 3:00 – 4:00 in room S322. For those not able to attend SAPPHIRE NOW, Goodman hinted that he and Yuk might pull together a version of the session for an Xcelsius Gurus webinar.