SAP Watch

June 1, 2012  2:35 PM

Are Business One customers ready to run on HANA?

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

SAP is betting that its Business One customers are eager to run the midsized ERP suite on its HANA in-memory platform when it becomes available later this year, a precursor to SAP eventually running the BusinessSuite on HANA. At least one Business One customer isn’t yet sold on the idea – although he’s listening.

Fremont, Calif.-based BigByte, is a tech support company that handles product repair and related services on things like optical disk drives and LCD panels for companies like Apple and Panasonic.

It’s COO, Mike Franklin said he considered getting in on SAP’s ramp-up program for running Business One on HANA, but had a number of concerns, from the cost to questions about how badly a company with $6 million in sales – but growing steadily — needs the extra transactional speed.

Putting his instance of Business One, which is now hosted by Virtustream, on HANA would require $50,000 for the hardware and licenses, Franklin said.  Not a ton of money, perhaps, Franklin said, but by no means cheap, either.

Franklin wondered if it was better to wait until adoption grows and prices fall.

“Our position at this point is that we’re running so smoothly, I don’t know if we want to invest into going to HANA yet, whereas over time I think it’s all going to transition to HANA anyways,” Franklin said.

If BigByte went to HANA right now, it would be on their nickel, Franklin said, as opposed to taking advantage of Virtustream’s ability to cut costs by hosting multiple customers on the same instance of Business One.

“Everybody has to go to HANA, or you have to go on your own,” Franklin said. “If I can get into it for a fifth of that, then okay, that makes sense. It makes a lot of sense.  But I need to spend my dollars on new equipment [for our repair lines].”

BigByte doesn’t have extensive reporting needs just yet, he said.  Most of its reports are customer driven and are done weekly or monthly. One report takes 45 minutes to run, which is enough to be a problem, if not a big one.

“The issue is the impact that 45 minutes has on the server and the database,” Franklin said “It’s not so much what we could do, because we could run those reports after hours, [but] you just drain a lot of resources, and you find yourself having to plan around running that report as opposed to running reports on demand.”

In the end, Franklin is holding steady on his decision not to make the move, given that HANA is just a little too expensive, and BigByte’s reporting needs just aren’t quite big enough.

Computer Technology Solutions, where Franklin previously worked as COO, is a different story, he said. CTS, which does $135 million in sales annually, would be a perfect fit for something like SAP BusinessOne on HANA given its size and operational requirements.

“We can survive without HANA, we don’t have to have it,” he said.  “CTS, I don’t think, can.”

May 16, 2012  6:50 PM

What happens when SAP delivers too much for too little?

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

David Kang learned one thing during his recent deployment of SAP software.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Kang said at the SAP SapphireNow conference in Orlando.

Kang is the chief financial officer for Landi Renzo US, the American subsidiary of the global company that engineers, installs, and services alternative fuel systems for automobiles so they can run on environmentally friendly fuels like natural gas.  Pretty cool stuff.

The Torrance, Calif.-based subsidiary deployed Business ByDesign in 2011 for a number of reasons, one being that it can now hook into the corporate office, which is running SAP ERP. Overall, Kang said if they had to make the decision all over again, they’d still stick with ByDesign, despite minor flaws like losing some minor report customizations in the upgrade process — something other ByDesign customers have also run into.

Even so, he wishes they’d done a few things differently, he said. But he wishes SAP had done things a little differently, too.

While SAP has gotten a reputation for often trying to upsell customers in order to get the biggest deal possible, here’s a case where SAP seems to have low balled a bid, which created a whole set of different challenges for the customer.

Kang explained that when SAP sold him the package, it pushed a package that included minimal help with deployment, as opposed to having SAP or a partner do it.

“The sales personnel that sold me the package made it as cost effective as possible. They blew the competition out of the water, so to speak,” Kang said. If he had known a little more about his options, he likely would have paid more to have SAP be more involved in the process.

“I was unfortunately never given that option when the SAP sales rep offered the contract,” Kang said.

Kang said he complained to implementation partner Grant Thornton about needing more help. Luckily, Grant Thornton stepped up, Kang said, providing more help than the project originally called for in order to help get it back on track.

At the same time, Kang said he asked for too much functionality, which he said was a mistake.  SAP obliged.

“When the sales person sat with me and asked me what my expectations are, what do I want, obviously I’m going to ask for the stars and want everything,” he said. “Kind of like when you buy a car, you want all the options.”

The sales rep released all the modules for Kang and his company.  But when it came to fine tuning the on-demand ERP, Kang realized what he had amounted to overkill.

It’s a good lesson for any customer, especially those that haven’t dealt with SAP before, and may not know what kinds of questions to ask.  As Kang put it, “I just didn’t know what I didn’t know at that time.”

May 14, 2012  7:58 PM

Sexy or not, here come new SAP mobile apps

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

ORLANDO, Fla. — SAP took the development of its Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) a step further today by unveiling a handful of new mobile applications at the kickoff of its annual SapphireNow conference.

Company officials said the new apps, developed by SAP and its business partners, are designed to help users in several areas, including human resources (HR), finance, sales, mobile commerce and sustainability.

More partner apps will be unveiled over the course of the conference from the vendors themselves, according to SAP. It’s all part of the business software giant’s plan to have partners develop and market the vast majority of SUP applications.

The new SAP apps may not be sexy, said Nicholas Brown, senior vice president of mobile strategy and market development, but they address some of the basic needs companies have when it comes to mobility.

“The beauty of mobile is that you can start simple,” Brown said. Companies can then expand on that basic functionality over time, based on the user feedback.

Many of the applications are optimized for mobile tablets, which allow users to view a greater amount of information at one time as compared with smartphones, Brown said.

SAP also announced updated versions of existing applications now compatible with the Android and Blackberry platforms.

The new applications announced today include the following:

Work processes:

SAP Travel Expense Report:  Allows users to create expense reports from a mobile device;

SAP Learning Assistant: Lets customers access and download existing SAP e-learning functionality from their iPad tablets and allows them to manage course bookings, schedules and training deadlines;

SAP Customer Briefing: Pulls together information from a businesses’ existing CRM data and combines it with information from outside sources to help sales staff in the field prepare for client meetings; and

SAP EHS Safety Issue: Allows users to log issues from their mobile phones, including supporting information like photos and video, and send all of the data to a safety manager.

Banking and Finance:

Sybase 365 Mobile Banking: Lets subscribers to pay, buy, bank and remit money using a mobile device;

Sybase 365 Mobile Payments: Allows users already employing a “mobile wallet” application to pay bills and loans make domestic peer-to-peer payments to known and unknown beneficiaries, as well as remit money and pay for goods and services; and

Sybase 365 Mobile Money: Enables financial institutions to offer a “branchless” financial inclusion service so they can offer financial products to customers.

Retail and the insurance industry:

SAP In-Store Product Lookup: Lets store employees locate the availability of an item with current inventory information, all in near real time and from the store floor and

SAP Policy Holder Lookup: Gives insurance agents the ability to access policy and claim details of any policyholder.

New apps from ecosystem partners include:

Go Sell: Touted by maker Advent Global Solutions as a comprehensive sales force automation app that lets sales reps log calls, respond to leads and access a range of dashboards and other information across the order-to-cash process and

Project Manager: Created for workers who need to manage projects outside of the office, from updating schedules and other information to reviewing work-breakdown structures and assigning tasks to team members.

Updated existing SAP mobile applications:

SAP Customer Financial Fact Sheet: Lets sales staff check customers’ financial status — now available on the iPad and devices using the Android 2.2 or later operating system;

SAP Payment Approvals: Now available on Android 2.2 or later;

SAP Electronic Medical Record: Gives doctors the ability to review information at a patient’s bedside; now available on Android 3.2 devices and iPhone devices; and

SAP GRC Policy Survey: Allows employees to receive, complete and submit governance, risk and compliance policy surveys; now compatible with the iPad.

May 14, 2012  3:12 PM

What’s wrong with SAP BusinessObjects support?

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

A new survey by the U.K. and Ireland SAP User Group finds some mixed news for SAP.  The adoption rate for SAP BusinessObjects is on the rise – but a third of the entire user base isn’t happy with the technical support it’s getting.

In a survey of roughly 100 SAP BusinessObjects customers, nearly a third of all customers said they thought that the technical support provided to them wasn’t as great as what they get from other vendors.

When asked what specifically did they have problems with, the biggest complaints were about the quality of SAP’s online support. Roughly 57% said they had problems with using SAP’s Service Market Place support portal.  A little over 60% said they had problems finding the support information they need.

Respondents cited other areas as well, though not the same levels of frustration. Roughly 11% said they were dissatisfied with the technical expertise of the support staff. Nearly 10% said they were unhappy with quality of engineer-based support.

While the survey didn’t get into what kinds of issues users needed help with, Craig Dale, chief executive, UK & Ireland SAP User Group, said at least some of the dissatisfaction may be coming from long-time BusinessObjects customers.

“One of the things that we’ve found is a common thread from the BusinessObjects user group, that they feel there’s been deterioration in the knowledge base that was there before,” Dale said.

The group has set up a working group to collaborate with SAP on ways BOBJ support can be improved, especially when it comes to the online portal.

“We’re working with SAP to ensure that knowledge base is back up to where it was before, and where it was perceived to be by BusinessObjects customers,” Dale said.

The good news for SAP is that the survey found an increase in the number of companies using SAP BusinessObjects. Roughly 22% of respondents said they were using the analytics software, compared with 7% about a year ago.

Dale said the increase is being driven by interest in BusinessObject 4.0, as well as by SAP shops that are upgrading their ERP system to ECC 6.0, which the survey also found is continuing to grow.

“The latest version of SAP has more integration with the BusinessObjects product set,” Dale said. Customers are looking at the latest technology, they’re looking at what’s out there for the whole landscape, and not the core suite.”

May 11, 2012  6:41 PM

Some BI questions for SAP SapphireNow

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

We’ll no doubt have a clearer idea of where SAP is taking its customers on a range of fronts by the time Van Halen hits the stage at the conclusion of this year’s SapphireNow conference, from what mobile apps are in the offing, and where SAP is going with its cloud strategy, and a range of other issues.

But what might we learn about SAP’ business intelligence portfolio, specifically? I recently spoke with Gartner analyst Rita Sallam about some of the questions she’s looking to answer in Orlando.

Is SAP’s new predictive analytics application easy to use?

In the past, SAP customers wanting to use predictive analytics had to look to other vendors. That’s changed now with the introduction of SAP BusinessObjects Predictive Analysis, now in ramp-up.

Sallam said she’s interested in finding out more about the application, including how easy the application’s user interface is for business analysts using the software.

“Predictive analytics is that next wave where all organizations want to do more advanced analysis, but the limitation has been the [difficulty in using some of those applications],” she said. “One of the things we’re seeing vendors do is encapsulate some of that complexity into easier to use tools and applications.”  

How much tighter is the integration between SAP BusinessObjects and Business Warehouse?

Although BusinessObjects 4.0 has been out for a while, Sallam said she’s looking to hear from customers, specifically on SAP’s claims of tighter integration between BOBJ and SAP Business Warehouse (BW).

“One of the examples of that [tighter integration] is that SAP BusinessObjects tool sets can access the BEx (Business Explorer) API within BW directly,” Sallam said.

“Instead of having to create a universe within Web intelligence, to access a BEx query, which you had to do before, you can now actually expose the BEx query in the BusinessObjects query panel, without having to create that extra layer of metadata,” she said. “It’s a big potential improvement.”

What do customers who have migrated to BOBJ 4.0 have to say?

While customer feedback from companies that have migrated to BOBJ has largely been positive, Sallam said, there have been some accounts of customers having trouble with migrating the security provisions to the newer version.

“Some of those challenges are being addressed in Service Pack Three,” Sallam said. “I’d love to get with customers who have been in ramp up with Service Pack Three to see if in fact it’s addressed some of those challenges.”

How is Explorer 4.0 being received?

The new version of Business Explorer includes improvements in some user-defined calculations that add some basic dashboarding capabilities, according to Sallam.

“I’m interested in hearing how customers have received those capabilities, particularly if they’ve compared them to other data discovery tools, and how well they feel Explorer stacks up, given the enhancements,” she said.

Will the HANA picture get clearer?

Like a lot of people heading to Orlando, Sallam said she hopes to hear more about the HANA in-memory platform, how it’s being used by customers and what they’re getting out of the technology. And while it’s early, Sallam said she hoped to learn more about SAP customers running BW on HANA.

Either way, Sallam said she expects SAP to provide more details.  Just how much remains to be seen.

“I expect SAP will provide a lot of HANA customers because it’s just a huge area of focus for them,” Sallam said.  “I am hoping to see more mature, larger deployments, beyond proof-of-concept deployments.”

May 3, 2012  6:24 PM

SAP and Oracle get bloody over HANA and in-memory

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

Who needs pay-per-view boxing when you can watch two of the world’s largest tech companies hold their own enterprise software version of Fight Club, with millions of dollars in future sales at stake?

SAP, which has typically jabbed Oracle not by name but with thinly-veiled references in the past, has decided to go toe-to-toe with Oracle over its claims about the cost and validity of SAP’s HANA in-memory database platform.

“Traditionally at SAP, we’ve taken the high road when it comes to responding to these claims, as nearly 100% of what Oracle says is inaccurate and designed with one thing in mind: To protect their established revenue base,” writes Steve Lucas, who oversees business analytics and database technologies at SAP, in a column addressing Oracle’s criticisms.

The most recent dust-up began, of course, with SAP’s assertion that it was looking to become the world’s number two database provider on the strength of its HANA and Sybase database products, besting other database providers like IBM and Microsoft in the process, and then breathing down Oracle’s neck.

Oracle, which has long since trivialized SAP’s in-memory plans (or tried to give the impression that it didn’t care), is now pushing back hard, writes InformationWeek’s Doug Henschen:

Executive VP Thomas Kurian took the slams a level deeper on Friday with a one-hour Webinar clearly intended to sow seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of would-be Hana customers. The session was billed as an Exalytics seminar, but each point set up a contrast with Hana. Kurian claimed, among other things, that SAP’s product costs five times to 50 times more than Exalytics and that it doesn’t support SQL (relational) or MDX (multidimensional) query languages, requiring apps to be rewritten to run on the new database.

That led to the near all-out counter response from SAP that included Lucas and SAP chief technical officer Vishal Sikka, writes PCWorld’s Chris Kanaracus. Sikka disputed Oracle’s claims that Exalytics was cheaper, and that HANA came up short on a number of points:

“These guys still keep saying HANA doesn’t scale out,” Sikka said. “That means one of two possibilities. They don’t want to believe it, or that they are just lying.”

Oracle also contended in the presentation that HANA doesn’t support unstructured data. This is inconceivable given that HANA is partly based on SAP’s TREX technology, an unstructured text search engine, Sikka said.

But as Dennis Howlett writes, the Exalytics vs. HANA in-memory database comparison isn’t exactly apples-to-apples:

HANA is not about the database at all. The database merely serves as one part of a much more sophisticated model that SAP is developing. It centers around the new kinds of application that would not be possible without HANA. HANA is therefore much more than a technical database, it is an entire stack designed to do two (basic) things:

1.                   Chop out layers of complexity in enterprise application landscapes

2.                   Serve as the foundation for any number of applications that developers can dream up.

When viewed in this way, SAP represents a far more potent threat to both Oracle and IBM than when seen only through the eyes of the database argument, albeit the database element must be of genuine concern to its competitors.

SAP will no doubt use the upcoming Sapphire conference to once again try and knock down Oracle’s charges. Will all this back and forth clarify SAP’s claims about HANA, or confuse customers that may already be confused to begin with?

April 26, 2012  6:37 PM

SAP and the art of dashboarding Zen

Jacquelyn Howard Jacquelyn Howard Profile: Jacquelyn Howard

By the end of 2012, SAP plans to deliver Zen, the code name for the new addition to the SAP BusinessObjects Analysis suite that allows users to create HTML5 apps and dashboards. Although Xcelsius (aka SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards), has mobile dashboard functionality, it requires Flash, leaving out iPad users, since the Apple iOS does not support Flash. HTML5 works across a wider variety of mobile devices.

In the recent “Most Important Xcelsius Webinar of 2012,” Mico Yuk of Everything Xcelsius noted that 82% of attendees were not familiar with SAP Zen, so here are some key facts:

  • SAP recommends that current Xcelsius users stick with Xcelsius, but suggests that those using Web Application Designer (WebAD) move to Zen. That said, SAP is not setting an end-of-life date for BEx just yet.
  • SAP plans to eventually merge Xcelsius and Zen, according to the roadmap SAP published last week. This is interesting, considering Xcelsius is geared towards business users who want to create dashboards and Zen appears to be aimed more at developers (SAP uses the term “architecture” for SAP Zen in its Statement of Direction).
  • By the end of 2012, mobile users should be able to access Xcelsius and Zen through an SAP BusinessObjects mobile app

Although SAP discussed SAP Zen (then as SAP BusinessObjects Analysis Edition for Application Design – a decidedly un-Zen-like name) back in October 2011, it recently received some new attention on Twitter. If you are attending SAPPHIRE and want to see Zen in action, you can get a peek at Zen demo pods. I plan to be there to take a peek. Will you?

April 18, 2012  7:08 PM

Are SAP customers in for a hard(er) sell?

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

SAP is once again dealing with a high-level executive departure just before its marquee SapphireNow conference coming up next month in Orlando. This time, the news may highlight that SAP’s recent growth streak may be coming at the cost of customer satisfaction.

While it was widely assumed that SAP North America President Bob Courteau lost his job due to missing a quarterly company sales goal by 11%, a new report provides us some clues as to what went on at SAP, and that Courteau was happy to leave, at least according to one unnamed source.  As Business Insider writes, sales at SAP North America has been a stressful place to work these days under co-CEO Bill McDermott’s direction:

“It was mutual,” the source said. “Bob’s a sharp guy. This happened after a quarter. We missed our North American number by 11%. That’s the level of pressure we’re talking about. It’s such a short-term sales culture … gotta hit the number, gotta hit the number. We have so many people selling right now. The pressure to sell there is insane!”

SAP sales people are well compensated, so employees are not necessarily unhappy. But the constant message to grow revenue every quarter is starting to take its toll, particularly on customer relationships.

“The short-term focus on selling is pissing customers off. There’s so much pressure on them to buy and there just aren’t the big gigantic deals — that’s not happening any more,” the SAP insider said.

The article goes on to say that big Fortune 500 companies are being pressured to buy from SAP now, and focus on short-term goals, instead of bigger, longer-term deployments which take more time to put in place.

That’s pretty interesting stuff, if all true.  But it’s not the first time SAP has been accused of hardball selling tactics.  Last year Forrester analyst Duncan Jones wrote about how SAP’s focus on meeting ambitious financial targets forces aggressive sales tactics, which then angers its customers and works against the customers’ long-term interests.

“[SAP sales teams are] really driven by the sales incentives which focus on revenue recognition rather than customer value,” Jones told me.

So maybe the problem is getting bad – and about to get worse.  Last week, SAP announced its drive to become the second biggest database vendor on the market. While others are skeptical as to whether SAP can make that happen or not, you can bet that ambitious goal is already trickling down to its sales teams.

April 12, 2012  9:14 PM

SAP acquisition of Syclo needed to meet mobile app plans

Jacquelyn Howard Jacquelyn Howard Profile: Jacquelyn Howard

SAP’s announcement this week it is acquiring Syclo is the latest in a series of moves to build up its mobile application strategy. Syclo, which focuses on industries such as utilities, oil & gas, life sciences and manufacturing, has previously partnered with SAP to create mobile apps on the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) with its Syclo SMART Mobile Suite for SAP Systems.

Recent studies confirm that more and more companies are moving towards mobile applications. According to a 2011 Gartner report, mobile application development projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1 by 2015. In its “2012 Small and Medium Businesses Mobile Solutions Study,” the SMB Group noted that SMBs expect to spend 36% more in mobile applications.

The 2011 reader survey revealed that operational efficiency is the main driver for adopting mobile technology and at least two-thirds are interested in deploying mobile applications. The SMB Group study also noted that operational efficiency concerns were the main drivers, with working away from the office and better access to people and information for decision making revealed as the main benefits of mobile applications for SMBs.

The 2011 survey indicates operational efficiency is the main driver for adopting mobile technology.

The Syclo acquisition makes sense for SAP because of its plans to increase the number of mobile apps it offers to enterprises – and elsewhere. As part of its push to perhaps gain more customers, SAP has been dabbling in other areas, such as the collaboration app StreamWork (which doesn’t require the user to have an SAP system) and Recalls Plus, a consumer-level app targeted at new parents that alerts them to recalls on children’s products. To create all the apps it – and its customers – would like, it’s going to need help. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other acquisitions and partnerships in the next year or so.

March 29, 2012  1:23 PM

Gartner Magic Quadrant: SAP again a leader in CPM software

Todd Morrison Todd Morrison Profile: Todd Morrison

This year’s Gartner Magic Quadrant report named SAP as a leader in the corporate performance management (CPM) software market along with IBM and perennial adversary Oracle.

Overall, Gartner gives SAP high marks for executing on its portfolio roadmap, delivering promised integrations with the assorted CPM applications now in its portfolio, as well as integration with SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse and SAP BusinessObjects business intelligence. The report also applauds SAP for continuing to integrate its CPM and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) applications.

SAP also has a series of industry-specific planning applications for the public sector, healthcare and banking. Gartner notes that SAP is planning on a HANA-enabled version of SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation (BPC).

What about the downsides?

Despite the credit Gartner says SAP deserves for executing on its roadmap on a number of fronts, a lot of users are still confused about the role that some of SAP’s acquired products are going to play going forward, including the SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) applications. Some of these questions have become clearer with the new version of EPM 10, according to Gartner.  EPM has also helped integrate these different applications under one consistent UI.

The report adds many customers are disappointed that SAP is moving away from its strategic enterprise management (SEM) software, an older application that SAP BPC essentially replaces, even though SAP has committed to supporting the application until 2020.

Satisfaction over support and maintenance for SAP CPM is also weak, according to the report, especially for initial and add-on implementation consulting and support.

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