Knowledge, Networking, and Influence

Feature Article | May 22, 2009 by Sarah Kellman

Tonnie van der Horst (Chairman, VNSG) and Bea Logtenberg (Director, VNSG) (Photo: VNSG Congress, Frank van Dam Fotografie)

About VNSG

Formed in 1988, VNSG (Vereniging Nederlandstalige SAP Gebruikers) is the world’s oldest SAP user group and the platform for SAP users in the Netherlands and Flanders, Belgium. With more than 900 affiliated organizations (companies, governments, and SAP service providers), VNSG has proportionally the largest member base of any SAP user group worldwide.

How does VNSG cooperate with other user groups worldwide?

TvdH: I think it’s very important that we have the SUGEN community (SAP User Group Executive Network). Here the boards of user groups have conference calls and physical meetings multiple times a year to discuss important issues and identify areas for improvement within the SAP space. We review priorities and identify focus areas in order to get global alignment. There are many subjects that need to be taken to a global level to understand what the best routes forward are. And it’s also important to get global feedback that we can share with SAP.

BL: We try within VNSG to influence SAP. Three things are very important for us: knowledge, networking, and influence. Knowledge sharing and networking are perfect within VNSG, but the ability to influence was historically quite difficult because the Netherlands is such a small country. We tried to connect with the Germans and the Americans to look at their programs and see how we could participate, but that was very difficult without a structure. Now with SUGEN in place, we see that we can cooperate.

VNSG has close to 90% of Dutch large enterprise customers as members. How did you pull that off?

BL: A key factor was that SAP in the Netherlands saw from the beginning the power of a user group and supported us actively. They always gave us the names of new customers so we could contact them directly and ask them to join VNSG. And we always offered the first year of membership for free, so there was no threshold to participate. SAP also actively promoted these customers in their marketing efforts in the Netherlands.

What is the status of BONGO, the former Business Objects user group?

BL: The board members of BONGO are now active within the VNSG, and BONGO officially doesn’t exist anymore.

TvdH: It will actually change from a user group into a VNSG focus group, and on May 28 we will jointly hold a formal kickoff. From that point on, we’ll be able to get this focus group up and running just like the 29 other VNSG focus groups.

What role did VNSG play in the development of the KPIs (key performance indicators) for SAP Enterprise Support?

TvdH: Shortly after SAP’s announcement about Enterprise Support, we conducted a survey here in the Netherlands to find out what customers thought of it. That survey was later replicated all over the world. Through SUGEN, we were able to provide a global picture of the feedback – which showed clearly that customers didn’t really understand what Enterprise Support was or where it could possibly add value. To address that, we created an Enterprise Support charter within the SUGEN community, which was essentially an agreement with SAP to work jointly on the subject. After discussions in Palo Alto with Léo Apotheker, we concluded that if you really want to have a sensible view on the value of Enterprise Support, you need KPIs. Once we agreed to put in KPIs, VNSG participated in various activities to identify sensible KPIs and to establish a framework linked to things you can really observe – at a customer’s site, for example – so we’d have tangible feedback. And last but not least, we managed the related pricing discussion with SAP on behalf of SUGEN.

We believe we now have a framework in place that contains the right elements: KPIs, a benchmarking program, and a new conditional pricing scheme. It’s still quite complicated, but we expect that in time we’ll be able to see if the KPIs improve and what SAP’s contribution to that improvement was. It’s a challenging task. There has never been a user community or a software vendor who have had that type of dialog with each another. So we are in uncharted territory.

Bea, you will retire soon as director of VNSG after serving in the role for more than five years. Can you share some highlights from this period?

BL: That’s not easy, because there are so many! We were able to set up a truly professional and independent organization, so now the operational tasks are handled by the VNSG office rather than by the VNSG board itself. And due to the professional nature of our organization, we are able to participate in the full range of international activities. During this time we also established a successful SAP Business One community that boasts almost 300 members, and we began publishing a highly appreciated quarterly magazine. And I’m very pleased that with the international SUGEN initiative in place, we now have a platform to cooperate internationally because that was the element that was missing.

SUGEN KPI Index

SUGEN KPI Index is a broad initiative from the SAP User Group Executive Network to measure the success of SAP Enterprise Support services. A benchmarking programm will track previously performance indicators to measure how they derive vaule from SAP Enterprise Support.

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