Open Dialog Moves Both Sides Forward

Stefan Kneis
Stefan Kneis

How has the relationship between SAP and ASUG developed in the past years, and what are its special characteristics today?

Kneis: The relationship has developed very positively, thanks to the contributions of both organizations. I’d like to use the newly developed influence model as an example. It offers ASUG and its members options for becoming involved with SAP in the development of future solutions.

In regard to the success of SAP in the North American market, I think it was important that we speak with our customers about further developments early on. We must make sure that our product strategy is oriented to the needs of the market. That’s why it’s so important to collaborate proactively with ASUG, which why we involve customers in the planning and design of new solutions very early. We don’t want to wait for feedback that comes in only after the solution has gone into production.
I’m especially proud of the strategic partnership relationship that we’ve built with ASUG in the past years. We communicate with each other often and always support the strategic goals of each partner.

What do you think is the primary element of building a relationship of trust between SAP and its users?

Kneis: In my view, it is first a well-founded understanding of our customer’s business processes and of the corresponding SAP solutions. For this reason, we regularly work closely with the product management teams in our development groups to incorporate customer input from ASUG. It’s exactly this kind of first-hand, expert knowledge that ASUG members prize so much when speaking with SAP. The readiness to communicate with each other frequently is another precondition. Customers want to be taken seriously, especially because most enter into a long-term relationship with SAP. Accordingly, they also expect that the SAP solutions already established in the market will continue to be developed. This does not mean that every suggestion and idea can always be implemented directly, but it’s important that we communicate our feedback in a timely manner. Ultimately, all these points support our goal of acting as a trusted advisor to our customers.

What does your personal role look like?

Kneis: I am in constant communication with the president, the board of directors, and ASUG Headquarters staff, which is responsible for executing all ASUG programs. We coordinate our priorities and initiate new projects. The Liaison Team thus coordinates collaboration between individual ASUG committees and various SAP organizations. Because I have been personally involved in ASUG’s strategic planning, I have an opportunity to help design its future priorities and coordinate them with plans at SAP. This approach ensures that we work together toward one goal: creating added value for ASUG and for our customers.

What are the priorities of ASUG, for example?

Kneis: A central concern of the ASUG Board of Directors is to ensure the further growth of the organization and to tailor its priorities to the needs of its members. Over the years, many companies have reached a high level of implementation of SAP products and are looking for ways to derive even more benefit from their solutions.

ASUG also wants to offer more programs for top management. We were able to start this approach successfully at this year’s ASUG Annual Conference in New Orleans with the CIO/CTO Forum – an executive level exchange under ASUG’s Influence Model.

What are SAP’s most important activities that support collaboration with ASUG?

Kneis: In addition to having the ASAG Liaison Team as part of SAP America, they include intensive contact between product management in our development areas and individual ASUG groups. Without this support, many programs could not be successful, especially those that involve collaboration in the design of future SAP solutions. Direct collaboration with individual development teams also guarantees quick and efficient communication. This approach also ensures that the input provided by ASUG members is – as much as possible – in harmony with the development cycle of individual SAP solutions.

In addition, we’re also working closely with a new concept: ASUG and SAP Forums, an evolution of ASUG’s Group meetings. The Forum events are a joint collaboration and will be held at various dates and locations in October and November 2003. Both organizations are working together to plan and carry out this series of events. With this initiative, we wish to expand the traditional sphere of ASUG, which so far has been essentially limited to the technical SAP implementation team. We also want to address the persons responsible for individual business processes, such as those in supply chain planning, and enlist more of them for ASUG activities. And the Forums are open not only to current ASUG members, but also to all current and potential SAP customers who are currently in the evaluation phase.

What topics are particular burning issues for users?

Kneis: Right now, I believe there are two major priorities at the top of the list: to reduce the total cost of ownership for SAP solutions; and to quantify and maximize the return on investment. In this context, there is great interest in SAP R/3 Enterprise. Our customers expect that this solution will optimize the ongoing operating costs of their SAP infrastructure. And, without a doubt, this will be the case with the design for more flexible upgrades in SAP R/3 Enterprise. Nonetheless, ASUG has told us quite clearly in the past months that we must provide more support to our customers in putting together the business case for an upgrade project. Answering the question of “How can I derive even more benefits from my SAP installation?” is very important in the current economic climate in North America.

How does SAP react to questions, and how does it implement suggestions made by ASUG?

Kneis: That depends on the particular case, but regardless of situation, SAP relies on the collective voice ASUG brings to development. In general, I can say that we attempt to bring SAP experts and ASUG representatives together at one table. Regarding the business case for an upgrade to SAP R/3 Enterprise, we worked closely with the team responsible for the global ERP initiative and SAP America and refined the value proposition of an upgrade based upon the feedback provided by ASUG. In this regard, ASUG also made it very clear to us that we must guarantee better knowledge of upgrade options and the advantages of each among our sales staff.

In addition, for our future strategy for mySAP ERP, it’s important to harmonize the current needs and challenges of our customers in North America with the goals of SAP. That’s why this discussion will have an important place at the annual Walldorf Exchange meeting between the ASUG Board of Directors and top management from SAP AG in Walldorf at the beginning of October.

What concrete results can you note from current collaboration with ASUG?

Kneis: There is a lot of tangible and intangible success in our relationship, from educational programs to influence activities. However, most notably, they appear in the results of influence councils and have flowed into several future SAP product and service offerings. Accordingly, I’d rather evaluate the collaboration. In my opinion, the influence model I’ve mentioned several times has produced a significant improvement over the situation that existed 18 months ago. At that time, ASUG focused exclusively on SAP R/3 and then partially on a release level that was no longer current. Accordingly, ASUG invested a great deal of energy in formulating a development strategy for solutions that had already matured a great deal and that were not in the perspective of our development. We worked together to change that, so that today, ASUG is much more involved in the definition of our new products. We’ve also expanded the focus of ASUG from a purely product and technical view to include SAP service and support offerings, and we have received important feedback in this area.

However, I don’t want to settle for that. For example, the CIO/CTO forum held for the first time this year as part of the annual ASUG conference was the beginning of a successful dialog at the management level and was moderated by ASUG. Right now we’re expanding this concept and in the context of the ASUG and SAP Forums this fall, we’ll hold executive exchanges. The goal is clear: to harmonize long-term strategies.
In the influence councils, we want to sharpen our focus on our technology and collaborative solutions in addition to ERP. To that end, we’re involving ASUG members more closely in SAP’s Ramp up program. This involvement offers an outstanding opportunity to collaborate on the future design of SAP solutions. ASUG helps us win participants for the Ramp up program. Ideally, the circle will close so that companies that have worked on the definition of a future product in the development phase will also work with a new release early in production.