Giving Customers a Say


Happily married couples know that the secret of a long and successful relationship is open communication. After all, partners cannot read each other’s minds and know what the other wants. It is no different for business partners. Companies that deploy SAP software want to know the direction in which their IT partner’s developments are heading. “It’s always important for us to know which solutions will be developed further and which services there will be in the future so that we can plan our investments accordingly,” explains Per Högberg, vice chairperson of the SAP User Group Executive Network (SUGEN). “That’s why we need to be involved in the planning at an early stage.”

Finding the common denominator

In a normal marriage, only two people have to come to agreement – but SAP has more than 86,000 relationships. Each of these companies has its own priorities and would like to see particular functions developed. In particular, companies with a lot of influence ceaselessly try to have a say in development. As a result, SAP developed solutions in the past that only very few companies used. “That’s a waste of our resources and not beneficial to our 86,000 customers,” says Jim Hagemann Snabe, SAP Executive Board member responsible for development. He believes it is in everyone’s interest to channel development correctly. But what do companies really want?

Next Page: SAP Long-term Product Strategy

To answer this question, SAP and SUGEN teamed up in October 2008 on the Long-Term Product Strategy Charter, an initiative aiming to discuss SAP’s product road maps and influence the future direction of products at SAP. “The user groups have, of course, had an influence on SAP for a long time,” reports Högberg. However, this initiative represents a new step because SAP and SUGEN are now systematically collecting feedback from representative customers in various industries. They then collaboratively define development priorities for the coming years.

Influence right from the start

What is new about this form of customer involvement is that customers and partners can closely collaborate with SAP in different phases of SAP’s Product Innovation Lifecycle – from idea managemen to product development, launch, adoption, and support. “The idea is to involve customers throughout the product life cycle,” explains Oliver Hid Arida, who is responsible for the project at SAP. This will ensure that software development caters to their needs.

In the past iteration of the Long-Term Product Strategy Charter, four portfolio road maps were discussed: supply chain management, financials, human resources, and public sector. A total of 74 member companies from 12 user groups participated. SAP’s chief strategy officer Pascal Brosset plans to expand interactions with SUGEN user groups and involve more road maps and organizations.

Next Page: SAP Premier Customer Network

Another project recently started in collaboration with SUGEN is the Customer Engagement Initiative. Sponsored by Snabe, it comprises other areas of influence in SAP’s portfolio, including future ideas, investment opportunities, and development projects. Currently the Americas’ SAP Users Group (ASUG), the German-speaking SAP User Group (DSAG), and the SAP Premier Customer Network (PCN) are actively involved.

PCN is a division of Global Field Operations focused on serving a community of 390 SAP customers representing the world’s largest and best-run businesses. Other user groups and communities are set to follow. Examples of products that are influenced include components of SAP’s sustainability portfolio to help organizations achieve sustainable business practices and a competitive advantage.

Dismantling silos

SAP needs to rethink its approach if it is to develop a uniform road map. “We want to dismantle silos and cooperate across all Executive Board areas – in line with our lean management strategy,” states Snabe. “In this way, we can improve our products and generate value for our customers.” SAP consequently wants to give developers more opportunity to talk with customers, enabling developments to be brought into line with expectations and requirements.

Tangible results are expected to be achieved by 2011. And maybe this open and fruitful communication will enable SAP to celebrate silver or even golden anniversaries with its customers.