Communication is Key for JSUG

Yutaka Yasunaga, Chairperson, Japan SAP Users' Group (JSUG) and Advisor, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line). (photo: SAP)
Yutaka Yasunaga, Chairperson, Japan SAP Users' Group (JSUG) and Advisor, Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK Line). (photo: SAP) Mr Yasunaga, could you tell us a little about the motivation behind your role as chairperson of the Japan SAP Users’ Group?

Mr Yasunaga: Essentially my motivation comes from the members, their dedication, and the obvious value they derive from JSUG activities. SAP is at the core of their business, so naturally they want to get as much value from their systems as possible. That’s their key motivation. Through special interest groups, the exchange of ideas, and other JSUG activities, they gain valuable insight into how to run SAP at its full potential. These actions are very much member-driven, making JSUG quite unique among the user groups of other IT vendors in Japan, which are often marketing-driven. What do you feel have been your main achievements since becoming JSUG chairperson?

Mr Yasunaga: I think my main milestone has been improved communication, especially since the introduction of Enterprise Support last year. An initial lack of information meant there was real difficulty building up an understanding of the new support service within the Japanese customer base. This came at the same time as a change of leadership at SAP Japan and of course the start of the financial crisis. It was unfortunate timing and there was a lot of resistance among customers. JSUG was able to encourage a more constructive path at the JSUG Conference in November last year and through special sessions held since August 2008. At the end of the day, we came to the conclusion that it is not our role to agitate or promote complaints but rather to act as a kind of missionary and communicate the real value of Enterprise Support to customers. Where do you see the value now? Are there clear benefits?

Mr Yasunaga: Absolutely, the more time we spend getting to grips with Enterprise Support, the more we appreciate the value for customers. The main issue for the majority of Japanese users, however, is that they lack the readiness to implement the foundation of Enterprise Support, the SAP Solution Manager. Without this they can’t enjoy the full value of Enterprise Support, so we’re promoting implementation of the Solution Manager as widely as possible. As I said, communication is key in these kinds of issues and I think this is something I’ve managed to address during the past year. Do you get feedback from members who now recognize the value of Enterprise Support and want to use it?

Mr Yasunaga: Yes, I think more and more customers are starting to come round to this way of thinking and the proportion supporting Enterprise Support is getting bigger, but there are still some who are opposed to the idea. There are currently about ten Japanese customers participating in the SUGEN (SAP User Group Executive Network) KPI benchmarking program for Enterprise Support. This isn’t a big group considering the market size and customer base, so the challenge for SAP and JSUG will be multiplying the experience for the whole market. On the topic of KPIs, do you think this is a good idea? And should it be standard for all vendors introducing a new service or solution to establish KPIs to evaluate what’s in it for the customer?

Mr Yasunaga: Yes, I think it’s necessary from the perspective of the vendors. But on the customer side, when you invest in a new system, you also have to have your own idea of the goals and targets, and how they are going to be measured within your company. I think the concept of the SUGEN KPIs determining a threshold that guides the next year’s support fees is a unique idea and could be a real benefit for customers if handled in the right way. Do you think that the communication issues you mentioned before, especially surrounding Enterprise Support, have ended on a positive note – that your relationship to SAP has become closer?

Mr Yasunaga: Yes, I think that’s the biggest gain of Enterprise Support so far. Of course, Enterprise Support itself has good functionality, but it’s the increased level of communication since its introduction that has really reaped benefits for us. SAP and JSUG share the same goal when it comes to achieving as much value as possible, so we work as one team. We discuss any issues and find a solution together. We have monthly Influence/Customer Satisfaction (CS) meetings and also come together on a monthly basis with Garrett Ilg, president of SAP Japan, and Michael Bannert, VP Active Global Support SAP Japan, and his team. This acts as a checkpoint and a forum to discuss practical steps for further improvements. If issues are not solved at the field level, we have these opportunities to discuss them with management. And apart from Enterprise Support, what are the main concerns when you talk to members at the moment?

Mr Yasunaga: Most members are facing a serious financial crisis and it’s difficult for them to obtain budget for IT, so 2009 hasn’t seen a lot of new projects and 2010 will probably follow the same pattern. I think this is a time for customers to think about what needs to be done once they overcome the current crisis. Increasingly they are turning their attention to carving out a future roadmap, a middle or long-term plan for IT investment. What they need from SAP and other IT vendors is support for this forward planning and a roadmap for new technologies, service-oriented architectures, or total enterprise architectures, for example. If this can be achieved, 2011 might see new investment and, in my opinion, streamlining is likely to be high on the agenda. A period of low investment can leave a lot of systems over-patched and over-complex. Would you say there are priority areas for investment on a tight budget? Where should the focus lie?

Mr Yasunaga: In times of financial constraint, the focus moves from adding new functionality to better utilizing existing data within the system. In other words companies re-evaluate their past investments and look at a leaner, more value-driven management of their IT infrastructure. JSUG holds a special meeting that deals with exactly these kinds of topics. A bimonthly “Leaders’ Exchange” brings together CIOs from 15 companies to discuss how IT can contribute to enhancing company value. Looking to the future, you mentioned that you would like SAP to provide a roadmap on its future product strategy. Is this high on your wish list for SAP?

Mr Yasunaga: Definitely. I think any customer can put together a rough roadmap for themselves but they really need help on the technical side. If SAP can present a potential system architecture for the future, how a customer’s system should look in five or ten years, and also incorporate a productive approach to achieving this roadmap, it would be welcomed by customers. This would also lead to a better alignment of the customer’s roadmap with that of SAP. Are there any other areas of improvement that SAP should focus on? Do you hear about any issues in particular from members?

Mr Yasunaga: I think SAP needs to communicate its strategy more effectively to its Japanese users. If management visited Japan more often, customers could hear about SAP’s strategy directly from the company’s leadership, something most users don’t have the opportunity to do now. This type of exposure is very important in the Japanese market.

Another aspect is how local requirements are incorporated into the development cycle. I’d like to see requests from Japanese customers being communicated to development in a smoother, more transparent fashion, so that both the JSUG management and members are aware of how these requests are being dealt with and prioritized. This level of communication is critical. Do you think JSUG’s participation in the international SUGEN network gives you a stronger voice and more influence on global issues?

Mr Yasunaga: Yes, I think it’s a very strong platform and we place a lot of importance on participating in SUGEN activities and cooperating with the group wherever possible. The ideal would be to deepen communication with overseas user groups such as SUGEN in order to effectively amass a global customer voice. Global communication has its challenges, however. Differences in time zones and language are a huge issue for Japanese users and this is something we need to address – how we can pool the power of JSUG to represent Japanese users effectively within SUGEN and at the group’s meetings. And what are your plans for the coming years? Which direction do you see JSUG taking and what would you say are your priorities?

Mr Yasunaga: Next year will be my third as chairperson of JSUG. In the past two years, I have expanded the JSUG activity to a more executive level, running the Leaders’ Exchange at CEO and CIO level while also involving the business analyst and system architect perspective. My aim for the future would be to further expand this activity from executive to staff level, involving more members in the process and giving them more influence in CS activities. My ultimate goal has to be to satisfy the JSUG members and make them happy to take an active part in the organization. That kind of feeling is critical to the successful running of an organization such as this.

Japan SAP Users’ Group

The Japan SAP Users’ Group (JSUG) is an independent organization of SAP customers and partners, which was founded in 1996 and currently includes 500 member companies with 5,000 individual members. JSUG provides a forum for members to communicate mutual concerns to SAP, influence software development, exchange ideas and best practices, participate in face-to-face educational opportunities, network with members, and establish future priorities. JSUG is a member of the SAP User Group Executive Network (SUGEN).