Until about 18 months ago, Huub Montanus had not had very much to do with German or American SAP users. “We worked exclusively with various interest groups within the Netherlands,” he explains. Montanus has been a member of the Dutch SAP user group, VNSG, for ten years and heads up its working group on SAP NetWeaver Process Integration (PI).
As a central integration platform, SAP NetWeaver PI is a strategic product for many SAP customers. The requirements that these customers place on the solution are therefore critical to the successful running of their businesses. This point was not lost on Holger Himmelmann, co-spokesperson of the Application Integration working group in the German-speaking SAP users‘ group (DSAG): “We asked our members about what they needed from SAP NetWeaver PI and used the results to draw up a list of the top ten requirements.”
This top-ten list proved extremely useful when it came to influencing SAP. “We passed the bundled requirements to our contact partners at SAP Solution Management. Many of them were implemented straight away or included in development planning,“ says Himmelmann. Bucked by this success, the DSAG planned to conduct a survey on user satisfaction with SAP NetWeaver PI. “We wanted to involve members of ASUG and VNSG, thus signaling the start of international cooperation on matters relating to SAP NetWeaver PI,” says Himmelman.
International hot-topic list
A long-term cooperation effort was born, which then began officially in a kick-off meeting in Walldorf in August 2008. “Our objective was to exchange experiences and ideas with our German and American colleagues on a regular basis,“ recalls Huub Montanus. “We hoped that by bundling our development requirements we would be able to communicate them to SAP more effectively and more forcefully.“ Holger Himmelmann adds: “One of the tangible results was that we were able to give our members international best practice documents describing how to get the best out of SAP NetWeaver PI.“
The Dutch, German, and American working groups continued to regularly share their thoughts and ideas in telephone conferences, e-mails, and in the SAP Collaboration Workspace. “We started by putting together an international list of hot topics,“ says Montanus, “and then gradually worked our way through each of them.“
Surpassing all expectations
The joint aim of everyone involved was to make it easier for users to work with SAP NetWeaver PI and to achieve better results. “Sharing experiences with members of the VNSG and ASUG was enormously helpful in itself,“ says Himmelmann. “We identified common problems and were able to learn a great deal from each other. As an international group, we have found that we can represent our interests much more convincingly to SAP.” The best practice documents are also extremely popular and have been instrumental in significantly increasing the use of SAP NetWeaver PI by customers in the USA, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Holger Himmelmann is enthusiastic about this international cooperation between the working groups of the DSAG, VNSG, and ASUG: “Overall, the results have surpassed the expectations of everyone involved. We have become stronger as user groups and we have therefore been able to achieve a great deal for our members.“ Small wonder then that the participants are all keen to continue and extend the cooperation. Other user groups, such as Sweden’s SAPSA, have also expressed their interest in becoming involved. “We are delighted that this approach to sharing experiences and ideas works so well and that other groups want to follow our lead,” adds Huub Montanus.
Promoting international cooperation
The cooperation will continue to focus on active commitment and on the formulation of best practice documents. “Smaller user organizations and working groups benefit particularly from this international cooperation, because it gives them a valuable platform for exchanging experiences and more effectively channeling product requirements to SAP,“ says Himmelmann. SAP supports the cooperation effort by providing the Collaboration Workspace, joint workshops, and dedicated contact partners with whom to discuss development requirements.
To enable more user and working groups to collaborate on specific topics at international level in the future, SAP is planning to set up a kind of “partner exchange”. The idea is to enable working parties and interest groups from various countries to search for and find each other – and to join forces to achieve the maximum possible results. In addition, the working groups of the DSAG, VNSG, and ASUG created a template for international cooperation which can serve as a guideline for new initiatives. This will in turn make it easier for SAP to maintain a constructive dialog with its customers and users.