Absolutely Groundbreaking

Alan Bowling, Chef der SUG UK/I.
Alan Bowling, chairman SUG UKI.

SAP.info: SUGEN, the SAP User Group Executive Network, seems to play an increasingly important role as the consolidated voice of customers and users from around the globe.  What is your take on this organization?

Bowling: SUGEN is still in its early days but it is, indeed, an important consolidated voice already. We have to be engaged with them. We support the SUGEN principles – it’s a very worthwhile organization and one that we are committed to. And last year, we were very involved in SUGEN’s activities on Enterprise Support, the KPI introduction, and all of that.

SAP.info: What benefits do you and your members get from SUGEN?

Bowling: We’re getting value from sharing best practices of how user groups operate and seeing that there are different ways of doing things. Not all of these ways are good, from our perspective, but some of them are very good, so we’re all learning these different ways together.

SAP.info: SUGEN is both global and diversified. Do you feel the more mature user groups like yours dominate the less mature ones?

Bowling: No, I don’t think so. I think while that could happen, it’s not happening here. Yes, we are bigger and do things in bigger ways. But since we are acting individually in our regions or countries, that’s not a drawback for anyone else. A big issue, though, is language. Everybody, fortunately, from my perspective, speaks English. However, what people say in English is often different from what they mean or want to say.  And I think we’re learning that.

SAP.info: As a user group, what is your relationship to SAP?

Bowling: We are definitely independent. Of course, we work with SAP and collaborate where it brings value, but we’re never going to be a puppet of SAP. That’s not in their interest, either. SAP’s interest in working with us is to hear the truth about what people think, what customers think. If we were very polite to each other all the time, if we didn’t say what was actually on our minds, there would be much bigger problems later on.  We’ll say what we think. Our aim is to support our user group members, the SAP users. And that actually is the same aim of SAP.

SAP.info: But you don’t always give SAP the most complimentary feedback…

Bowling: The reality is that if you don’t say these things, you’ll end up having no more members in the user group. We are outspoken and we have to comment. Because sometimes people make mistakes, companies make mistakes. So in the interest of our members we have to say “Guys, you got that fundamentally wrong,” as we did with Enterprise Support.

SAP.info: So let’s talk about this mistake, then. What’s the attitude toward SAP Enterprise Support in the UK and Ireland?

Bowling: Enterprise Support came as an unexpected surprise. For the last year or so, we’ve been in a state of “wait and see” as to how SAP would react to our feedback. Now, we are delighted that SAP is offering greater choice to its customers and our members. Back in 2008, we highlighted that the new Enterprise Support offering could potentially offer a lot of value and that it contained much more than standard support. However, we also noted that many of our members were not happy moving to the more expensive and feature-rich offering. Our expectation was – and we fought hard to make it happen – that SAP would link the price of this extended offering to the value it brings. We asked for choice between standard support and Enterprise Support and SAP has given us just that. We succeeded, and frankly, I still find this absolutely groundbreaking.

SAP.info: Why groundbreaking?

Bowling: SAP is the only software company that I am aware of that was prepared to have a debate around value and price. And that’s really important; in fact, it will be seen as a competitive advantage. I’m sure the competitors of SAP are watching closely because they are now finding themselves in the same situation that SAP was in before. Now customers can say “Hey, if SAP did this, why don’t you?”

SAP.info: How would you describe your user group’s relationship to SAP?

Bowling: It’s an evolving one, but it’s not where we want it to be yet. A relationship is something that needs to grow, develop constantly, and become more trustful and transparent. I think what we struggle with – and that’s perhaps more of a U.K. thing – is that we really do need a central coordinator within SAP, a relationship manager of sorts. Currently, we have to deal with 30 or more people within SAP UKI to get things done and that’s far from being efficient. In the end, things always come together nicely, but getting there could be a lot easier.

SAP.info: What feedback do you get from your members regarding their relationships to SAP?

Bowling: We’re a little bit disadvantaged, compared to groups such as DSAG in Germany or ASUG in the U.S. because they have development activities in their countries. They are closer to the action and can liaise with people on the spot. So they work more closely with SAP simply because they can. To achieve that level of interaction, our members would have to fly out of the country all the time. So what our members see here mostly is the sales and marketing force of SAP. We see fewer of the second- or third-level people from other functions. Our members would like more interaction after they have bought an application to help them make the most out of their investments. And I think SAP is addressing this.

SAP.info: How do you see the situation in the midmarket? Is there a potential for SAP Business ByDesign?

Bowling: I think this is a tricky one. It might work quite well for people who have actually already invested in SAP software. They can go for the hybrid approach that everybody is talking about. They can extend their Business Suite, so to speak, and connect it to Business ByDesign for a certain segment or subsidiary. But if people just have ByDesign – and the same thing applies to salesforce.com and the whole lot – they have got to really understand where their critical business applications are. The key for the success of SAP Business ByDesign will be the availability of software. You know, can you guarantee me the 99.99% uptime? Can you guarantee that I can move the data if I want to move the data? All of this needs to come out, and once it’s understood, I think there is lots of potential.

SAP.info: How do you see the acquisition of Business Objects one year after?

Bowling: There were some initial problems, especially in such areas of service, support, and systems integration. After that, things went quite well, and I have to say that the product integration looks exceptionally good. This will offer great value to companies who want to get the full story out of their existing SAP systems. It’s a little bit like the missing link.  SAP has been great on the transaction information and summarizing business information while Business Objects brings analytics, intelligence, and insight to the table. From my perspective, it’s a dream acquisition, a perfect match.