Real Advantage, Real Experiences

July 17, 2008 by Johannes Gillar and Stephan Magura

Rod Masney Chairperson and president of Americas’ SAP Users’ Group (ASUG).

Mr. Masney, what’s new at ASUG?

ASUG is not just rebranding, we’re really changing. Thanks to our new CEO Steve Strout, we’re becoming very different while remaining true to our roots. We’d also like to become more responsive and nimble to develop enhanced offerings and bring higher quality and better educational content to our membership, based on our user experiences.

What is the main message of ASUG’s rebranding?

Our rebranding is all about community. And it comes from connecting customers to share their knowledge, deployment, and what they have learned from their SAP implementation. The results they are delivering are just incredible. One of the examples at our conference showed how an ASUG member has been able to mushroom in technology automation by using SAP business process improvements. The company can now move inventory up to seven and a half times faster, with more volume per person.

Actually, that’s one of the things we want our members to take away from this year’s conference: Go back with real experience and real advantage and share it with your peers. We deliver the platform, tools, knowledge, experience, and infrastructure to make this interaction happen.

The business environment is becoming increasingly tough, and IT departments have to create value and innovate. How does this trend influence your work as a user group?

We need to give our members education that focuses on business and business processes. ASUG members and conference attendees have historically been the IT people who configured or enabled SAP software. But as SAP continues to evolve more around business process management and configurable orchestration of business processes, we’re seeing a huge change in how IT works with the business.

At the same time, the role of the IT person is going to change. They’re not going to be code cutters anymore, and they’re going to do less con- figuration but more orchestration. But the key challenge for IT is taking the cost out of daily business maintenance in order to be more innovative and create economic value rather than just generate costs.

What does that mean for the education of your members and volunteers?

As an organization that focuses on customer-to- customer education, we rely on the maturity of the product life cycle. Early on in a product’s life cycle, we need SAP’s help because it has the knowledge we need as the market matures and adopts the software. Then our membership can take over and increasingly provide educational content. It helps us a lot that SAP has truly become an outside- in company.

What are your most advanced programs?

Enterprise Architecture and Enterprise SOA special interest groups. They are at the leading edge of where SAP continues to move its products. For example, the SAP Business ByDesign solution brings different attributes to both the organization and the community. We’re working very closely with SAP to understand how we can support innovative SAP platforms and products. By the way, ASUG is an SAP customer now: We’ve signed an SAP Business ByDesign contract.

More than a year ago, you launched a series of new services. What is the member feedback on them?

Let me talk specifically about benchmarking and best practices. Members that choose to participate are getting a lot of value. The best practices surveys are such a quick hit. In 30 minutes, they provide data and instant gratification on “Are you a best-practice company or not?” The benchmarking takes a lot more effort. If you’re not a best-in-class organization, you know what key takeaways you can put into action. I think that’s a differentiating factor.

Could using the knowledge of the organizations to fill your financial pipeline be a future business model for you?

Benchmarking and best practices are memberbased services, and we’re looking for ways to add value beyond those services that also obviously benefit ASUG. The advantage series is one example of that. But we’re still evaluating how to leverage it. We’ve looked at opportunities such as workshops, where experts from the benchmarking team can counsel and coach people utilizing the customers’ own data. We’ve also talked about how to help the customer collect valuable data that gives increasingly consistent results.

So yes, we continue to look for opportunities to diversify our revenue. Because today, speaking openly, the ASUG Annual Conference, in combination with SAP’s SAPPHIRE, is our main revenue stream. And my obligation as a board member is to the financial health of this organization.

SAP has acquired Business Objects. What are the consequences for ASUG?

We have work to do there. Along with SAP, we have to educate our membership about the road map, and then help our membership make decisions about their business intelligence path.

There’s a clear educational component, and only SAP can provide that from a road-map perspective. We also have a responsibility to look beyond the traditional SAP customer because a lot of Business Objects customers aren’t traditional SAP ones. I truly believe the acquisition will change how SAP delivers information to the information worker. So we really want to be on the leading edge there.

And with the Business Objects customers, there are great opportunities for ASUG to grow the user community in a very different way. But we need to do some front-end work first to make sure we understand what the right model is for the Business Objects users.

What about future engagements with partners and partner organizations?

Our partners are very, very important to the organization. They’re not just a deep pocket for ASUG to tap into when we need funding. The educational content that they can bring to the organization is amazing. And there’s a need not only to provide education to customers but also to have an influence channel into their organizations. Have we done a good job of that over the last several years? No, but we are seeking ways to improve our engagement with these important members of our community.

We sometimes hear from your members that they’re not satisfied with the process for getting feedback from SAP about development requests. How do you rate the ASUG concept of influence in general?

I think some of the frustration of our membership concerning influence is based on experience with the old development request system. What ASUG influence councils offer is more tactical. That, coupled with the strategic influence activities of the executive, brings a different dimension to the party. You need more input at a very strategic level to really guide products, both current and future ones. And you have to do it so that you can go back to the community to make sure that the quality and requirements are right and that there is someone to adopt the products.

What are the top ASUG priorities for the rest of the year?

Obviously, our big conference in Orlando this year was one. We also need to make sure that our other events and programs deliver on the targets of people attending. We’re focusing on having the right organizational structure to create real advantage through real experiences for our membership. And of course, we’ve got to have the right technology platform, both to run the operations and to provide the connective tissue to our organization.

You’ve been at the top of the organization for several years. What have you learned?

I’ve learned so much. The voice of our membership is so important. Really being responsive to their needs is what makes this organization go. And, of course, a great relationship with our partners across the SAP development organization and great relationships with the SAP board are vital. We’re here for SAP, but we want to work with SAP, not combatively against SAP. Working in conflict will get us nowhere.

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