Speaking in a Stronger Voice

May 13, 2008 by Johannes Gillar

sap info: There are already dozens of user group organizations in the SAP world. What were the reasons for launching the SAP User Group Executive Network?

MIKE STOKO: The mission of the SUGEN organization is to be a powerful international voice that unites regional user groups in their dialog with SAP. There are two reasons why this network was formed: First, we need to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of how the user groups interact globally with SAP – and not just in individual conversations. Second, we need better structure. There will be bi-directional dialog about the key issues – not at a regional level, but at a global one, so that when solutions are applied or worked on, they can be used in more than one region.

MATTHIAS HERZOG: Initially, the idea was to establish a new global user group. But we are happy to see our vision evolve into a network of existing user groups. Now we can jointly achieve more for each individual member of SUGEN than if we had simply set up another user group.

PER HÖGBERG: Our network complements the work done in the regional groups; we want to support them in giving their regional efforts global applicability. SUGEN seeks to break down the borders that currently exist between the individual regional groups.

STEFAN KNEIS: From an SAP perspective, it is important to mention that, while we have good relationships with the more than 30 regional user groups, SUGEN gives us a common view from a global perspective on topics and issues that affect the individual groups. In addition, it is more effective to engage executives such as SAP Co-CEO Henning Kagermann and SAP development executives with the network than with regional groups by discussing common topics.

sap info: Why do you focus only on executives? Wouldn’t it also make sense to bring “normal” volunteers together?

STOKO: We focus on executives because their priorities are the key priorities across all user groups. This enables us to provide SAP with input on a more strategic level compared to the content we normally get on the individual user group level – for example, a lot of the smaller user groups focus only on their regions. However, if a topic is brought to SUGEN, we know it’s a key priority for all regions globally. And since we work jointly on such issues, the value to the user community is significantly greater. Also, SAP can respond to these collective needs much more efficiently.

HERZOG: When SUGEN works on pressing global issues, we certainly make use of the individual resources of the regional user groups. In other words, while the starting point is the executive level, we go across all levels in our daily work.

sap info: What are your general expectations of SUGEN and its work with SAP? What issues would you like to address?

STOKO: We are seeking consolidated feedback from a global customer base, because the issues we’re working on are international. We want to have an organized platform where SUGEN executives can dialog with SAP senior leadership on longer-term strategic programs. As for content, we would like to discuss international developments that have a common impact across all the different user groups.

HÖGBERG: An additional point: We have a dual focus in our work – the topics that impact on daily work and the activities where “today” means “this year” for our members and are thus a longer-term strategy.

HERZOG: With respect to issues – while we do have a pipeline full of initiatives, we have created live taskforces to tackle the “top three.” There we drive for a resolution, and we expect SAP executives to take these top three issues as seriously as we do.

sap info: The regional user groups have already set up interaction structures with SAP. Doesn’t that overlap with SUGEN/SAP collaboration?

STOKO: It’s certainly true that the regional user groups have set up interaction structures with SAP. However, when you look at these structures, you find that they’re really focused on local or regional short-term issues. In contrast, SUGEN deals with longer-term issues of global relevance. We want to look at the road map and agree on it so that we end up with the user groups completely aligned with SAP. We’re looking for a consensus where we can say that we understand SAP’s road map and the timeline for the key solutions.

KNEIS: SAP does not intend to replace regional infrastructures or relationships with SUGEN. In fact, with our Global Customer Community program we would like to strengthen a lot of those relations, particularly with the groups engaged in SUGEN. The network gives us a platform to make progress in best practice sharing among user groups.

HÖGBERG: We also have to keep in mind that there are user groups that have no infrastructure at all. I represent the small user groups that only have discussions with sales offices – for example, I have two very important members in Sweden, Volvo and Ericsson. Up to now they haven’t had a chance to reach the global arena of SAP through the user group in Sweden. So from that perspective, this new network is very important.

sap info: Globalization is one of the topics that drove the creation of SUGEN. What have you reached so far with respect to this important issue?

STOKO: In our kick-off meeting, for example, the 11 user groups shared with us how they operate and what their best practices and key issues are. We found out that there was close to 65-percent alignment on what we are all doing. So if you think of it in the context of divide and conquer, we can leverage the resources across the globe to get the key issues solved, both from a user group perspective and an SAP one. I really like what Per Högberg said about smaller user groups, which are now really seeing the value in linking up with SUGEN. They get a much stronger voice for their issues, which, by the way, are actually the same as those of the other user groups.

HERZOG: What we see in the current initiatives is that there is great value in cooperating with different regional groups. When you are in a specific country, you’re just linked to your own SAP country organization, and are thus missing pieces of the puzzle. So even for larger user groups such as the German-speaking one, there is great value in seeing other perspectives – Dutch, Swedish, U.S., or Japanese. This is particularly true for global aspects like enterprise SOA. And, of course, this creates great value.

sap info: Usually, member companies of each regional user group have their own requirements when it comes to utilizing SAP solutions. How do you manage to express all these different perspectives in one voice?

STOKO: We start with an open process where each user group collects the voice of their members. Then we use that information to determine what the key priorities are across all user groups. Once these priorities have been identified, members from each user group are assigned to develop a charter that outlines the problems, the expected outcomes and results, and how solving the problems would be valuable to both the individual user group and SAP. These charters are discussed at a SUGEN leadership team meeting. If these proposals are accepted, they are put into play – right now we have three of them running.

HERZOG: Our ultimate goal is to increase the effectiveness of our members in using SAP products by bringing different views together under one roof. And in doing this, we also want to make SAP more efficient. So we have a win-win situation.

sap info: What is your decision process like? Does each member have one vote? Or do big groups like DSAG or ASUG, which represent thousands of companies, have a greater say than smaller organizations like USF, which represents only a few hundred businesses?

STOKO: At a high-level, I would say our decision process is consensus-driven. I pretty much outlined how we ensure that the key issues are the core concerns of at least three user groups in the network. In addition, the initiating user group needs to propose volunteers who will work on these issues. Once charters have been outlined, they bring them to our meetings. Here we take a look at them, and each user group gets an opportunity to upgrade the charters. After we decide that this is one of the initiatives we want to go after, executive sponsors from both SUGEN and SAP are assigned. Commissions are formed to work on behalf of SUGEN.

HÖGBERG: Each group, whether large or small, has the opportunity to raise its voice. There are no conflicts because our requirements are complementary, which adds value from all sides. Another reason why everything runs so smoothly is that we all respect each other.

KNEIS: We have built up a collaborative environment and reach decisions through discussions; there is no need to vote. The level of engagement of a SUGEN member is ac-tually more important than the size of the group.

sap info: What are SUGEN’s future objectives and plans?

STOKO: We are a young organization, and we’re all hoping that we get the results we are looking for. So the objective here is to use the three taskforce charters we have already mentioned – ERP upgrade, enterprise SOA adoption, and long-term portfolio management – assess them, and make sure we actually deliver value to our user groups by providing some sort of 360° feedback from user communities. Building upon this success, we are really striving to increase our ability to address global issues. In the end, it’s about solving business problems – and comes down to two or three issues that we need to solve. An example of that is the REACH program in Europe.

It’s a real emerging need and we’re having to put a lot more energy into solving this problem than expected – although we knew several years ago that the requirement was coming. We have also realized that the Canadian user group has already started working on the problem. So these are the kind of long-term issues we’d like to work collaboratively on and find a solution that our members can implement globally. Furthermore, SUGEN is looking to integrate into SAP’s ecosystems and become an active player there.

sap info: Do you intend to accommodate further local or regional user groups?

STOKO: We are not soliciting regional groups to join SUGEN but hope that the value we generate will make them want to join.

KNEIS: To attract new members, it’s important to demonstrate the added value and success that SUGEN provides. Since the three taskforces currently in progress have a timeframe of about six months, I think we have to await the first results. They will then be communicated to SAP in terms of what we have to improve as well as to user groups so that they can share these findings with their members.

HERZOG: Actually, the only formal criterion for becoming a SUGEN member is to be a recognized SAP user group.

sap info: Does SAP support the idea of SUGEN? How would you describe the overall relationship between SUGEN and SAP?

KNEIS: Absolutely. SAP has supported the idea from the first day on. In 2007, we gave SUGEN the opportunity to hold its international user group meeting at the combined SAPPHIRE/ASUG conference in Atlanta and at SAPPHIRE EMEA in Vienna. In addition, I am part of the SUGEN leadership team, which was set up as a joint initiative. I am happy that customer representatives agreed to have an SAP employee sit face to face with them at the same table. Also, Henning Kagermann has signed up as the overall executive sponsor for SUGEN. So I feel very good about the relationship we have established – it’s a collaborative effort and we truly work hand in hand.

STOKO: I totally agree. I think that we can see the support that the SAP senior leadership offers to SUGEN in Henning Kagermann’s presentation and in his willingness to sit down with us. So the support is definitely there. I think that SAP has been active in assigning its key employees to our taskforces.

HERZOG: It seems to me that through the foundation of SUGEN and simultaneous organizational changes at SAP, we’re perfectly positioned to collaborate. So our start was very positive – and today there is a good spirit of creating value for everyone: the customers, SUGEN, and SAP.

HÖGBERG: We really feel comfortable working with SAP hand in hand. Of course, we are still customers with our own thoughts and opinions. We may be sitting on different sides of the table, but this table is round.

Mike Stoko is responsible for global end-to-end business process uptime at DuPont. Under his leadership, DuPont has been able to reduce the total cost of ownership of its ERP systems. Furthermore, Stoko has been an active member of the ASUG community for the past five years and serves on the CIO/CTO Executive Exchange.
Mike Stoko is chairman of SUGEN.

Matthias Herzog became director of Information Systems Europe at Kraft Foods Europe in 2008. In the German-speaking SAP user group DSAG, he is the board’s special representative for globalization. He is also vice chairman of SUGEN, alongside Per Högberg.

“The network gives us a platform to make progress in best practice sharing among user groups.” Stefan Kneis, SAP SUGEN liaison

Per Högberg is board member and secretary of the Swedish user group SAPSA. He is a recognized PLM strategy project manager and researcher in the area of knowledge modeling and business process execution. Together with Matthias Herzog, he is vice chairman of SUGEN.

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