The German ERP giant is to will discontinue regular support for R/3 versions 3.1i, 4.0b, 4.5b and 4.6b in December 2003. It had originally announced that support would be withdrawn in August 2003.
That gives users of these versions - about half of SAP's 19,000-strong global installed user base - a 12-month window in which to upgrade or opt to pay for a non-standard contract.
If businesses want to receive standard support they must upgrade to 4.6c or R/3 Enterprise, and it is around the latter version - launched in late 2002 - which SAP is hoping to standardise R/3 use.
Derek Prior, an analyst at Gartner, said: "It is a timely reminder that to stay supported by SAP, users face the choice of paying for maintenance or upgrading, but what complicates matters is that R/3 Enterprise is still in a quality control phase - it is too early to point to customer success stories."
While there has been no noticeable groundswell of anger at the changes, some users have voiced concern that the R/3 family is being cut back so radically.
Sanjay Patel, senior systems accountant at satellite communications provider Inmarsat, expressed concern for the future of his recently installed 4.6c SAP system.
"R/3 Enterprise is seen as SAP's new baby, and going forward it is supposed to make future upgrades easier by making it modular," he said.
"It does however concern me a little in that it raises the question, how far behind is the withdrawal of support for 4.6c? Are they going to make it sooner than 2005?"
Peter Robertshaw, SAP UK's marketing director, said: "Our customers are
running their organisations' key business systems on SAP and have to take strategic decisions in cases like this. We have given them all the choices they need - they can upgrade or they can pay a little bit extra for a maintenance contract."
What users must do in the next 12 months
- IT directors need to assess what release they are running now and what release is best to move to in terms of cost, risk and business benefits. An R/3 upgrade is complex and costly and could swallow a large part of an IT budget.
- There are other potential knock-on effects. An upgrade may need more server and desktop power and network bandwidth, so it is essential to understand the requirements of different versions.
- Decide whether to treat an upgrade as a necessary evil or as an opportunity to make changes in business processes by making use of better, collaborative business processes in newer versions.
Source: Derek Prior, Gartner