SAP user group: Innovation agenda clear but for long haul

Philip Adams, of the UK & Ireland SAP user group, speaks to Computer Weekly about SAP’s promotion of Hana, cloud and mobile

Philip Adams (pictured) is the chairman of the UK and Ireland SAP user group. He is also the head of group IT at Dublin-based construction firm Mercury Engineering. The recent 25th anniversary user group conference in Birmingham was Adams’ first in the driving seat, as chairman. He spoke with Computer Weekly about how users are seeing SAP’s strategy of promoting Hana, cloud and mobile, and about his vision for the group.

How are UK and Ireland users seeing SAP’s strategy for Hana as the platform for enterprise resource planning (ERP) as well as analytics?

I think it has been slow for them. When SAP started talking about it, they didn’t get it. They’re not worried by it, and they now see it as impressive. They can see benefit, and it is not just a sales hype. SAP didn’t invent it out of the blue. They must have had feedback from customers over the world.

With the economic conditions, they have focused on getting the most value from what they’ve got, and so not had the opportunity to figure out the future for themselves. SAP has done that for them.

Now every business is different and not everyone cares about the volume of data or real-time information, and that is how they saw Hana. But then they brought Hana into transactional systems, and the light bulb has been going on. We’re starting to think: “That means I can have less hardware, less infrastructure to invest in. If I can run the ERP and the data warehouse on the same platform there is a cost benefit. And if I can have my users consume that on a mobile device, on the same platform that’s powerful."

Who in the UK and Ireland is at the bleeding edge of this?

We just know the ones SAP reference: Kingfisher, MacLaren, and Plan (a global charity).Globally, Bayer and Vodafone are early adopters. There will be more, and this is still early days.

How about your own business, Mercury Engineering?

We’re not that big, so the big data thing isn’t so relevant for us, as an SME. The high speed is less relevant in construction, too. But we have an ERP stack sitting on its hardware and a BW. If I were doing this again tomorrow I would go for Business Suite in the cloud. But I have to sweat the assets we already have. But I would think there will be few SAP customers on a traditional database in four or five years’ time. Maybe still on premise because of concerns about security, but on Hana.

Some customers are very sensitive about where their data is held geographically, so if SAP is offering you Business Suite on Hana in the cloud the blocker could be the physical location of the datacentre.

Last year’s conference gave voice to a good deal of user scepticism about SAP’s cloud strategy. Has that confusion dissipated?

I think so, yes. People are figuring out when it will be suitable. But SAP is not pushing that. We get it and we know it is there, when and if we are good and ready. That’s the case for my own business, certainly. We’re not on the cloud.

What’s your vision for the user group?

We still want to grow. We have 600 members, but there are some 9,000 SAP customers in the UK and Ireland. Our growth has been steep over the past ten years or so, but there is still a large installed base out there who are not in our membership. We need to put across that we can challenge SAP not just in the UK and Ireland, but worldwide, through the user group executive network. The fundamental thing is, the more you put into networking in the user group, the more you get out of it. We find, from annual surveys, that 97% of the members say they get added value from participation in the user group.

Internationally, we are one of 16 involved in the SAP user group executive network Sugen, and that is a huge voice that SAP does listen to. There is an SAP executive board member who attends global meetings. It’s been Jim Snabe in recent years, he’s handing over to Gerhard Oswald.

And we also share best practice of the other groups. We work very closely with the Dutch  user group, for example. 

How do you plan to keep and bolster your independence, given that relations seem warmer in 2013 than they have been in recent years?

Well, we want SAP to be successful. We are an SAP user group, not an Oracle user group. Sometimes by being so upfront and harsh we’ve slowed progress, so we are trying to see if we can speed progress by working with them on some of the topics.

We’ve got very formal structures in place around who can become a volunteer or a member of our board. Even working for an SAP partner is not admissible, since it could compromise independence. That can be difficult if you lose a good volunteer.

We’d prefer all speakers at our events to be customers. But that is not always possible, and we do tend to get to a point where we need an SAP person for technical details. Individual SIGs (special interest groups) are very much run that way, with SAP employees brought in where needed.

It must be tricky trying to influence SAP while safeguarding your independence?

It is a fine line. We need to work with them, but we still maintain our independence. If there is an awkward thing out there, like the enterprise support issue, we can only challenge by virtue of our independence, financially and otherwise.

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