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The pros and cons of SAP

Gartner`s analysts and SAP`s customers got together in Sun City to discuss the merits of deploying or even upgrading their ERP systems.

BY  Brian Bakker , 1 August 20060 comments

Deon van Aarde, SappiDeon van Aarde, Sappi

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Now in its fourth year, the annual Gartner on SAP conference is intended to bring analysts together with SAP customers and prospects and shed some light on industry developments in the short to medium term. The three-day event brought several highlights.

One such was the opening address by Gartner research VP Dan Sholler, in which he examined details of SAP`s current and future strategy for applications and how the changes it represents will affect customers.

He reported that customers around the world have a similar vision of the future, one that incorporates a service-oriented architecture (SOA) and the idea of business systems made up of a soft set of reusable services in the form of composite applications. While he conceded that this vision is constant across the major software vendors, there is a split in terms of how, exactly, that should be implemented.


SAP buys what it sells

“The vision being promoted by IBM, Microsoft and certain others, is that the portfolio of services is something you construct and, therefore, the focus of SOA [should be] on tools and the foundation technologies.”


You cannot start with your training material development unless you've signed off user acceptance tests.
Deon van Aarde, Sappi
However, Sholler reported that SAP`s vision – and coincidentally that of Oracle as well – is somewhat different: “SAP is focused on convincing the market that services are something that can be purchased the same way that applications are purchased today.”

Regardless of which way the bunny ultimately hops, he expressed a view that any impression of a future business application landscape made up entirely of composite applications is most likely false. “Significant portions of the portfolio will still be packaged applications.”

Sholler also had a word of caution worth repeating. Referring to a term that is growing in currency, the business process platform, he clarified that the SAP definition of this term does not necessarily coincide with its meaning when used by Gartner.

“SAP`s version is a set of applications, services and the technology to combine those things into the compositions that allows you to build the flexible model. Gartner uses the term in a slightly broader context to refer not only to those technology components but also to the business processes, the organisational structures and the practices that you need around them to really make that [model] happen,” he clarified.

Among the other issues under Sholler`s spotlight were SAP-supplied services and how they can be used; Netweaver and how it can help customers to change their applications; SAP and its approach to SOA; and best practices for developing an SAP ecosystem. He described upgrades as “a significant challenge as we move forward”.


Sapping experience

Deon van Aarde, business systems manager at Sappi is the man largely responsible for the recently completed SAP upgrade project at the global paper giant. As a leader of one of the very few IT projects that come in under budget, albeit three months late, he offered fascinating insight into some of the pitfalls lying in wait.

He was refreshingly honest about the comparative success and failure of different facets of the project. Speaking with hindsight he noted: “... the discipline associated with transactional systems is different to [that of] a planning system. Our negative experiences were more around the planning system, [which] is not so transactional, not so disciplined.”

Van Aarde described one of the less successful aspects of the Sappi project. “We didn`t drive the business case bottom-up. Doing so is extremely important.”

Another problem was training: “You cannot start with your training material development unless you`ve signed off user acceptance tests. If you look at the project plan, it`s blueprint, realisation, testing, go live,” he explained.

Nobody`s sitting waiting for the project to happen and to attend training - they`ve all got a job to do. That process is driven through line managers,” he concluded.

“Gartner on SAP” offers significant value to delegates, if off-the-record feedback is anything to go by.