‘Pushy’ SAP must listen to customers more

SAP wants to work more closely with customers to help them adopt its technology at their own pace, after criticism that its sales executives are "ignorant" about users' needs.

The German database giant was accused by its UK & Ireland User Group of flogging products to users without heeding their individual technology requirements, and has committed to better staff training and more user engagement to fix this.

A user group study of 117 SAP customers found that 51 per cent say their account executive does not know enough about their business IT needs.

I guess we could be doing more about showing why that might be relevant to their business today.

Meanwhile, three-quarters of them told the user group they want to adopt the latest technology much faster than their organisations are able to, but are hampered by a variety of issues that SAP needs to understand.

The biggest challenges faced by firms include lacking a business case for new products, cited by 71 per cent, licensing/subscription costs, mentioned by 69 per cent, and migration and implementation costs, a problem for 54 per cent of those surveyed.

Around 40 per cent said they need to get more value from their existing SAP investments before considering another purchase order.

But after speaking with customers at the annual User Group Conference in Birmingham this week, IT Pro learned that account executives continue to push the latest products from SAP, regardless of customers' individual challenges and technology needs.

Pushy SAP?

Andy Dalton, SAP technical manager at water company United Utilities, says he can see various use cases for the tech giant's in-memory database and cloud platform HANA, but his business simply is not ready to make another investment at the moment.

However, he says: "SAP feel a bit pushy, pushing customers towards HANA, understandably, but if customers have only just invested in other products they have been pushing two years back, then it does take some time to evolve.

"We've got a lot to do before then, we've got to focus on our IT costs. We need to get into a leaner position really before we think about pushing everything out to a service."

Mark Darbyshire, SAP's new chief technology adviser for the UK and Ireland, claims SAP does recognise the time it takes organisations to adopt their latest products.

But he accepts SAP could tell customers specifically how software will benefit their own business, rather than how it is generally beneficial.

"It's more about sitting down and talking with the customers and less about saying 'here's some technology'. I guess we could be doing more about showing why that might be relevant to their business today," he admits.

"If you are a UK telco, what does [UI app] Fiori mean to you? Well, it might be a way of you offering a platform to SMBs so they can build small applications. Explaining it in those terms rather than saying 'currently user experiences aren't very good and this is a way round it' is much more helpful."

A study by the user group earlier this year certainly suggests that something needs to change.

Despite sales executives' best efforts, just 15 per cent of more than 100 SAP users struggling with big data planned to use data-processing platform HANA to help them, it found.

User group chief executive Craig Dale said at the time businesses needed more customer stories around implementing HANA.

This sentiment is echoed by Peter Wells, SAP deliver manager at recruitment firm SThree.

He wants to deploy mobile working solutions, such as mobile management tool SAP Afaria, and even has a business case in enabling young recruiters in their twenties to use their own devices as an incentive to stay longer, preventing employee churn.

"I'm used to hearing the sales pitches now about what the vision is and it all sounds great," he says, but adds: "I'm very interested in talking to customers who've done it."

User group chairman Philip Adams believes SAP must do more to make experts, and customer stories, available.

"It's about getting people into customer organisations and helping them," he claims. "Please give us the experts that can provide the knowledge our members want to hear."