SAP’s Business Suite 7 Launch Sends Mixed Signals

Paul Hamerman By Paul Hamerman

SAP held a carefully orchestrated product launch event for Business Suite 7 in its global marketing headquarters in New York on February 4, 2009. I had the privilege to attend this event, along with a cadre of other industry analysts, investment analysts, press, and industry influencers, as well as key partners and customers. The 2 hour program featured presentations from senior SAP executives, a product demonstration, and a Q&A session that included CIOs from 3 large SAP customers – IBM, Roche and Colgate-Palmolive.

The program turned out to be heavy on value messages and was not so specific on what the release actually contained. SAP is positioning the Business Suite 7 within the economic downturn, emphasizing customer value propositions. These include “industry-rich value scenarios,” which are pre-defined processes within the Suite that span traditionally siloed functions. SAP also discussed “Best Run Now” packages, smaller and more contained applications designed for quick ROI, which were first introduced in October, 2008. SAP emphasized “better and faster insight,” promoting integration to its Business Objects analytics products, which are managed as a separate line of business an not included in Business Suite 7.

The wave of articles in mass media and IT trade outlets immediately following the launch confirmed my impressions about the lack of clarity of the announcement – they were all over the map. Impressions of the launch ranged from emphasizing web-based software and SaaS-like capabilities (off target), to cost savings, modularity, upgradability and ease of use (partially correct).

On a larger scale, customers naturally want to know if this is a substantive release or a marketing/repackaging event. It’s both. From my perspective, this is what the lauch of Business Suite 7 really boils down to:

·    Release synchronization – there will be a synchronized release schedule for the entire suite of SAP enterprise application products, including ERP, CRM, PLM, SRM, etc. as well as industry-specific modules. Previously, the products has been on separate schedules and had unique release nomenclature, as well as having some architectural dissimilarities. ERP 6.0 (also known as ECC 6.0) is now part of the Business Suite 7 umbrella, although SAP decided against changing the release number of this flagship product at this time. The synchronization of releases is a key benefit, according to Colgate-Palmolive’s global IT executive, Ed Toben, because it simplifies integration and testing of new functionality across the breadth of his SAP footprint.

·    UI harmonization – the release features a more consistent and improved user interface across the various applications, based on work initially done for SAP CRM. While the UI efforts represent considerable improvement, SAP has a propensity to use the tiniest of fonts on its screens. This has usability implications not only for software demonstrations, but for actual use of the applications to the extent that this cannot be easily adjusted by the end user.

·    Upgradeability – another important element of this launch event is the availability of enhancement packages for the full suite, once customers upgrade to this release. Previously available only with ERP 6.0, the enhancement packages are smaller and easier to apply than traditional upgrades. Using tooling called the Switch Framework, customers can select (i.e., turn the switches to ON) the enhancements they would like to activate. Previously issued in 6 to 9 months intervals with ERP 6.0, the enhancement package release schedule will now be an annual event. While this is an improvement for SAP, enhancement packages still lag well behind SaaS solutions in terms of update frequency and granularity.

For more on Business Suite 7, see my colleague R “Ray” Wang’s blog at http://blog.softwareinsider.org/2009/02/04/news-analysis-sap-launches-business-suite-7-transformational-change-or-expensive-repackaging/.