SAP Tackles BusinessObjects Support Woes - InformationWeek
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Doug Henschen
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SAP Tackles BusinessObjects Support Woes

Apps vendor unveils new communication approaches and support options in hopes of healing an old wound.

Acknowledging a long-simmering customer-satisfaction challenge, SAP has unveiled a series of product-support and customer-communications upgrades aimed at improving relations with SAP BusinessObjects customers.

SAP say it has taken steps including launching new customer Web sites and feedback channels, establishing a dedicated BusinessObjects support team and simplifying software maintenance and troubleshooting processes.

Taking what it calls a holistic approach looking beyond support, SAP has also developed new customer influence mechanisms to set the direction of product upgrades, and it has redoubled efforts to communicate product roadmaps, strategy and pricing and licensing models.

Many of these moves are described as a response to a survey conducted this spring among more than 1,100 SAP BusinessObjects customer. But support is an issue with a much deeper back story at SAP BusinessObjects.

Support was a problem for the BI vendor even before it was acquired by SAP in late 2007. The problem came to a head in mid 2008 when SAP abruptly switched BusinessObjects customers over to its own support site and supporting infrastructure.

The immediate problem was that many customers didn't get new logon IDs in a timely way, and support cases that were opened before the switch weren't moved over to SAP's new support site.

Customers howled, and despite quick immediate fixes, bad feelings lingered as customers adjusted to a new support site, new outlets for product information and new messaging priorities courtesy of BusinessObject's new ownership.

The nadir came as user surveys conducted for The BI Survey 8 in 2009 and the Gartner Magic Quadrant published early this year both revealed product support to be a continuing black eye for SAP Business Objects.

SAP responded in February by saying it had already gone to great lengths to improve service support, upgrading support incident procedures and instituting "how are we doing" surveys to correct problems. Perception had yet to catch up with reality, the vendor suggested.

Flash forward to last month's ASUG (Americas SAP User Group) BusinessObjects User Conference in Orlando, where independent analyst Cindi Howson of BI Scorecard says she was pleased to see many customers leading customer advisory sessions and clearly taking a hand in setting the product-development agenda.

Support "doesn't seem to be quite the thorn" for customers that it was two years ago, according to Howson, who blogged about the original post-merger support flap. That said, she says customers she spoke to aren't ready to say everything is fine now.

"Their responsiveness and logging of cases has improved, but the ultimate measure is problem resolution, and that's still a problem for many customers."

SAP insists it's not done. Based on the survey, the company knows that the 60% of BusinessObjects 50,000 customers who do not have SAP apps or NetWeaver want to hear more about BI improvements and less about ways in which SAP apps and BI can work better together. Thus, product roadmaps and strategies are being communicated accordingly.

In a more concrete step, SAP yesterday released a new remote support component aimed at helping customers to better manage, monitor and evaluate their BusinessObjects deployments. A root cause analysis feature is said to determine where and why a problem occurred, and an "Early Watch Alert" system is said to monitor system configurations and highlight hardware, software, operating system, and parameter/setting concerns.

"This will result in faster message resolution times as it will save SAP support consultants from repeatedly asking questions about your system's environment," according to a statement from SAP.

Perhaps the most promising sign that SAP is actually addressing a customer sore point is that this latest round of upgrades and announcements is not coming out in response to a critical report, a publicity flap or a bad quarter. There's clear evidence that SAP has benefited from its acquisition of BusinessObjects, both in terms of SAP customers standardizing on BusinessObjects and in elevating SAP's ability to address BI and analytics.

The new remote support component and changes in support sites, product communications and customer influence appear to be good-faith efforts to improve customer satisfaction. I'd encourage SAP BusinessObjects customers to comment below to share their thoughts.

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