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5/18/2010
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SAP Customers Get A User-Group Champion

At SAP's SAPPHIRE conference, ASUG's CEO promises strong advocacy as the user group tackles software-support and BusinessObjects integration woes.

The Americas SAP User Group (ASUG) will be a strong advocate and champion for its 85,000 members. That's the key message ASUG CEO Bridgette Chambers tried to get across in her keynote address yesterday at SAP's SAPPHIRE event in Orlando, Fla.

Less than 12 months on the job, Chambers took over from the previous top administrator, Steven Strout, who was ousted in 2008 after encouraging ASUG members to go along with SAP's original single-tiered support plan. ASUG, along with other user groups, has since been credited with winning the current, two-tiered plan.

Chambers has helped lead a transformation at the user group that is not unlike the makeover at SAP itself, which ousted Leo Apotheker 100 days ago and installed co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe. ASUG has completely restructured its operations over the last year, according to Chambers, changing programs that weren't effective and launching larger volunteer leadership meetings, improved SAP customer performance benchmarking, and more extensive and interactive education programs.

"It's no longer enough to educate our members on everything they need to know," Chambers told InformationWeek before yesterday's keynote. "There are many issues that impact SAP customers, so we have to fully understand those issues, engage with SAP and make sure they are listening."

Chambers says ASUG is now working with Altimeter, the analyst group led by Ray Wang, to survey SAP customers and better understand what they think about issues such as the new enterprise support plan. While giving SAP credit for revising its original plan, Chambers notes that some policies have yet to be worked out to customers' satisfaction.

"We sat down with SAP with survey results on the top three things that customers thought about the maintenance portfolio," Chambers said, noting that the concerns were aired very publically through a video that was also available to ASUG members.

Among the top complaints? Many customers didn't want to have to use SAP's Solution Manager software, which some described as hard to install or redundant with existing systems-management software such as Tivoli.

"I was told that SAP was surprised by some of the questions that came in, but we're going to ask those questions because that's what's impacting our members," Chambers said. Improvements in the software have since been made, but Chambers said ASUG is still negotiating with SAP on specific software requirements.

BusinessObjects is another area where work remains both for SAP and for ASUG. On the vendor side, BusinessObjects has struggled with low customer-support satisfaction rankings -- as measured by Gartner and in the annual BARC BI Survey -- since SAP moved BI customers over to its own support programs. Chambers said ASUG is working with Altimeter to survey BusinessObjects customers to bring specific measures and recommendations to SAP.

ASUG and the vendor-sponsored Global BusinessObjects Network (GBN) agreed to a merger early this year. Seeking to win over the 21,000 North American customers who use BusinessObjects software independently from SAP products, ASUG has created a BusinessObjects-only ASUG membership. Chambers announced yesterday that this new membership will be offered at no charge for up to 5,000 customers through the end of 2011. In addition, the user group today announced a new ASUG Board seat for a BusinessObjects-only software user.

"The Board seat was created specifically because the legacy GBN members told us they wanted appropriate representation at the strategy level, and this is part of our effort to reach out and integrate that community," Chambers said.

ASUG also announced yesterday a new demo program whereby ASUG members can try out new SAP and SAP BusinessObjects technologies and solutions without the pressure of engaging through SAP's usual sales channels.

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