How One Vendor Addresses Support and Maintenance Issues

Problem Setting

SAP is one of the major enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors that is addressing the concerns of its user base regarding support and maintenance (S&M) issues. These issues are detailed in a previous series on S&M: Will User Enterprises Ever Get Onto an Easy (Support and Maintenance) Street?, Support and Maintenance: No Longer the Software Industry's "Best Kept Secret"?, What Is the Value Proposition of Support and Maintenance?, What Are the Support and Maintenance Options?, and Alternative Software and Support Maintenance Options.

Among these issues are

  • High support costs—particularly for users of heavily customized, and thus highly functional, mature enterprise systems
  • Costly upgrade requirements—an issue for users not interested in new "nice to have" features added to their older, stable systems
  • Extended or lifetime vendor support programs—these programs can force customers to pay more over time for less service
  • Penalty fees—to be reinstated on the current stable release after a customer discontinues maintenance

To summarize: Customers need support, but the vendors are often not providing them with what they need. And if they are providing support, the price is often unjustifiable. For these customers, the "one-size-fits-all" vendor approach to S&M is unacceptable. At the same time, many customers realize it will take at least a decade for market battles to play out over system architectures, new middleware, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) technology standards, as experience teaches us, see Architecture Evolution: From Web-based to Service-oriented Architecture. Lastly, many customers are concerned that choosing one vendor will leave them with a potentially weak or unviable solution in the coming shake out.

Although existing enterprise systems' customers are a locked-up audience, they can be only to a point. If vendors continue playing hardball, the repercussions will likely be defections. Ultimately, enterprise software licensees should understand that they have a choice of software S&M providers. Options do exist for any company contemplating discontinuing the maintenance of an application product, and users should first talk to their vendors to review their options.

What Then Are SAP's Options?

In an effort to maintain the customer status quo, SAP's top S&M program, SAP MaxAttention, is offered to customers whose operations demand mission-critical customized support. The tailored program for each customer includes a permanent on-site support team, an executive sponsor, and SAP Safeguarding, consisting of a service portfolio that is able to manage the risks involved in complex implementation projects.

The SAP advisory personnel will have to exude deep industrial experience, business insight, and multidisciplinary skill sets. They will not only have to be well versed on the mix of SAP's functional and technical features and interdependencies, but they will also need to have similar knowledge of partner products. If possible, it would be ideal for the advisory personnel to have knowledge of the complete playing field, including the competitive offerings.

Early in 2006, SAP expanded its support services to meet customers' changing demands. SAP introduced SAP Premium Support to mitigate some of the above conventional S&M contractual pitfalls, and to underline its commitment to continual S&M evolution and growth. Premium Support provides a new option between SAP Standard Support, a fairly competitively priced basic support package, and SAP MaxAttention, the vendor's high-end support package, tailored to meet the very specific needs of large global enterprises. The Premium Support plan offers quick issues resolution, annual information technology (IT) assessments, and a designated support advisor who serves as a personal, day-to-day contact for support-related topics.

For users interested in "pick and choose" options, SAP is able to cover a subset of a landscape with its option Partial Landscape Coverage, while the components of the Premium Support offering remain intact. For more information, see No Yawn Intended: Enterprise Applications Giant Introduces a Mid-tier Support Choice

To mitigate the challenge of forced upgrades, early in December, SAP announced its first enhancement package for mySAP ERP, and disclosed further details of innovations being delivered under its evolved roadmap for the flagship product suite. This enhancement package is part of the license and maintenance agreement, and is now available to customers running mySAP ERP 2005. Customers are now able to use new enterprise services and functionality in an uninterrupted way. This allows the customers to direct business process innovation while maintaining the stability of their core ERP systems.

Further, SAP enhancement packages for mySAP ERP meet customer requirements for support innovation without disruption to day-to-day business operations. This makes it simpler and faster for SAP's clients to adopt new product functionality, industry-specific features, and enterprise services, while protecting them from the complexity of multiple upgrades.

Enhancements to mySAP ERP will be made available through 2010 as extensions to mySAP ERP 2005 in a series of optional enhancement packages. SAP hopes these enhancement packages will stabilize its planning cycle by cutting future migration costs for new releases and give customers the time to get used to enterprise SOA technology. The foundation must be laid by implementing mySAP ERP 2005. When this is accomplished, businesses will be able to leverage the next generation of ERP software and enterprise services architecture.

User enterprises will have to conduct a thorough analysis to decide whether to upgrade to this foundation product from their current platforms. However, this release cycle and strategy simplifies the implementation of new upgrades, and it matches the needs of customers that typically want to plan and perform an upgrade every five to seven years.

The optional enhancement packages enable customers to "switch on" only the new features and functionalities they want, and can be configured in a modular fashion. This should enable SAP clients, without the disruption of multiple major system upgrades, to easily take advantage of nonstop innovation. SAP's first upgrade package includes hundreds of enterprise services that enable functional enhancements for human capital management (HCM) and financials applications, as well as specific industry upgrades for retail and manufacturing industries.

SAP plans to provide two or three enhancement packages per year that will contain functional and technical upgrades as well as enterprise services for mySAP ERP. Each of these so-called value packs will focus primarily on addressing specific customer business requirements. The packages will concentrate on areas such as simplifying user interface (UI), helping companies effectively manage their enterprise talent pools, improving financial collaboration, and expanding on the broad, industry-specific capabilities in mySAP ERP.

The enhancement packages will also include enterprise services (software components) for particular business scenarios. The explanation of these services is included in the enterprise service repository. This repository includes not only the definitions of the services, but also composites where available, and all the information required for SAP clients to get up and running quickly.

This information is delivered via an interactive Wiki format. In addition, there is a variety of software tools to implement, manage, and upgrade the applications. SAP bundles the above software tools into SAP Solution Manager, while, in contrast, other vendors provide a variety of separate tools for upgrade management.

Depending on the extent of the tools provided, customers may use third-party tools for requirements such as change management and performance monitoring. Upgrade tools, however, may have limited (if any) value for customers that upgrade infrequently.

Conclusion and Recommendations

More choice, non-enforced migration, and personalized attention are definitely good signs. Prospective and existing customers, especially those with a majority of IT assets belonging to SAP, should evaluate their service agreement options.

It is advantageous for every customer that their vendors thrive. The vendors are then able to keep abreast of the latest product developments. The difficulty is in the details. Every user company should conduct thorough studies to determine whether it is worthwhile for them to opt for the entire package, considering that SAP support is available in a piecemeal format. Customers would benefit from approaching SAP and asking for more concrete examples of product developments, such as advisors' deliverables, proof of concept, early adopters' benefits, or conflict of interest preemption, for example.

There is no universal solution to the problems inherent in customer software S&M contracts, but prospective clients should carefully review the fine print to understand the implications of any long-term contract, and what effect any new or revised licensing and service contracts will have on their future business costs.

The time has come for support users to be alert and ensure they are not buying functionality they do not really need, even if vendors offer tremendous discounts on additional modules. More recommendations regarding weighing possible options and alternatives are discussed in Alternative Software Support and Maintenance Options.

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