Last week, Jelena Perfiljeva posted a darkly humorous rant on SAP Community Network entitled: Are you there, SAP? It's me, Jelena. The short version can be summed up in her penultimate paragraph:
So, dear SAP, let me end with another joke. “What does SAP stand for? – Shut up And Pay”. Come to think of it, it’s not really funny. But, sadly, so far it’s kind of true.
As a long time observer of SAP and especially of its approach to maintenance it is hard to disagree with the underlying logic of Perfiljeva's post.
When the maintenance price hike of 2008-9 came into focus it took a concerted effort by SAP user groups to get SAP to shift position. Even then, the best SAP customers managed to get was a deferring of a 'catch up with Oracle' but with dubious future value attached. At the time, a small group of analysts/commenters were engaged in a concerted campaign (Disclosure: I was part of that group) to get a better deal for customers.
We knew that any victories were likely to be short lived but anything that got SAP to live up to its claimed customer focus was always something we considered to be paramount.
Move on six years and what has changed? If you believe Perfiljeva and most of the 68 people who have commented positively on her post, the answer is: very little.
Our own Jon Reed weighed in on the debate, arguing the Free Fiori argument to which she replied:
Frequently those raising concerns about the existing functionality, support and other "old business" are perceived as reactionary, unprogressive, almost luddite and obstructive to The Mighty Innovation. But this is not about dragging anyone back to the "dark ages", it's about the customer loyalty. When the customers witness poor support for the products they've already invested in, what is their motivation to invest in more products by the same company?
As others correctly pointed out, SAP is not the only fish in the sea and with more cloud offerings it may become even easier to switch from one software provider to another. Per SAP's own statistics, 79% of their customers are small- to medium-size companies. It's probably not a stretch to imagine that those could be likely to jump ship because their smaller systems would be easier to migrate, they have more flexibility and less money to give to SAP.
SAP might take comfort in thinking that such migration doesn't happen overnight and there will be years before the customers get fed up and start fleeing. And history might support that belief (remember the "browser wars"? as much as everyone hates IE it still holds big share of the market). But the times are changing rapidly and SAP's Firefox may be coming for them faster than we can figure out what does the fox say.
The undercurrent to this is simple - unless SAP steps up and looks after its own customers in accordance with the covenant it made with those customers many years ago then it will see a slow but steady seepage away from its offerings. At all levels.
I am privileged to be aware of (some ways in which) SAP sees this problem. (Disclosure: SAP has been a recent product consulting client.) It knows it is in the middle of a disruptive market shift that no longer values engineering excellence but rewards customer experience. It also know this presents multiple challenges. In short and contrary to many outsider comments - it's not stupid, it's challenged.
I can disclose this: SAP knows this is a weak spot with many UI's, versions, cloud, not-cloud, cloudy and goodness knows what else in play. It knows that there is a fundamental technology shift in play and is working hard to figure out how it can transform. It also knows this is incredibly difficult given 40+ years of almost unparalleled success and 63,000+ employees with a stake in this story.
My concern is somewhat more prosaic.
The comments to Perfiljeva's post make many excellent points, adding to the nuance of the situation. What is lacking is a considered response from the SAP support team that moves beyond the platitudes of 'contact us, we'll fix you up.'
SAP might argue that many of the comments come from a mouthy bunch of louts who have agendas. Not so. Many of those same comments come from SAP's self appointed Mentors - the very people that SAP has lauded as being the 'best of the best' among the SAP community. If SAP doesn't listen to them, then who does it listen to?
SAP is not alone. Its SCN community is but one example of how transparency provides the kind of sunshine disinfectant that buyers need. That's not the question - the real question is: will SAP act...or will it fall prey to Perfiljeva's implied prediction of a customer group that has had enough and is willing to walk away - in silence.
Disclosure: SAP is a partner at time of writing, part of our partnership remit is to shine light on topics that are important to SAP users.