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Is SAP RISE changing the S/4HANA business case, or not? UKISUG goes behind the numbers of their newsmaking RISE with SAP survey

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed November 24, 2021
The biggest SAP topic this year is RISE with SAP - sorting the value from the marketing hype. In this diginomica exclusive, Paul Cooper, UKISUG Chair, shares his views on UKISUG's recent RISE with SAP survey, and previews their annual conference.

SAP UKISUG user group
(UKISUG's annual conference is next week)

SAP user groups have a knack for winding up in the news fray. The latest example? UKISUG, aka the UK & Ireland SAP User Group, which released a lightning-rod RISE with SAP member survey on the cusp of their annual conference.

Personally, I don't see anything controversial in the survey results. I do, however, see data that is instructive for SAP - and reinforces needed action items.

How did we wind up in controversy? Via sensationalized stories by other media outlets, which cherry-picked an unflattering stat or two without context, in order to portray RISE with SAP as a failure. I believe the reality is much more complicated, and the conclusion premature. I believe it all points back to an older, but still pressing challenge: building an effective S/4HANA business case.

But what does UKISUG think? Next week, we'll have the chance to find out directly from SAP users, with our own Derek du Preez on the ground in Birmingham  - attending UKISUG's first annual conference since the pandemic began (as of this writing, there is still time to register and attend in Birmingham). For now, let's kick things off via a video call with Paul Cooper, the Chair of UKISUG (Cooper is also Head of IS at Burton's Biscuits).

RISE with SAP - a central theme of UKISUG Connect

One unsurprising data point from the survey: plenty of questions about RISE with SAP remain. That led UKISUG to create a dedicated RISE track at the upcoming UKISUG Connect 2021 event. As Cooper told me:

We were really keen to get a customer that was on the journey. We'll have one customer there, Inchcape, who is going to come and share where they've got to. That's been the challenge for us over the last nine months with RISE: you're still dealing in the marketing elements of the launch, as opposed to what our members want to hear, which is: what did it mean? How do you sort out the SI element?

Why did you go for it - and we can now start getting the members on that journey. Unfortunately, it's only one customer, but as we now know, there are a few on that journey in the UK. So we'll be pushing that for events next year even more. We've seen good interest, in terms of the education we've done on RISE. I think SAP is a little bit upset with the statistics of, you know, 11% of organizations planning to use RISE. But as I've said, we're only nine months in.

I told Cooper: in my opinion, SAP is much less upset with UKISUG, than they are with how a stat can be viralized, and taken out of context. But let's get to those stats. On November 4, UKISUG shared the data points from their member survey.

RISE with SAP by the numbers - the UKISUG survey results

Highlights included the stat: One in ten (11%) of the organizations plan to use RISE with SAP. However, this stat is clearly not a definitive take on how many customers will eventually use RISE. Why? Because the survey also found that broad awareness of RISE isn't there yet. Customers aren't yet clear on what they are evaluating. The survey found that only 44% were either extremely or somewhat familiar with RISE, with 30% stating they had never heard of RISE with SAP. As Cooper said in the UKISUG press release:

Our findings are very similar to recent research from both ASUG and DSAG, in that it shows many organisations still aren't overly familiar with RISE with SAP, what is covered by the single contract and how it could help them.

On the good news side for SAP, this survey indicates customers aware of RISE with SAP do understand its core value proposition:

Of those organisations, the most commonly cited reasons for using RISE were accelerating their move to S/4HANA (25%), simplifying and accelerating their cloud journey (19%), reducing the number of contracts/providers they have to deal with (19%) and improving change management (17%).

Now, consider the stats from those not planning to use RISE:

When respondents were asked about why they aren’t planning to use RISE, not understanding the benefits (18%), haven’t seen enough customer case studies (15%), not moving to the cloud (12%) and avoiding vendor lock-in (12%) were the most frequent responses.

Contrary to viral media stories, I'm not sure that data is damning for SAP RISE. The top two responses (benefits and use cases) are actionable by SAP. The third, cloud skepticism, is a broader attitude that, in most industries, will continue to shift. That leaves "avoiding vendor lock-in" as the only top response that SAP really can't do much about. Though as Cooper pointed out to me:

I've heard quite a lot of people talk about lock-in with cloud. But if you go back to your large on-premise ERP system, you were locked in as much then as you are now... I remember doing a piece on lock-in 20 years ago when I did my Master's. I don't think it's any different looking at the marketplace today - it's just a different vendors.

And what was Cooper's overall reaction to this year's survey results?

I was quite pleased with the numbers, in terms of people that were recognizing RISE, thinking about it, and talking about it. I was worried that with the impacts of the pandemic and things like that, we wouldn't see much recognition of it.

RISE - addressing the standout questions

Cooper says SAP has to overcome some in-built skepticism about shiny-new-toy marketing announcements:

One of the things I've talked to SAP about is: we're hopeful it's not this year's marketing announcement, you know, that it's not this year's Leonardo, and that they sustain their effort behind it. Because that's what it takes to get it on people's agendas. People are at different points in their ownership and use product life cycles, and therefore, it might not be relevant for [all]. But as I said, we're seeing a lot of interest.

As you said, it's easy to jump onto a low number, but if you look at some of the other things, people are starting to get familiar with it and understand it. And that's what you've got to get in that first wave.

Cooper hopes that UKISUG Connect will help users advance in their grasp of RISE:

We've got one of the SAP guys who is very RISE-centric. He'll be up on stage to take questions from some of our volunteers. We will put more events next year, and we've done a couple of podcasts this year, with SAP. So there is certainly good commitment from SAP's side on that education.

Hopefully next year, we can mix in a larger customer element, and that should be when people start to be able to latch on to the messages - if they see someone that's in a similar situation to them using it. They can start to relate to what the benefits are, where some of the issues may lie, around their other cloud investments, and how they leverage those if they move. 

As Cooper points out, a big part of customer questions with RISE go back to the nitty-gritty: how will the contractual relationships be managed? What is the role of the SI? Cooper:

Things like SLAs have always been a challenge when you're dealing with large tech companies. It will be interesting to see what impact we see or not, as the case may be on your SLAs around SAP - and the underlying infrastructure. 

As for the customer questions SAP still needs to answer on RISE with SAP, I believe Cooper's quote from the survey announcement sums it up well:

Whether RISE can help customers build a strong case to move to S/4HANA is still to be seen. Every customer situation is different, but many need a much clearer understanding of the commercial impact and how it effects existing cloud investments before they can make an informed decision.

My take

I asked Cooper: what would constitute a successful show this year, given we are still making our way with on-the-ground events?

I'm hoping that people come away with a better understanding of the whole RISE piece. There's a couple other things we're going to be doing at the event that we've not done before. We're launching a change white paper around the cost of change... We've spent quite a lot of time over the last year, from a user group perspective, just doing a bit of introspective work - looking at our strategy and where we are, and our vision and mission.

Redoubling the diversity commitment is one result:

One of the things that we're pushing there: we've not done any specific events to encourage the engagement of our female membership and grow that. We've got SAP's Chief Customer Officer in the UK - she's going to be talking. So we're starting to improve the overall diversity of what we get up on stage. We have good female breakout numbers, but keynotes are always a bit more difficult. So we're starting to address some of that.

Cooper said he doesn't expect licensing to be as hot a topic this year ("that landscape is a bit calmer than it was two or three years ago.") I told Cooper: I'm not convinced SAP has squared all of that way. That's an allusion to my piece on how vendors should provide licensing dashboards - also referenced in my chat with SAP Board Member Scott Russell. With today's technology, a software audit should never be a surprise. Nor do I think SAP has resolved all the data and API access pricing questions that factor into digital access. But for now, that topic is simmering. SAP would do well, in my view, to keep it on their own front burner. To me, topics like removing licensing friction cut to the heart of any definition of customer success, at least in our industry.

Cooper also brought up the value he is finding in SUGEN participation (an attempt to bring SAP user groups into a broader voice/organization). I haven't heard much from SUGEN lately, but Cooper sees a benefit, including comparing issues across geographies, e.g. from South America to Europe.

I was struck by Cooper's stories of how the UKISUG instituted wellness programs for their members during the pandemic, which included regular online drop-in meetings. Given the duress we've all been through, it's no surprise those efforts received glowing feedback from members, via a third party survey:

We felt we were in a good place when we went out and did that [survey]. The guys that did the work with us said, 'You know, some of the large brands that they work with would be quite pleased to get the feedback that we were getting from our broader network, not just the membership.

That's a good foundation to build on. Let's see what we learn next week.

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