In a move that positions SAP UK & Ireland User Group as a media player, the organization has launched a peer review portal that should help customers make better choices about their SAP partners. Good move? We think so but with caveats. From the blurbs:
The UK & Ireland SAP User Group announced the launch of its new Affiliate Member Portal, designed to help SAP users select the right technology partner. The portal will provide anyone visiting the site with an ‘at a glance’ one to five-star rating for each partner. Much like TripAdvisor, registered User Group members will then be able read and post their reviews, as well as access further relevant information.
Members can sort partners by areas of expertise, including S/4 HANA, BusinessObjects, and SuccessFactors – enabling them to quickly evaluate and shortlist SAP partners based on their specific business needs. In addition, members will be able to easily get in touch with key contacts at the respective affiliate partner via the portal.
This initiative has a lot going for it at a time when customers are demanding as much upfront information about projects as they can get. Raven Intel, for example, has achieved a degree of notoriety (in the nice sense) for its open source HR focused customer reviews. Gartner offers something similar with its peer review portal.
According to Craig Dale, CEO of the group, this has been several years in the planning. For my part, I see this as a potentially valuable addition to the SAP buyer landscape though I'm not wholly convinced that Trip Advisor is the right comparison. As I explained to Dale, there can be no guarantee that partners, of which SAP UK&I UG counts 128, will not be tempted to game the system.
I said that the group can never be certain that partners will not cajole customers to provide glowing references as part of contractual obligations, something for which the group cannot legislate. In response Dale said:
All reviews are subject to approval. So a customer can't simply post 'This was great' or 'This was rubbish' without context.
OK - but even then I worry that User Group moderators will understand enough to ensure reviews pass the proverbial sniff test. It's something we watch out for on a daily basis. This is not a nitpicking critique. Enterprise buyers may only see a small number of enterprise-class projects in their business lifetime so access to high-quality information is vital. Even then it can be no substitute for direct peer interaction but it is a jump off point.
I also asked the extent to which this runs the risk of becoming little more than a vendor PR landing site. Again, and according to the blurbs:
The Affiliate Member Portal will give SAP partners a chance to showcase their expertise and solutions to more than 5,000 SAP customers
My immediate reaction was to question whether this is just more advertising for SAP partners. Dale thinks otherwise arguing that while the portal provides that opportunity:
It doesn't make sense for partners to view it in this way...far better to show thier best work. And don't forget, we, as a user group, do moderate.
My first pass at the portal suggested that vendors are dumping PR content without thinking about the needs of buyers. Dale said that while partners have the right to post material his view was that it was unlikely that partner/suppliers would see benefit from viewing the portal as another outlet for marketing fluff. He is right.
Another issue is accessing the content. Dale said that members get access as part of their membership subscription at no additional cost but what about potential buyers? Gartner provides unfiltered views yet Dale said that non-members can only see star ratings. As a frequent tech buyer, I want to get my hand on as much information as possible. Gating content subject to a fee-paying membership is not a good idea unless I can at least get a sense of the content quality. I'd like for example to see some sample content. What's more irritating is that the service requires me to sign up for newsletter content before I can see what's on offer. Gartner provides me with direct access.
Dale acknowledged that this is the first pass and is an evolving service. I'm glad to hear that since evolving into a media organization is not without risk. We know that from experience as media operators!
Despite my criticisms, this is a good first effort for which the user group should be congratulated. Buyers are crying out for information that helps them assess enterprise solutions and the partners that deliver on software vendor promises. As a user group, SAP UK & Ireland UG has a captive, valuable audience of which I can only look on with a degree of envy. I expect that over time, this will be a well-used resource.