Rob Ludwig and Angie Meyer
SAP business technology consultant Rob Ludwig and SAP customer Angie Meyer at a Tuesday night reception at SAPPHIRE NOW PHOTO: Dom Nicastro

ORLANDO, Fla. — Try leveraging SAP business software with no IT department, no CIO, a staff of about 25 and a technology budget that falls shy of Dell Technologies'.

That's the real-world scenario Angie Meyer and the team at Elite Creations faced just a short time ago. Meyer and other SAP enterprise technology users caught up with CMSWire this week to share their "in the trenches" tales here at the SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference, wrapping up today at the Orange County Convention Center.

Wanted: SAP Translator

Elite Creations' conundrum: They needed someone who "spoke SAP." Or, as Meyer put it, an "SAP translator." 

That's when business technology consultant Rob Ludwig, a 20-year SAPPHIRE NOW veteran and SAP expert, entered the mix. A prior consultant had "made it as turnkey as possible," providing a template and essentially leaving it up to Elite Creations to take over from there.

Ludwig began a reconfiguration process of the SAP ERP Central Component (ECC) system, SAP's enterprise resource planning software. 

"It was a long process," Meyer said. "We were lucky enough to get involved with a partner trying to break into the smaller medium niche. We were their guinea pig. They've thrown a lot of stuff at us for super cheap that we probably wouldn't have been able to buy out of the box. But maintaining it … we don’t even have an IT department, so that’s been a huge challenge."

Searching for SMB Peers

SAP customer Michael Dell's company definitely has an IT department among its 138,000 employees. That's Dell, as in the CEO of Dell Technologies, the $61 billion company. Dell shared the stage with SAP CEO Bill McDermott on Tuesday during the conference's opening keynote.

Dell's customer profile is a familiar one for SAP, which has 350,000 customers, including 87 percent of the Forbes Global 2000 companies.

It's a different set of challenges for Meyer and her team of two dozen.

"Being a small company we don’t have a lot of room to play," Meyer said. "This event is full of Fortune 500 companies looking for solutions but those are not the same solutions for us. My purpose in coming is to network with other small to medium companies and people in my industry to get ideas and solutions I can implement in my own software that’s easily integrated." 

Ludwig said SAP does make great efforts to care for its smaller customers. He recalled a meeting with SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, who told Ludwig SAP's original play was for SMBs. 

Turning Vision into Practice

The challenge for the smaller players like Meyer and Elite Creations is making something practical out of the visionary keynotes and major unveilings, like SAP's expanion of its Leonardo IoT data solution this week.

"In 20 years of doing this thing (SAPPHIRE NOW), I know my takeaways from the keynotes are usually much more future looking than something I can go back and implement in the next six months or a year or if ever," Ludwig said. "For a small business enterprise, it’s probably never."

Smaller outlets like Meyer's need to find the opportunities for their companies, take advantage of maturing technologies and business analytics and supply chain planning. 

"But," Ludwig said, "you don’t get those in a keynote. You get those from conversations and people in the trenches on the show floor and those smaller booths."

Getting From Point A to Point B

Here's what some other SAP customers had to say at SAPPHIRE NOW:

Colleen Spence, Business Analyst, Keurig Green Mountain

Colleen Spence
Colleen Spence

I'm interested in S4/HANA. I think what I took away from the opening keynote is that data is always changing and continues to change. And we really are at a place where we need more things we can do on things like our cell phones — and fast. 

I work in the procurement department, and I'm a business analyst and supporter of SAP users. I'll take users' concerns to the development team and work new solutions through a testing process. 

For me, as I walk around here, my group has some needs in the reporting of our data management solution. We could use some help with some easy-to-use reporting structures for my user group so I’m not running reports all the time. It will free up time for me.

Phil Dohn, Systems Engineer, Principal for SAP/ERP, Lockheed Martin

Phil Dohn
Phil Dohn

The event as always is good. It's nice to see that actually so many people came. This is the largest SAPPHIRE, so that's nice, and the sessions have been good, and I'm finding out a lot of good information.

This is probably my umpteenth SAPPHIRE. It's always fun and always interesting with lots to do and learn.

We’re looking at the next S4/HANA release. It's a huge topic of interest, and we're trying to understand what S4 is all about, what options we have, what problems we might run into.

S4 from a business case perspective is kind of light. There's not a real burning platform reason to do S4, so we’re trying to figure out what can we do with that and what our options are. Where are we able to gain some advantage from it to get rid of some old customizations that we put in place and reduce some of custom code that we’ve done where we can get to a more standardized platform and be able to move forward.

Bill (McDermott) is always entertaining but there was nothing over-the-top shocking. Every once in a while they surprise you, but nothing in particular this time.

Gilbert Espinosa, Director, Business Development for Retail, Impinj

Gilbert Espinosa
Gilbert Espinosa

I think in general the tone of the keynote presentation and the awareness of how the corporation fits into the community and giving back was great. It’s a shame that more companies don't do that.

From a technology standpoint, it’s great that they’re pushing the run-live and the instant-access to data, the Leonardo platform to make things actionable. But I think what was lacking was an understanding that most companies have legacy systems. How do you pull those all forward?

The response is going to be, "Well, we have partners that do that." Well, that’s a heavy lift. 

So it’s a great idea to have all these live-data feeds giving you actionable insights, but I think where companies get stuck is, "OK, I see that. Here’s where I am. How do I get from here to there without crippling my business? That’s great if I live to get there."

In general, getting from point A to point B is kind of ignored. It’s assumed. For all our employees their day is determined by all those legacy systems and processes. 

Karen Gunn, Design Specialist, Treasury Board Secretariat

Karen Gunn
Karen Gunn

Bill McDermott was very dynamic, personable and probably charming is a good word for it, especially for a company this size. It was great.

I’m a little worried about this whole cloud thing. We’re Canadian government, and we have a lot of customizations, policies and rules we have to follow that don’t match up with SAP best practices. 

Right now we’re OK. We can do hybrid implementations and still do a customization, but I can see from the way they’re talking and from the presentations I’ve been to that they’re moving to public cloud being sort of the only option in five or 10 years, and that kind of scares me.

Right now we’re looking at the whole private cloud but even that is a big stretch for something like a government. They’re scared. We’re not going to put Defense on the cloud. When we talk to the SAP guys they tell us that’s old thinking — but that’s the way we think. 

I really like the way SAP is going with the whole look of SAP Fiori (user experience for S/4 HANA) and how everything is more integrated. In the past, there was always a piece missing. They've clearly taken things up to the user as opposed to just the backend people.