Business software giant SAP is taking great strides towards forging closer ties with its customer base despite strong criticism in recent weeks, according to SAP UK & Ireland User Group chairman Alan Bowling.
At the 20th annual SAP User Group Conference in London today, Bowling told vnunet.com that the firm had worked hard to open up in the past 12 months at both a local and international level, including taking the unprecedented step of sharing its product roadmap with the customer group.
"This is a big deal because it's commercially sensitive, but it's pretty ground-breaking stuff," said Bowling. "You wouldn't see a Microsoft user group changing the way Office 2007 works, I suspect."
SAP also rolled out Customer Success councils in the UK this year at which members were allowed to evaluate customer satisfaction surveys, a task performed internally until now, according to Bowling.
"What I have found especially pleasing is the drive to challenge what has been in place before and to seek better, more accurate and realistic reviews of where they are today, with an acceptance that there are always areas where they can improve," he said.
"And internationally, from a User Group point of view, we've been given individual access to the most senior people in SAP, like [co-chief executive] Leo Apotheker. This opens up lots of opportunities because we're talking with the product owners."
In his keynote to the conference, Forrester Research analyst Ray Wang also hinted at SAP's growing level of engagement with its customer base. "The point is that you should be trying to create a partnership [with SAP]," he told the crowd of SAP users.
"It's about engaging with the vendors and trying to influence product direction. The good news is that SAP is responding and coming to terms with that level of input."
SAP had come in for strong criticism after forcing customers to migrate from current standard support offerings to a one-size-fits-all Enterprise Support package, for which many would be paying for services they would not need.
Since then the company has agreed to set up key performance indicators jointly agreed by the SAP User Group Executive Network to monitor SAP Enterprise Support. If they are not met, it will be halted.
"I don't think anyone was happy with Enterprise Support at first," said Bowling. "But this is a start. It means they're listening."
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