BitDepth 606 - December 11

SAP's in town looking for smaller businesses interested in taking tough business medicine.
SAP courts new business

SAP Caribbean’s Andrés González León presents his company’s case to potential and current customers at Hilton’s La Boucan Room on Wednesday last week. To his right is colleague Carlos Torres-Banchs. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

It was curious to see two executives from German enterprise software powerhouse SAP at the Hilton shilling their product to a group of IT officers. a few weeks ago.
The video chosen by the company’s Territory Manager, Andrés González León to open his presentation was even more unusual, a fast paced parkour race with three hip looking young men in suits jumping, rolling and running to the top of a building overlooking a densely populated city.
SAP, you see, is the 800 pound gorilla of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software sector, a company that earned 9.4 billion euros in 2006 through business relationships with 43,000 companies worldwide. It may see itself as nimble, but it leaves behind a heavy footprint.

The company’s claims to have 12 million users spread over 120 countries, many of them clustered in the largest companies in the world, including Microsoft and Apple, who have chosen the German company’s product over building something homegrown.
“This is all we do,” says González León, “we don’t build gadgets or games. What we do, and what we invest 30 percent of our profits into, is software for enterprise.”

Caribbean thrust
The Caribbean arm of the company has landed 150 customers in the region, a handful of which are in Trinidad and Tobago. Local companies making the transition to SAP include Clico, Angostura, bpTT, Petrotrin and NGC.
What those companies have in common apart from significant business cashflows is a focus on world markets, which increasingly insist on the kind of streamlined business transparency and reporting that’s built into SAP’s software.

The traditional customer of the 30-year-old company has tended to be multinational corporations and large manufacturing enterprises, but in the Caribbean and Latin America, SAP has also broadened its focus to small and medium sized companies.
Now in SAP-speak, a small company is one with 100 employees and income in the upper millions, so Caribbean-scale small businesses need not apply. That market is still being well served by solutions from Microsoft and Sage.
SAP’s software core, now dubbed Netweaver, is the base platform used across its product mix, which ranges from SAP Business Suite at the high end to SAP Business One. 

Using the same technology allows businesses to grow with the product, adding plug-in modules to address specific business requirements.
Some of these modules are designed to support legacy data, the information that businesses have been using to run their companies which need translation for use on a new software platform.

Making companies compliant
SAP offers a number of modules for such data transfer and has partners who offer many more. Walmart, for instance, built its own data connector to link its home-built database with Netweaver.
One key module that may not seem particularly sexy is delivered by a line item in the Financial and Managerial Accounting module, “prebuilt support for international reporting standards.”
That has been one of the key lever points for the adoption of SAP in companies who want to do business in Europe and the US, a code-deep system that demands that corporations align with a number of compliance protocols that all but force companies using SAP to reengineer their businesses to the standards of global commerce.

This process can be hard for companies with ingrained ways of doing business, particularly when those ways circumvent established protocols in the name of speed and efficiency. 
For that reason, SAP adoption has become the Buckleys cure for many of the local companies that have invested in it. 
SAP’s González León is upfront about the issue.
“Some projects were a little painful,” he noted in his address to the Hilton audience, “but nobody has backed out of using the product.”

SAP’s renewed thrust into Trinidad and Tobago isn’t just focused on software for smaller businesses than they usually market to. The company is forging deeper links here, assisting Petrotrin with creating a SAP user group, which will bring together corporate users with solutions providers and SAP technical advisors. SAP Caribbean is also on the verge of signing contracts with two local IT service providers who were unnamed, but described as enthusiastic about switching from their current product development and support to SAP.

Because the application layer that users interact with is written in Sun Microsystem’s Java language, local IT companies can customise and build modules for SAP using an open language that they are already familiar with.
To deepen its commitment to the Caribbean, SAP must begin to build a software ecosystem here with equal helpings of support and developers committed to the platform.
The message at the Hilton last week may have been advertised for customers, but it was also a planting of the flag for a software vendor that clearly wants to do more business in the Caribbean.
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