The ASUG Influence Model is a powerful tool that helps drive development of SAP solutions. Case in point: the ASUG Influence Council for Supply Chain Planning was instrumental in securing new functionality in SAP Advanced Planning and Optimization (SAP APO). ASUG member and SAP customer David Healey, manager of supply chain processes for the Armstrong Floor Products unit of Armstrong World Industries, spoke to SAP INFO online about how the process worked. He is joined by the SAP Influence Council point-of-contact, Dr. Frank Schlter, product manager for SAP Supply Chain Management.
Why did you elect to participate in an ASUG Influence Council? Why did you select the council you participate in?
Healey: I wanted to get involved in Influence activities because I saw it as a way not only to provide input on the direction of future development but also to get on the "inside" with regard to current development efforts and what was happening with the SAP applications with which I work. I have not been disappointed. To me, the whole Influence initiative is a win-win scenario for both SAP and ASUG. How can you lose when the company whose product you are using actively seeks your input and wants you to help shape its future direction? I chose to participate in the Influence Councils associated with the Demand Planning (DP) and Supply Network Planning (SNP) modules of SAP APO because these are the solutions we use at our company.
Have you seen instances in which your or your council's input has led to a specific change in an SAP solution?
Healey: Absolutely. For example, earlier versions of SAP APO Demand Planner allowed the user to download a planning grid to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, thereby harnessing the power of Excel to manipulate the planning data. But there was no capability to upload the spreadsheet back into SAP APO after making changes, so the usefulness of the downloading capability was limited. The ability to upload a spreadsheet from Excel into SAP APO was viewed as essential by the members of an earlier Influence Council. That capability now exists.
Do you find SAP product managers to be open to ASUG input and communicative with you after meetings?
Healey: In working with APO Influence Councils, we have been blessed with two extremely knowledgeable, competent and cooperative product managers, Dr. Frank Schlter and Georg Klinger. Obviously, the ASUG Influence Model will not work without the cooperation of SAP, and both of these gentlemen have driven Influence activities from the SAP side. It is clear that they value the input from ASUG members. We even abandoned an Influence Council suggested by SAP when it became clear that the effort was not going to work. This is not a negative comment; it is an extremely strong testimony of how SAP really listens to the members and how product managers are willing to change direction based on the input of Influence Council members.
Do you believe the ASUG Influence Model has significant effect on how SAP updates its solutions?
Healey: Yes, I do. This has become clear in our work on SAP APO and the functionality improvements that we are seeing in recent releases and planned releases. Influence Councils tend to draw the most interested and the most knowledgeable users, folks who want to improve the product. While everyone brings their own ideas and issues to the council, all members recognize that not everything can get implemented. We are all involved in a selfless effort to improve the product in ways that will bring the biggest benefits to the most users. And it's working.
Mr. Schlter, describe how one bit of functionality or one component was improved as a result of ASUG Influence. How did input from ASUG members lead to a specific change in an SAP solution?
Schlter: The Influence Council for Supply Chain Planning (Demand Planning and Supply Network Planning in SAP APO) was running between spring and autumn last year. Customers identified their top five requirements for each area. Here are two examples:
The change release log functionality between Demand Planning and Supply Network Planning The change release log between DP and SNP was an existing functionality. Users said it would be useful if it contained more information in the log file. That new information or functionality would be used to identify critical products. So that was added as a result of the user input.
And Offline Demand Planning This completely new piece of functionality was requested by users to support a new process in Demand Planning. As a result of that change, it is now possible to upload data from an Excel file.
How long did it take from the point when the input was received from the Influence Council to the point when the SAP product was modified?
Schlter: The Influence Council was set up to influence the planning phase and the development of SAP SCM 5.0, which is currently in development. But it was also possible to add smaller requirements to the then-current development phase, which was SAP SCM 4.1. The first example, the release log, was implemented very fast and was available after one year. The second example, Offline Demand Planning, requires more development effort. It is scheduled for the next release, which means it will be available two years after the requirement came up in the Influence Council.
How would you describe the Influence Councils? Do you find them helpful in the development of new functionality or modifications to existing functionality?
Schlter: From a development point of view the 2003 Influence Council was very helpful. In addition to identifying the most important topics, it gave us the chance to bring the developers together with a group of customers. We learned more about their views on the system and the different functionality they need. It brought the voice of the customers directly into SAP product development.
How often do you meet with ASUG members for Influence Council input?
Schlter: The 2003 Influence Council consisted of four face-to-face meetings at the 2003 ASUG Annual Conference & Vendor Fair and the 2003 Supply Chain Management Forum, as well as four conference calls/online meetings.
Aside from the Influence Council meetings, how do you communicate with ASUG members? How do you keep them informed on the results of their input?
Schlter: As I mentioned, we have virtual meetings that can include live product demo sessions. We use cFolders to share information. And of course we have regular e-mail exchanges. At the 2003 Supply Chain Management Forum there was a presentation about the results of the Influence Councils. It highlighted the specific Influence topics that are being realized in different product releases. It also explained what Influence topics are included in development plans and what topics have not yet been covered.