In a move that Co-Chief Executive Officer Léo Apotheker called “an absolute, true milestone in the history of SAP,” the German-based enterprise software giant SAP AG (www.sap.com) last week formally unveiled Business Suite 7, the latest iteration of its flagship enterprise platform.
Business Suite 7 includes about 150 functional innovations, SAP said. But the biggest fanfare at a Feb. 4 New York press conference announcing the product was focused on the flexible, modular and cost-saving way in which the software will be delivered. During an interview with Automation World after the event, SAP executives also discussed specific capabilities aimed at boosting manufacturing plant floor visibility and process improvement.
Unlike traditional “big bang” upgrade scenarios of the past, in which customers were required to periodically upgrade individual applications, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), or Product Lifecyle Management (PLM), for example, the release of all Business Suite 7 applications will be synchronized, SAP said. That means that applications including ERP, PLM, Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) will all be on the same version footing. Users then will be able to implement so-called “enhancement packages,” SAP said, enabling them to pick and choose and pay for only the functionalities they want from across all of the applications in the Suite, without need for expensive and time-consuming individual upgrades. The result, said SAP, will be significantly reduced total cost of ownership for Business Suite 7 users.
With Business Suite 7, SAP is also introducing the availability of “value scenarios.” These pre-defined end-to-end business processes are designed to help companies analyze and take action upon various industry-specific issues, by using data that crosses organizational and application boundaries. Value scenarios can be implemented in small steps and deployed as customers need them, SAP said. When combined with the enhancement packages and other Business Suite 7 advances—including analytical capabilities gained through SAP’s 2007 acquisition of French-based Business Objects SA—the result will be lower information technology (IT) costs, increased visibility into business processes and improved flexibility that will help customers be more competitive during these difficult economic times, SAP said.
At least one industry analyst is taking a wait-and-see approach regarding the SAP Business Suite 7 rollout. “The key thing that we’re looking at is whether they can really deliver the modularity that they’re claiming,” said Dan Miklovic, research vice president who covers manufacturing for Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. “We haven’t seen the proof points yet, but if they can, that’s significant in the sense that being able to put in smaller pieces on an as-needed basis will make it quicker and more cost-effective to deploy,” Miklovic told Automation World. “So the proof will be how well they can actually get this into the market.”
SAP actually began shipping Business Suite 7 to select customers on Nov. 21 last year, executives said, with global availability planned for May 2009. About 190 customers are currently engaged in Business Suite 7 ramp-ups, and more than 30 value scenarios have already been shipped, according to Jim Hagemann Snabe, a member of the SAP Executive Board.
During the press conference, SAP provided an example of a value scenario involving a manufacturer of global positioning systems. In the example, a product line manager who discovers a problem with a particular navigation system product uses a dashboard to access a variety of cross-organizational data sources to gain insights and correct the problem.
A link to the social networking site Twitter, for example, enables the manager to see that customers are complaining about issues with the product unit’s display, while other links reveal that sales revenues and profits on the product are declining, and that product inventories are on the rise. Other dashboard views enable examination of engineering drawings, quality documents, and purchasing information, among other data, ultimately allowing a change to be made in the product’s bill of materials to replace the offending display component.
Value scenarios can also include insights and corresponding actions based on links to factory floor data, said Vivek Bapat, SAP vice president, Suite Solution Marketing, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and PLM, during an interview with Automation World following the Business Suite 7 announcement. SAP’s Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (MII) application, which provides enterprise connectivity to a large number of plant floor systems, plays an important role in these scenarios, he said.
“A key component of our strategy over the last couple of years has been ensuring that we are able to provide role-based visibility and insight into manufacturing operations, to close the gap between the top floor and shop floor,” Bapat said. “One of the things we are focused on doing now is converting that insight into specific action that you can take.”
Business Suite 7 includes improved ability to coordinate a manufacturing network that includes outsourced manufacturing, Bapat said. And at the plant level, version 7 provides improved manufacturing execution capability, thanks to the rapid integration of technology from Visiprise Inc., a manufacturing execution system (MES) supplier acquired by SAP last year, he noted.
Bapat also cited SAP’s introduction late last year of so-called “Best-Run Now” packages, which are combinations of software offerings focused on solving specific customer pain points. Best-Run Now packages include product, services and financing, if needed, and are designed for quick deployment and fast return on investment (ROI). One Best-Run Package that uses MII and is focused on manufacturing visibility is producing typical ROIs for customers in the range of three to five months, Bapat said.