Challenges Await Head of New SAP User Group

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The Americas' SAP Users' Group announced its new CEO on Tuesday, nearly one year after parting ways with its previous chief.

Interim CEO Bridgette Chambers will take leadership of ASUG, which represents about 70,000 individuals at 2,000 member companies. Chambers assumes the role previously held by Steve Strout, who was ousted by ASUG's board in November 2008 for undisclosed reasons.

Like Strout before her, a key issue before Chambers is SAP's controversial decision to move all customers to a fuller-featured but pricier Enterprise Support service.

While some European user groups were especially vocal about SAP's move, ASUG officials adopted a more moderate tone in public remarks.

Following months of debate, SAP and the SAP User Group Executive Network (SUGEN), an organization made up of representatives from SAP user groups around the world, agreed to develop a set of KPIs (key performance indicators) meant to prove the value of Enterprise Support. SAP has agreed to hold off on its incremental price increase schedule for Enterprise Support "until the targeted improvements measured by the SUGEN KPI Index are met."

There will be an announcement regarding the KPIs later this year, said SAP spokesman Saswato Das.

Some customers are more accepting than others of SAP's Enterprise Support decision, given that the company had held maintenance rates steady for many years, according to Chambers.

However, she added, "quite frankly, SAP can drop in every value-add they can, but at the end of the day the proof is in the KPIs. This adds value or it does not. If it does not, they need to understand the customer base is not open to this. If it does, both SAP and customers win. ... We will help our customers make sure they get an answer."

Even as it lobbies for members' interests, ASUG has had an intimate relationship with SAP, going as far as co-locating its annual user conference with the vendor's Sapphire show. Despite these ties, ASUG has retained its independence and objectivity, Chambers said.

"I believe that is the clear differentiator for ASUG," she said. "Yes, we have close relationships with SAP. Yes, there is sharing of expenses for events ... [But] I don't really think you've got another organization that possesses the level of objectivity we do."

Not all ASUG members are convinced, according to one observer.

"The underlying concern that many ASUG members have expressed to us in the past has been that board members' organizations may have special relationships with SAP that could be jeopardized if they were to privately or publicly confront SAP on issues," said Ray Wang, a partner with the analyst firm Altimeter Group. "It would help usher in an era of transparency if members understood what those relationships are."

Chambers declined to address the issues raised by Wang, saying it is not her position to speak for ASUG's board members. "I will say that I am pleased and proud to work for a board that is so interested in all the issues that impact the SAP ecosystem," she said. "I have watched board members work tirelessly to ensure that the mission of ASUG is supported."

To that end, Chambers has a number of organizational goals and challenges on her plate, including plans to refocus ASUG around "education, influence and networking," she said.

Chambers has also been conducting a series of "town hall" meetings in recent weeks to gather feedback from ASUG members.

In addition, by the end of 2010, ASUG members should be able to better determine how much return they've received on their investment in a membership, Chambers said. "What I will be able to do is make it measurable. You'll be able to verify the value is approximately 'X.' Right now, the answer [to that question] is softer."

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