I recently attended the SAP Active Global Support (AGS) Analyst Summit in Costa Mesa, California, along with a member of TEC’s software selection services team. At the November event, attendees were presented with the AGS Strategy for 2012 and in-depth reviews of SAP’s customer support offerings. There were a number of different themes presented by the members of AGS, but the theme that really caught our attention is SAP’s commitment to moving from reactive to proactive customer support.
In this article I am going to give some background on SAP’s current support offerings, highlight SAP’s Solution Manager as the company’s technology support enabler, and summarize the SAP support offerings. The article will also take a look at the possibility for predictive customer support that SAP may be able to provide in the future.
SAP Support Offerings
SAP’s support offerings have grown and evolved over the years along with the company’s product offerings. In the ‘90s, SAP’s R/3 support started out with remote connection and online service support. In the decade that followed SAP introduced Active Global Support, SAP Enterprise Support, and the SAP Solution Manager. As we move beyond 2010, SAP is moving beyond reactive customer support models to provide more proactive support offerings. The newer proactive support offerings, coupled with more than a decade of experience with Solution Manager, are coalescing at just the right time as SAP extends its reach beyond its applications foundation and into other offerings including analytics, mobile, cloud, and database and technology solutions.
Through the Active Global Support (AGS) group, SAP offers the following support options:
SAP Standard support is a bare bones reactive support offering. A company receives mainly incident-driven support to maintain operations of an existing system and keep it up to date. Suffice to say, if you are a company doing anything other than watching a static SAP system grow old in your data center, you’ll want to go with at least the Enterprise Support level of support.
SAP Enterprise Support is the level of support purchased by most organizations running SAP solutions. Enterprise Support provides access to the latest software and legal changes, 24/7 access to the support advisory center, and an array of tools and content including the SAP Enterprise Support Academy.
Active Global Support also offers the ActiveEmbedded and MaxAttention services. These support offerings are premium engagement services which are tailored to a customer’s individual needs. An ActiveEmbedded program can have SAP AGS personnel on-site working as part of the customer’s organization. The MaxAttention services can assist with anything from service pack upgrades to new technology implementations. These premium engagement services are consultative services, but run out of the AGS organization.
Solution Manager – Enabling Proactive Support
One can’t talk about SAP support and the move toward proactive support without discussing Solution Manager. Solution Manager is the prime technological enabler of SAP’s movement from reactive to proactive support. When Solution Manager was introduced in 2001, the product was often installed but infrequently used by organizations. The Solution Manager languished in this nowhere land for almost a decade. But now, after some seven full releases of the product, the Solution Manager is proving to be an indispensible and differentiating tool for SAP installations.
A full discussion of the features and functions in Solution Manager is out of the scope of this article, but an abbreviated list includes change control management, IT and application support, root cause analysis, service processing, testing, administration, solution monitoring, service-level management and reporting, and accelerated implementation.
As the above feature and function list illustrates, SAP Solution Manager is much more than just a technical tool for use only by the BASIS team. For Solution Manager to be leveraged fully requires commitment to its use across the entire landscape and lifecycle of a company’s SAP implementations. Also, the skill sets required to take full advantage of the Solution Manager go beyond that of your technical teams. Realizing the full benefits of Solution Manager requires skills that are part technical (application and operations), part project manager, part testing, and part business operations.
Summary – SAP support – The Future is Predictive
Over the years, SAP has made great strides in moving from a reactive to a proactive support model. The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of pro-active is “acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes.” A more focused definition for software vendors might be more along the lines of “telling the customer there is an operational issue and helping to resolve the issue before it becomes a serious problem.” The software vendor’s proactive support services would be on all levels of issues surrounding their solution. These proactive offerings would carry the customer from cradle to grave, or from purchase to decommission of the solution.
The level of support purchased by the majority of SAP customers, Enterprise Support, is still primarily a reactive support model. Under this level of support, SAP does provide pro-active services in the forms of education, on-line expert knowledge services, and the Solution Manager tool which enables the customer to be more pro-active in managing his/her solution. However, under SAP Enterprise support the customer must put in a significant amount of energy to make sure that their SAP solution is being proactively managed.
The truly proactive support offerings are the premium engagement services offered as SAP ActiveEmbedded and SAP MaxAttention. These services will cost a customer more than Enterprise Support, but the services that SAP can provide under these offerings are extremely valuable to all SAP customers. Unless a company is extremely confident that their SAP solution is being optimally managed on all levels, it would make a lot of sense to engage SAP’s AGS group to assist via one of these premium engagement services.
As SAP must manage some 183,000+ customers, it would be difficult and costly to roll out the current proactive support offerings to all customers. The proactive support offerings currently require boots on the ground at the customer sites. However, the continuous improvements and more extensive use of the Solution Manager by SAP customers is bringing a large body of extremely valuable data to SAP customers and SAP itself. The sheer volume of data that can be harnessed from the Solution Manager at customer sites can give SAP the ability to not only be proactive in customer support but also move toward more predictive support offerings in the future.
There are a lot of possibilities moving forward where more proactive and possibly predictive support offerings can be provided. SAP is in a position to be able to collect hard data to make their decisions on all manner of issues affecting its customers. The steps being taken by SAP along with the people and technology at the company means that it is well positioned to provide more proactive support solutions to its customers now and into the future. For example, if you collect data that says 20% of your customers are doing unneeded customizations in an area, as a vendor, you can create an on-line tutorial and send it directly to that customer list and tell them how to correct the issue. There are numerous examples where this type of predictive support could be something SAP not only sells but uses to their own competitive advantage.
You can hear, first hand, how Westcon Group, Inc. has adopted SAP Solution Manager tools through the “Run SAP Like a Factory” and Application Lifecyele Management methodolgies, in order to build their own customer center of expertise, with the help of SAP ActiveEmbedded services. Join our webcast on Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm EDT.
Register today at: http://event.on24.com/r.htm?e=583278&s=1&k=600AE218377C56195268BAB17ECA05DB