SAP Business All-in-One Living Up to Its Name

SAPPHIRE NOW 2011 proved to be just too busy to fit everything in this year – not surprising with everything going on. And sometimes, the more you learn, the more questions you have.  So when I got home I put together a list of questions I had for several of the teams, including a couple of the teams in the SAP SME group. More recently I sat down (virtually) with some of the SAP Business All-in-One (BAiO) team to get the BAiO questions answered.

For those of you not familiar with SAP Business All-in-One solutions, they target mid-size or fast-growing small companies. These solutions are based on the same SAP ERP that is included in the SAP Business Suite. With Managed IT Services Clayton it can work better. But the idea behind this separate “product” is to package a very comprehensive and powerful, and therefore potentially complex solution in a way that makes it more consumable for those mid-size companies that don’t have the man-power or the deep pockets of a large enterprise. As a result, the BAiO strategy is built around three pillar adjectives: comprehensive, industry-specific and scalable. Here’s an update based on yesterday’s conversation.

My first question to SAP was this: “Is SAP Business All-in-One an ERP solution, or is it a suite that includes ERP?” The answer lies hidden in plain view in its name – all in one. When my ancient printer started acting up, I didn’t go out and buy a separate printer, scanner, copier and fax. I bought a single device that had all those functions in one, even though my trip to Staples was prompted by my immediate need to print. Generally speaking, the need that sparks the evaluation and acquisition of BAiO is centered around the need for ERP. Yet a customer solution to meet those requirements might also include CRM (customer relationship management), SRM (supplier relationship management) and BI (business intelligence). If so, the solution that is delivered might include all four. If not, a BAiO solution is delivered with just ERP.

So a BAiO solution is a bit more configurable than my simple all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax. In fact I do print, copy and scan but I don’t send or receive faxes because we already have another device that does that and fax is not exactly my preferred method of communication. I couldn’t buy a “not quite all” in one that excluded the fax. If the ability to fax made printing, copying and scanning more complicated or difficult to use, I might not have purchased it. But in fact it is quite simple to use and the price of the “all in one” was far cheaper and easier to install and use than buying separate devices and integrating them – sort of the concept behind BAiO.

But an SAP Business All-in-One solution is that configurable. I can buy just ERP or ERP pre-integrated with CRM, SRM and/or BI. Even if I don’t buy those add-ons right up front, I can add them later, which is a critical element to the “highly scalable” message. Some other vendors constrain ERP to be a smaller, lighter version of ERP in order to remove complexity and cost but then require trade-ins, upgrades or migrations to the full blown ERP, even though code is shared between the two versions. Not so with BAiO. There may be modules (that were never included in the original configuration) that need to be purchased, but there is no additional charge for what is already installed – unless of course you need to support more users.

For example, financial and management accounting modules may have been originally configured for a single entity and as the mid-size company grows, adding additional divisions and legal entities requires no additional license because those features are certainly supported in those modules of SAP ERP. But if the need for financial supply chain management arises, where none was previously required, that module needs to be purchased.

But BAiO also stretches beyond standard ERP, CRM, SRM and BI. There is not just one BAiO model from which to choose. A BAiO solution starts with one or several of the core enterprise applications (ERP, CRM, SRM, BI) and adds industry-specific best practices that pre-configure the applications for a particular need. With over 620 “best practices” defined, many of the decisions that typically need to be made during implementation, have already been made, simplifying the process. These are configuration settings, process workflows and roles. Then on top of these applications and best practices, partners are also likely to add additional features and functions, which constitute their own intellectual property (IP). This gets packaged together and offered as a specific BAiO-based solution.

Let’s relate this back to my all in one printer. It does the standard four functions: printing, copying, scanning and faxing. What if I needed to laminate the documents I just printed? Too bad. That’s not a function provided by an all in one printer. I need to buy a separate device. Not so with BAiO. That’s where the partners come in, developing additional IP, but delivering and supporting it as a single, integrated extended solution. BAiO is sold almost exclusively by partners, who play an important role in these extended solutions – making the product more comprehensive and industry-specific by developing additional industry specific functionality and providing deep domain expertise and local support.

There are over 800 of these BAiO solutions available today from over 1400 partners. Some are quite broad and others quite narrow, ranging from a general solution for a discrete manufacturer who makes to stock to a specific solution for toy manufacturers in Hong Kong.

OK, this is all good, but it isn’t really new. SAP has been developing and touting best practices and industry specific functionality in BAiO for years now. The emphasis on the partners is fairly new. SAP has spent the past year revamping its channel programs and its intent is to sell into the SME (small to medium size enterprise) 100% through channels. There are a few exceptions to this where there is no coverage in a particular geographic territory, but this is extremely rare. Where might SAP direct sales step in? In a two tier or what SAP calls a “business network” environment, where corporate offices are running the Business Suite (or maybe R/3) and they are rolling BAiO out to their network of divisions or subsidiaries. But even in this instance, partners usually provide local support.

But perhaps where the BAiO user is likely to see the biggest change is in the experience of working with the product. You really have to see this to get the full effect because describing the new user interface as a portal or a mash-up really doesn’t do it justice.  SAP isn’t the only company taking this route lately. In April I wrote about Infor Workspace: Work Without Leaving the Comfort of “Home”, and the concept of a role-based user experience akin to setting up a home base of operations from which a business user could comfortably operate all day long, without ever leaving “home.” I followed that in May with Wanted: Lawson Users to Develop New Applications…No Programming Experience Required talking about a new tool that helps Lawson’s customers build their own mini-applications without having to write software code. The new NetWeaver Business Client, available for BAiO combines both these concepts, blending data from and activities performed within and outside of the solution. This new experience, packaged with SAP’s Business Analytics has the potential of drawing in executive users that might otherwise have shied away from laying their hands on a keyboard to touch ERP.

SAP’s BI offering has been a part of BAiO for a while now. But in the past, BI represented a series of tools to use in building your own views and analysis. Today the integrated business analytics offering provides 31 interactive dashboards that are more like out-of-the-box applications than tools – providing more sum and substance to help Business All-in-One truly live up to its name.

What’s next for BAiO? Obviously functional enhancements made to the Business Suite will percolate down to BAiO. The BI strategy will continue to be important, as will mobility, bringing enterprise data to the mobile device in a very easy and consumable fashion. SAP also will continue to build out the Business Network Integration story in multi-entity corporations that operate much like a network of small to mid-size companies. And finally, the 2011 and 2012 timeframe will see more concentration on reaping the benefits from SAP’s in-memory computing technologies. SAP’s HANA is just as much about “fast” as it is about “big data”, making it just as valuable for the mid-size company who prefers to get their data “all in one” view.

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