In 2022, ASUG and its German and Japanese counterparts, DSAG (the German-speaking SAP User Group) and JSUG (Japan SAP Users’ Group), fielded identical surveys to understand:

  • · How member organizations keep up with the changing business, technology, and social climate
  • · Longevity and job satisfaction of their members
  • · Members’ perceptions on how well SAP serves organizations’ business and technology needs
  • · SAP and member organizations’ sustainability efforts

This commentary, the second guest perspective on the research (following last week's perspective), looks at how the members of ASUG and its fellow user organizations view the changing business and technology environments in which they operate.

How companies perceive their ability to keep pace with change provides an important lens into the similarities and differences between SAP customers in the United States, Germany, and Japan. While there’s solid alignment between ASUG and DSAG on many of these issues, JSUG members report a markedly different perspective.

The differences between ASUG, DSAG, and JSUG start with their relative struggles to keep up with change. When it comes to this vital function, ASUG and DSAG members are relatively aligned: 18% of ASUG and 14% of DSAG members are “completely able to keep up,” while 69% of ASUG members and 71% of DSAG members are “somewhat able to keep up.” Only a relatively small number, 13% of ASUG members and 15% of DSAG members, are “not able to keep up.”

Stark Differences

The JSUG results, on the other hand, show a starkly different situation: only 4% of JSUG members are “completely able to keep up,” and an astonishing 39% of respondents say they are “not able to keep up,” with 57% “somewhat able to keep up.” This is particularly remarkable, one of several indicators of significant differences across the global markets SAP serves.

While the reasons for this disparity between the different user groups are seen in a number of indicators, such as organizational adversity to change and resource constraints, none tell the story more completely than personnel-related issues. These problems stood out in data across the three user groups. All three groups see personnel-related factors, such as staff resources and available skill levels, as key factors in their ability to keep up with change. But the similarities between ASUG and DSAG largely outweigh the differences, whereas the situation in the JSUG community stands out as appearing particularly dire.

Innovation Strategy Alignment?

Several questions in the survey showcase these disparities. When respondents were asked about specific barriers to innovation, staffing issues impacted 70% of JSUG members, 63% of DSAG members, and 50% of ASUG members.

While innovation is a complicated term that can mean many things to different companies, there are some interesting similarities in what the three user groups saw as important to their innovation strategies. All three groups saw cloud, dashboards and analytics, and automation and RPA as important innovation technologies to a similar degree.

But significant differences in innovation strategies emerged as well. Self-service technology was seen by 59% of DSAG members as important, followed by 41% of ASUG members, while only 19% of JSUG members consider self-service as important. This is curious, considering self-service technology is often seen as a category that can help eliminate the need for human intervention by automating previously manual tasks. Insofar as there was alignment across the user groups related to the relative importance of automation and RPA—another technology that can help drive more productivity at the user level.

The responses regarding the use of AI and ML also showed some interesting differences. ASUG users were relatively lukewarm to AI/ML, with only 33% seeing it as important. DSAG members were slightly more interested, with 44% reporting the category as important. But 60% of JSUG members saw AI/ML as important, almost double their North American counterparts and over a third more than DSAG members.

Help for Automation, or Not?

Low code/no code (another technology that can theoretically help automate people-intensive tasks) also skewed more favorably among JSUG members, though less dramatically than for AI/ML. Like automation and RPA, the impression in the market that these technologies can help alleviate personnel-related process bottlenecks wasn’t seen as dramatically in North America and Germany as expected, considering the importance these user groups placed on personnel issues.

When asked to differentiate the impact of personnel issues at the company-wide versus IT level, the issue of whether there are sufficient staff resources was twice as impactful on Japanese member organizations as it was on ASUG members, with DSAG in between the two. The staffing issue impacts 79% of JSUG members at the company-wide level and 83% at the IT level, whereas only 38% percent of ASUG members see skill shortages as impacting them at both the company-wide level and in the IT department. DSAG members are more impacted by skills issues, with 63% seeing impacts both company-wide and in the IT department.

Job Satisfaction Responses

The most dramatic difference between the user groups could be seen in the job satisfaction scores for the three respondent pools. When asked about job satisfaction relative to role and responsibilities, as well as current workload, an overwhelming percent of ASUG and DSAG respondents reported they were either very satisfied or satisfied with their role, with 75% of ASUG members and 77% of DSAG respondents reporting being satisfied or very satisfied with their role.

Workload satisfaction was different, primarily in the German market: only 57% of DSAG respondents were very satisfied or satisfied with their current workload, compared to 70% of ASUG members who were satisfied or very satisfied with their workload. Notably, within ASUG and DSAG, these results also indicate that user group membership correlates highly with job satisfaction, further reinforced by a high correlation between job tenure and satisfaction within these two groups.

JSUG members, however, seemed to see things very differently. The percentage of JSUG members satisfied or very satisfied with their roles and responsibilities fell short of half at 44%. Only 39% of respondents were satisfied or very satisfied with the current workloads. An important “meh” factor was also at play in the JSUG results: 40% of JSUG respondents were “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied” with their role in the company, and 43% felt similarly about their workload. Importantly, the JSUG members’ dissatisfaction was markedly higher for employees with longer job tenure (6 to greater than 15 years), the opposite of what the ASUG and DSAG employees reported.

Behind the Differences

There may be some interesting reasons for these stark differences between JSUG and its American and German counterparts that lie outside the scope of this survey. A study published in 2017 by Robert E. Cole of the Haas Business School at the University of California, Berkeley, showed that Japanese companies, on average, place a much lower value on software in general and specifically tend to devalue the potential impact of IT on corporate strategy.

Professor Cole’s research has also shown that IT in Japan has a low status in undergraduate and graduate education, which, coupled with Japan’s declining youth population, further impacts enrollment in IT programs and the pool of prospective IT employees. These negative attitudes towards IT—not prevalent in the Americas or Germany—may partly be responsible for the differences in overall job satisfaction. SAP and JSUG have an opportunity to potentially remediate some personnel-related issues in the Japanese market by elevating the status of IT employees in that market.

The overall picture presented by this cross-cultural analysis is that user group members in Germany and the U.S., the two largest markets for SAP, have similarly positive attitudes about a range of issues relating to how well they can keep up with change and their individual status as employees. Japanese SAP users, on the other hand, lag significantly in these measures relative to the other two groups. Nonetheless, the similarities relating to personnel shortages across all three countries are a clarion call to user groups and SAP to step into the breach with programs and solutions for increasing the pool of talent in the years to come.

Joshua Greenbaum is Principal at Enterprise Application Consulting.

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