Tara Gambill is the MOD Pizza Senior Director or Enterprise Systems, and an ASUG Board Director.

Business and technology leaders continue to grapple with how the global COVID-19 pandemic has pressed and stressed existing issues and directions. Cloud and integration concerns had already been on the rise. Nonetheless, resilient organizations embraced technology to transform business processes with speed. We simply have less time to “admire” rather than resolve these problems.

As the overall IT focus in many organizations moves from creating to assembling, the ability to understand the components that actually achieve desired business outcomes is more important than ever. Enterprise Architecture (EA) now gets the added attention it deserves; some companies may need to revisit and/or revise their EA programs to take advantage of what it can provide.

Software as a Service (SaaS) flexibility and time to value have been oversold (good, fast, cheap—“pick only two” is being challenged). Without the proper strategy and underpinnings, when and where necessary, in all these areas—security, data integrity, data management, business process management, integration, and more—any short-term gains may turn into longer-term pains.

With these realities in mind, and as evidenced in my experience, I agreed to dig into some related data points that surfaced from the ASUG Pulse of the SAP Customer 2022 study. In addition to considering some of my observations related to the data below, I encourage you to explore more ASUG Pulse resources, including the “Behind the Data” webcast conversation.

Now, on to my Pulse points of particular interest, plus my results-related insights and experiences.

Who is really making IT buying decisions today?

According to ASUG Pulse respondents, buying decisions are shifting back to the C-level, with less influence from buying committees (since 2019, pre-pandemic). In 2021’s results, 24% said that the C-level made technology buying decisions; for 2022, it jumped significantly, to 34%. At the same time, buying committees had the strongest response, at 36% in 2022, but that was down nine points year over year and was the smallest share of respondents since 2019.

What’s prompted these transitions? I see three factors at play:

  1. There’s the need to correct the pendulum swing—back from increased direct business purchases of SaaS technologies, with little to no IT involvement. It’s critical to avoid and minimally to evaluate “panic purchases” that may or may not support near- or long-term business and technology strategies. Just as it’s important to focus on understanding and managing the increased pace of change, so is underscoring build-versus-buy and total cost of ownership conversations and decision-making.
  1. SaaS proliferation across the enterprise—businesses see that there are more options and more easily accessible SaaS solutions. All a business may need is a credit card to purchase and play SaaS. In addition, a given department, say marketing, may choose an SaaS platform that seems to meet its need and is convenient, but that solution likely won’t work, or won’t work as well, for engineering or R&D. The result is cost and complexity sprawl.
  1. SaaS chasing capabilities—there are software platform companies buying software to expand the stack/solution portfolio. As SaaS vendors add more features and functions, customers abandon other apps with similar functions. In addition, integration, platform, security, infrastructure, DevOps, etc., are now offered as a service. All of this requires heightened certainty that what is bought delivers the required business outcomes, which usually comes back around to IT.

Where are SAP customers focused in 2022?

Standardization or digitization of business processes ranked at highest importance, cited by 50% of the ASUG Pulse study respondents (up 2% year over year), closely followed by automation, also at the 50% mark, up 5% from 2021 results.

Customers on SAP S/4HANA journeys have realized, or been shown, that they are more successful by moving to best practices and standardization whenever and wherever possible. This is especially true for those preparing for public clouds, where best practices and standardized processes are wall to wall.

With less rip and replace, and more focus on enhancing edge processes unique to their industries, standardizing business processes unlocks:

  • Better designs and better solutions
  • Faster, easier integration
  • Better training, support, and change management, and
  • More focus on areas that can differentiate

As the “great resignation” apparently continues, so too continues the challenge to manage against loss—of knowledge, skills, and experience. Given this reality, organizations have already extended and should extend the emphasis on standardization.

Automation is definitely not as simple as the red “EASY” button, yet we know that well-envisioned and well-executed automation can reduce costs, accelerate time to value, and free up valuable resources to work on more value-added opportunities. If companies do not embrace standardization efforts first, automation can become an exercise in making something that’s already broken go faster and get even worse.

The ASUG research also shows that dashboards/analytics and integration are the next two ranked focus areas. Using data and analytics to drive strategy is essential. The ability to surface correlating activities and drive operationally planned next steps is where many companies were able to pivot as needed.

Why does SAP talent and training continue to challenge SAP customers?

To tackle a top challenge—maintaining knowledgeable staff and decreasing team turnover—ASUG Pulse participants said that their organizations are looking internally for strategizing and making cultural changes to solve their issues. Among the specifics in the 2022 results: 35% said they were making cultural improvements (improving benefits, onboarding processes, professional development, and the like); 13% said they now work more closely with hiring firms to fill posts; and 11% said they increased compensation. This contrasts with previous years’ results, which indicated that these challenges were addressed by external support of some kind.

It’s essential to again emphasize the current business and technology contexts we all face. The accelerating pace of business change forces organizations to look for just about anything that improves time to value. There’s often a growing dichotomy between wanting fast results—and perceived cost savings—and improving employee experiences.

As the ASUG data shows, investing to improve training, benefits, onboarding, professional development, and remote work is on the rise to avoid turnover. Yet, such moves can be costly and require effort to maintain knowledgeable staff.

Using skilled external support may help to gain faster results, but that too leans on internal resources to cover any knowledge and experience gaps. This also requires more formal documentation for support and continuity. Adding external or contract talent can challenge project budget parameters and can be perceived by existing employees as blocking their career opportunities. What’s more, it’s increasingly difficult to ensure that consultants and third-party resources generally have the required skill sets and experience given how fast SAP platform and solutions change.

So, before I neglect to note the obvious, how does ASUG make a difference in light of these data points, in addition to bringing these data points to light for us all? Through and with ASUG, we find the resources and relationships that help our organizations achieve value from investments in SAP technology—which is the ASUG mission. Through and with ASUG, we find an abundance of content and experiences to Learn, Connect, and Grow—which are the ASUG pillars. And, through and with ASUG, we achieve better results, in our organizations, and as professionals, as leaders.

Watch the replay of our Pulse of the SAP Customer 2022 research webcast where ASUG research director Marissa Gilbert and ASUG CEO Geoff Scott dive into the highlights from the research.