Guiding light

Imthishan Giado travelled to SAP’s recent user group meeting in Manama, Bahrain, to find out how the group is evolving its direction.

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Guiding light The tenth SUG-MENA meeting was attended by more than 350 users.
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By  Imthishan Giado Published  April 12, 2010 Arabian Computer News Logo

It’s been a long road from 1994.

That’s when SAP’s Middle East and North Africa user group (SUG-MENA) first began activities, although it was then known as the SAP User Group Arabia or SUGAr. The group’s first meeting actually took place six years later in 2000 at the Al Bustan Hotel in Dubai.

With the passing of a decade, the group’s seen several big changes. After a succession of UAE-based venues, this years’ SUG-MENA meeting held its second successive conference at Manama’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, drawing more than 350 attendees. The numbers have grown, but Salem Al-Angari, president of SUG-MENA, says the objectives are still the same.

“SUG-MENA is always after three important aspects in its conferences – to educate, network and influence SAP. Education is through the presentations and keynote speeches and the sponsors demos as well. Networking – peers from all kinds of companies using SAP. They talk among themselves and share experience of their own implementations rather than reinventing the wheel. It’s always good to speak to somebody who implemented a specific module or functionality. You get something that will help you drastically reduce your implementation time and cost, rather than going through the same pains others did,” he believes.

Despite the preponderance of attendees from large organisations like Saudi ARAMCO, there were not too many attendees from Bahrain itself. Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) was the first organisation in the Kingdom to go live with SAP in 1999. Esam Hadi, superintendent of business solutions and IT at the smelter, provides his opinion on why SAP has a low acceptance rate there.

“The problem is that most of the companies in Bahrain at the moment look at IT as more of a cost. People are now looking at IT as becoming a tool in order to become much better than what they are. Oracle was here for a long time, while SAP was not here. That’s the reason. Also SAP was not at that time a leader in this market. There was no one pushing it. When we went live with SAP, we were looking for the technology – it did not come to us. Today, SAP is more aggressive. That’s the reason why from 2007, we have almost five to six companies with SAP and that’s a good thing,” he states.

Several users at the event suggested that they were unhappy that SUG-MENA did not do more to negotiate with the German parent company to reduce prices particularly in these challenging economic times. Angari defends the group’s actions, saying price negotiations is not part of their agreed charter.

“In reality, we don’t really get involved in the economics of dealing with the negotiations with SAP-MENA or anything like that. It’s not really our business. As a user group, we are part of the SUGEN – the SAP User Group Executive Network. If SUG-MENA was involved with any issue, it was for enterprise support. We didn’t get involved in terms of money, it was related to getting surveys from customers for enterprise support. We solicited companies to be part of the enterprise support team,” he recalls.

Other rumblings of discontent for the assembled users came on the issue of training – namely, that there was simply not enough of it available, particularly for complex systems like SAP. Several Saudi users also mentioned issues with getting training in the right language. One proposal SAP has been pushing is the University Alliance programme, which seeks to certify graduates and provide a steady stream of junior recruits, much in the way of MCSE. Alba’s Hadi thinks this movement is a idea that’s none too soon.

“We’ve been having this issue for a long time. It’s good to have a new generation who comes to you as a ready-made SAP. If I look as an IT manager requiring resources, that’s something important, for us to be able to use them immediately.  In Bahrain, we already have two universities involved and we believe that there will be batches coming out next year or the year after,” he reveals.

But for many organisations struggling to find skills, that’s not nearly far enough. Some called for the establishment of an SAP Academy – an establishment that would provide higher training levels and more advanced forms of certification for employees.

SUG-MENA’s president wholeheartedly agrees: “They [SAP] should be doing this, to tell you the truth. Companies have attempted to send their own people to different locations, which albeit costly is still not successful. There are very few seats available in Europe or Far East and in Singapore. SAP know this and are trying to do something similar. There are companies that provide this kind of training – Naizak is one example. They get it directly through SAP as well because this training requires systems connected to servers related to SAP. You have to have demos and labs.”

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