SAP on Monday released a package of additional features to its flagship enterprise resource planning software which an executive said will empower line of business managers to become more involved in the upgrade process.

The package is the third release since SAP, based in Waldorf, Germany, moved to a strategy whereby it offers new software capabilities in an incremental fashion.

Customers can pick and choose the features they want via a download switch rather than going through a mammoth ERP overhaul every couple of years.

The package includes 1,400 enhancements that are primarily geared at industries such as retail, public sector and manufacturing.

Philip Say, SAP’s vice-president of ERP solution marketing, highlighted what the company calls the “closing cockpit” as an example of the features that might be of specific interest to departmental users.

Finance executives are typically involved in pulling together the books every quarter-end, and the closing cockpit allows senior levels of the finance group to monitor the closing activities of individual business units at a subsidiary level. SAP’s own development team was involved in the project, as was one of its partners, a company called Redwood Software, Say said.

“There’s a scheduling system that provides event triggers for the underlying accounting systems within companies.

All that information is sent to a corporate system, typically run by SAP,” Say explained.

“It sits on top of ERP, but within a financials system landscape. You can see in a very intuitive manner – stoplight symbols, colour codes – at what state has a business user meet their closing activities.”

Business users are now much more firmly rooted in the deployment decision, Say said, and in some cases they are starting to hear about new software capabilities before their IT department counterparts.

“It’s a radically different conversation we would have had even a few years ago. There’s a filtering process (from IT) that once went through this,” he said. “I think the speed at which these decisions get made is going to be rapidly accelerated. There’s no need to take it from the SAP lexicon and boil it into the business lexicon.”

Paul Hamerman, an ERP analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said SAP’s packages support a “switch framework” in which users simply turn on the features they want to use. He noted, however, that SAP is still a relative newcomer to this concept, and that Oracle has been offering routine updates to products like its E-Business Suite for years.

“The trend really is that the applications are more and more designed for business users, and also built for change,” he said. “They’re also more and more being offered as a service.”

Say said he was dealing with an oil and gas company that reviewed all the functions and realized they just needed one, which was around reporting SEC filings in XBRL. That’s making the upgrade process smoother, he said.

“It used to takes months or weeks just to get these meetings together,” he said. “I think now in a manner of days or hours perhaps customers are able to see this capability.”

SAP’s enhancement packages are being developed in part through its Enterprise Services Community program, which brings together partners and customers to offer feedback on features.

 

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