Have SAP Enhancement Packs lived up to their hype?

Back in 2006 SAP released a new delivery model. ERP6 was released and presented as the "go-to" release within the SAP ERP world. The difference with this version to the ECC5 version released a year earlier was that new functionality would be released via Enhancement Packages and therefore customers would not need to perform painful and costly upgrades to obtain the latest technology. This was a shift in direction for SAP and one that was well received. SAP said new functionality would be released every 6 months, and in 2007 the first Enhancement Package was released. In June 2011 the 5th Enhancement Package was released, and there is talk of Enhancement Package 6 going into ramp up in December 2011. The pace of the releases has clearly slowed from every 6 months, and it seems now Enhancement Packages will be released once a year, or maybe once every 2 years as the Enhancement Package strategy has been rolled out to other SAP products such as CRM and the release dates are now aligned.

What have been the positives?

During the first couple of years SAP released different drops of functionality via Enhancement Packages. New clients moving into SAP ERP would gain the benefits of the new functionality available within the Enhancement Packages. Customers who were upgrading to ERP 6 from a previous ERP version would move to an ERP6 version with the latest Enhancement Packages installed. It is widely acknowledged that the majority of Upgrades to ERP6 were purely technical - so no new functionality was activated or considered as part of the upgrade activity. This was to reduce the cost of the Upgrade and to reduce the stress and risk of an Upgraded solution to the business. At one stage I received figures of 90% of upgrades to ERP 6 were purely technical.

The other benefit has been the volume of new functionality being released to ERP 6 customers. In 2011 ERP 6 is now the most widely used version of SAP ERP and one of the main reasons is the new functionality available in ERP 6 and the Enhancement Packages. It is clear SAP has invested heavily in developing the core SAP ERP product. It is important to note that this development has been made at a time when SAP has been investing in other technology, acquiring the likes of Business Objects, Sybase and other large software companies. It is very clear, that the technology, functionality and usability of SAP ERP6 is a much better product than any of the previous versions.

What have been the negatives?

I believe there are two core negatives from the Enhancement Package journey. The first one is visibility. SAP has been religiously providing the documentation around the Enhancement Packages but the messages have not been received by Customers. I believe there have been around 1000 pieces of new functionality released within the Enhancement Packages which is commendable, however how does the Customer know which are the right ones for them? SAP have recently released the Business Function Prediction tool to provide some guidelines and recommendation for Customers as to identify relevant functionality that they should implement based on a Customers transactional data. This is a good tool - but in my opinion SAP is not making enough noise about this tool which in turn is leaving Customers in the dark about some of the quick wins that they could achieve.

One of the main selling points around Enhancement Packages was the ease of use. Enhancement Packages would need to be installed, and then the relevant Business Function Set would need to be activated. The messages that I received indicated that rather than performing full system testing to activate the new pieces of functionality, testing would just be required in the functional area of the piece of functionality. In practice this is not the case. After installing the Enhancement Packages SAP are now saying that the system will need to be Regression tested. To clarify, Regression tested is required, even though none of the new functionality available in the plethora of Business Function Sets have been activated. For some customers this is not seen as acceptable. The true cost of moving from Enhancement Package 4 to Enhancement Package 5 can be seen as prohibitive.

My personal view is that the ease of use is there. It is easy to activate a Business Function Set. It is pretty simple, so simple it is a task I have performed a number of times now. However to get to the scenario where I can activate the Business Function Set, that is a different question, it is not easy. For a typical Customer it could take a week to install an Enhancement Package on a development client. This will mean the client would need to be available to developers, and therefore the activity of planning to install Enhancement Packages needs to be carefully planned.

Summary

From a personal point of view, Enhancement Packages have not lived up to their billing. I think SAP has done a poor job in promoting Enhancement Packages and the relevant functionality. Customers also need to be accountable, as they should be more pro-active in finding out the hidden treasures within their shiny new ERP6 system. My real concern with Enhancement Packages focuses around the volume of effort required to install Enhancement Packages. It is clear once this has been done, ERP6 users have a wide variety of new functionality that is only a few clicks away from being activated. That is the clear benefit of Enhancement Packages, and one that has not gone away. I await with interest what will occur after Enhancement Package 6, and would love to know how the successes of Enhancement Packages are viewed within Walldorf and SAP's senior management team.

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