Can the SAP NetWeaver Business Client compete against its new competition?

8 January 2013

Mark Chalfen

Mark Chalfen

Former SAP S/4HANA Global Lead

Finance functions have been happily using the core SAP offering around Finance for the past few decades. Large enterprises have SAP ECC as their core system of record for Finance and the Finance community have worked with it. The ability to integrate different business processes and legal entities in a single system of record has created a strong demand for the roll-out of SAP ECC systems.

In reality, core Finance has stayed pretty static. Some screens have been updated but the flexibility and usability have remained consistent. In fairness, the role of the core Finance team (not management accountants) has stayed pretty static too. SAP gained a fairly attractive slice of the Large Enterprise pie to manage the recording of Financials. To some extent, these bread and butter customers have had to make do with the SAP Business Suite via traditional SAP Gui, as there was no real competition, and the cost to unpick/migrate would be seen as restrictive.

Over the past few years the traditional smaller players who have targeted smaller customers, have started to swim upstream to try and compete with SAP in this lucrative space. They promise clean and simple screens, that are easy to implement, cheap to maintain and robust in functionality. The competition has slowly moved into a space where the traditional customer base has started to pay attention to the new competition.

This is something that has not gone unnoticed within SAP. Implementation methodologies such as "rapid-deployment solutions" have been designed to enable functionality to be implemented in reduced time frames which in turn reduces the cost of the implementation. However this only tackles part of the problem. The other main perceived weakness is the usability of the core SAP screen via tools such as SAP Gui.

Goodbye to grey

The core SAP Gui screens are lovingly known for their grey screens and cumbersome users menus. Over time the traditional user base has learnt to live with the poor look and feel and the pain of learning transactional codes, or menu paths to navigate between various reports and screens. It is hard to quantify the actual benefit an organisation may gain by having a more favourable user experience in terms of colours and look and feel. My view is that there can be no tangible benefits, apart from a happier (less grumpy) end-user. The productivity may not directly increase or decrease due to a better looking screen.

However I feel that re-designing the screen that an end-user uses will provide tangible benefits. If a screen is easier to navigate, time will be reduced to create a transaction or perform a process end to end.  Finance power users will regularly find themselves with many SAP "sessions" open to perform a process or to try and reconcile data. A common example of this maybe a report being run in one session, with a different session open containing a line item report to drill into the detail. The user would invariable switch between the sessions leading to the reconciliation being performed by comparing data between sessions. Having all the required data, be it a SAP data entry screen, line item report, or a bespoke report (maybe coming from a SAP BW landscape) all within a single screen enables the user to remove the need to have many SAP sessions open at the same time. This will in turn increase productivity of the end user.

How does SAP NWBC measure up against the competition?

The SAP NetWeaver Business Client is free for SAP Business Suite 7 users. Yes, you did read that last sentence correctly - it is a free product that provides substantial benefit to end users. Please check with the "PAM" to confirm that the version of SAP ECC you are currently on is compatible with SAP NWBC.

SAP has delivered common business process roles, which are a combination of traditional SAP Gui screens. The SAP NWBC client screen can be enhanced to link to SAP BW reports and there has been some recent work to consume SAP HANA "chips" which are bespoke reports for the SAP NWBC environment.

The combination of the ability to customise the SAP NWBC screen to allow a business end-user access to just the transactions they require plus the relevant analytics will keep the user focused to a single source of data and not fleeting around their desktop to access various sources of data. The simple benefit of not toggling between open SAP Gui sessions is clear to measure.

Further to this, by providing a team a single NWBC page you can ensure that common transactions and reports are used so the data is common and the actual tasks performed are common, reducing doubt and improving consistency.

Summary

SAP NWBC is a hidden gem within the SAP product suite. It goes some way to tackle head on the new cloud based solutions with pretty screens and a clean user interface. Implementing SAP NWBC can be performed in an agile way, and it will re-use existing transactions and processes that the end user community will be comfortable with. However SAP has challenged their new competitors by linking ERP and Analytics in a single User Interface.

The core Finance communities are driven both by core system of record (ERP) and Analytics and combining the two allows SAP to gain an advantage. The use of standard content in terms of roles and reports to add to the SAP NWBC pages ensures SAP has a unique position to tempt existing customers to a product that they can consume free of charge. This position if played correctly should enable SAP to fight off some of the new competition they face and grow their existing customer base.

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About the author

Mark Chalfen

Former SAP S/4HANA Global Lead

Mark tells it straight - as an ex-boxer, what else would you expect?  Both his knowledge and experience of SAP products allow him to cut to the chase dispelling myths and hearsay.

As a result of working closely with various SAP Finance Product Management teams on product development, Mark understands these products inside out. This depth of understanding has led to him become a ‘thought leader’ in his field; after all, it is not often SAP consultants have helped shape and develop the very product they are selling.

Having such a strong relationship with SAP alongside being an SAP Mentor and Moderator means that Mark has an extensive network within SAP. For clients, this relationship proves to be a huge advantage and leads to configuration issues being resolved rapidly.

Mark has worked on short proof of concepts through to year-long multi-million pound global roll-outs. However, no matter how large or small the project, the true value Mark brings to his work is in the guidance he provides to senior stakeholders. In essence, he assists them to implement more effective processes and drive better behaviours within their finance teams.

Helping organisations transform their business with SAP S/4HANA is Mark’s current focus. The benefits of S/4HANA are numerous, including the simplification of tasks, embedded analytics and improved user engagement. Whilst the eventual move from SAP Business Suite into S/4HANA is inevitable, the journey to it is not always clear. Mark’s ability to understand an organisation’s needs coupled with his deep understanding of S/4HANA provides clarity and eases their transition.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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