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Are SAP Business ByDesign customers happy with their choice?

Courtney Bjorlin, News Editor

The two months it took TAM Ceramics to go live with SAP Business ByDesign were like being in a Verizon Wireless commercial, the company's president said.

They went live in May, and George Bilkey -- the president of TAM Ceramics, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., manufacturer of ceramic powders, with 60 employees and $20 million in revenue -- still feels like the customer in the Verizon Wireless commercial surrounded by hundreds of assistants. They had everything they needed to implement the software, and he continues to feel that he has everything he needs to support it.

That's why, when Bilkey is asked what it's like to be a Business ByDesign customer, he talks about being happy to be with SAP before mentioning some of the functionality he's found the software is missing.

"We want to see more out of it. I don't think it's as sophisticated as we want it to be right now," Bilkey said. "But our expectation is, we're going to get a solution. All indications right now are that it will perform well."

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SAP announced it was scaling back the release of Business ByDesign in May, but the on-demand software is continuing to win customers. Last week, a Redwood City, Calif., software vendor – no, not that one – announced it was implementing Business ByDesign. A Software as a Service (SaaS) company itself, OutPerformance sells on-demand performance management software.

SAP Business ByDesign customers interviewed said the software lacks some of the functionality they're looking for. But that doesn't bother them, they said, because Business ByDesign is an SAP product, and they have faith that it will improve.

As a result, they highly recommend it and say they would make the same choice over again.

"Despite all the negativity, all the controversy around Business ByDesign, at its heart, it is NetWeaver in [the] cloud," said Karl Perron, CEO of OutPerformance, which has 32 full-time employees and 30 contractors who work around the globe. "NetWeaver in [the] cloud is game-changing."

The decision to implement Business ByDesign hasn't come without limitations, Bilkey and Perron said.

According to Bilkey, some of Business ByDesign's variance-solving is a little vague.

TAM Ceramics was running a version of SAP R/3 when it was purchased last year by All-American Holdings. The Nashville, Tenn.-based private equity firm buys underperforming companies.

When TAM was separated from then-parent company, Cleveland, Ohio-based Ferro, Bilkey said, it needed a new ERP system – fast.

The software also needs greater international capability, Perron said. OutPerformance's contractors work all over the world, and right now, Business ByDesign's approved list of countries doesn't include some of their fastest-growing outlets in Asia. He's looking forward to SAP providing greater localization and more languages for the users in Business ByDesign, Perron said.

OutPerformance had been running Salesforce for customer management, Quickbooks to handle accounts payable, and Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP) for payroll. It needed a solution that would help it produce budgets and forecasts that weren't in the form of Excel spreadsheets. Perron expects to go live with Business ByDesign on September 1.

"The restrictions right now are all based around SAP's own internal rollout schedule because of its service capabilities," he said. "We know that the system can do a lot more than it can right now, and we just feel that SAP is taking the time to make sure it's right."

These CEOs said, however, that they knew going into the deals that SAP wouldn't provide this functionality right away. Judging whether Business ByDesign was a right fit for OutPerformance took six weeks, during which time SAP was in touch with Perron at least twice a week.

"SAP is not selling this product to anybody who shows up. They actually qualify the customers," Perron said.

And what's lacking in Business ByDesign, SAP has made up for in being SAP. That name, analysts say, should continue to win SAP more customers like OutPerformance and TAM Ceramics for a while, even though the product isn't perfect.

"I would say the name has value, and the resource and the expertise behind the name gives SAP a window of time during which it can experiment with the business model to get it right," said Warren Wilson, research director at London-based Ovum Research.

How long SAP can ride its name to delay the rollout is the $64,000 question, Wilson said.

"Certainly, with each passing month, the competitors have another brick on their side of the scale," he said, declining to put a number to it. "[SAP] knows the time window is limited. The longer they wait, the bigger the hurdle they create for themselves."

NetSuite's recent announcement of a manufacturing-specific ERP was one such hurdle.

But Business ByDesign customers are happy.

"Clearly, we made the right decision," Perron said.


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