Is our SAP user group too close to SAP?


opinion I’ve spent a lot of time with Australian chief information officers in the past half-decade, conducting hours and hours of interviews with some of the biggest names in the business.

I know them well – as well as any journalist can know his field. I know what they like, what they don’t like, and what they’re suspicious of. That’s why the SAP Australian User Group’s announcement today that it would create its own SAP-focused CIO Council to focus dealings with the German software giant rang a bit sour with me.

You see, the thing that Australian CIOs are most suspicious of is anything that smells too strong of vendors trying to take advantage of them. And while SAUG’s CIO Counci is a laudable initiative on the surface, it has a strong smell of vendor floating around that it just can’t shake.

For starters, the announcement was issued by SAP’s own public relations agency, Burson-Marsteller.

I have nothing against BM – there are some great people that work there, and they do a good job for SAP. But their involvement in SAUG’s release appears to show that at some level, SAP was involved in the announcement. This idea is further backed up by the lone sentence in the statement that “SAP is actively supporting the CIO Council and will be actively involved at an executive level.”

That statement, no doubt, would have had to be approved by SAP Australia executives – maybe even the local managing director, Tim Ebbeck – as most of the vendor’s public statements undoubtedly are. And it doesn’t make clear exactly what SAP’s involvement will be.

The question needs to be asked — would SAUG go through BM to issue a statement, say, critical of SAP prices rises — a stance which the UK SAP user group has taken from time to time? If so, this would be a clear conflict of interest.

The agenda for the first meeting of the CIO Council in March also rang sour for me. Sure, SunLife Financial Group CIO Mark Edward Ross will be presenting and will likely give insights into how the company’s own implementations are going. This is the sort of thing other CIOs love to hear about.

However, after Ross has presented, it looks like Mike Foster of Fujitsu (a key SAP partner) and SAP’s own Mark Hettler will be presenting.

I don’t know whether the pair will be allowed to sit in on all the meetings of the CIO Council, but if I know anything about CIOs, I know that they will not talk frankly and openly about their IT projects while vendors (or even journalists like myself) are in the room.

Again, I have nothing against either – Foster in particular is a lovely bloke who I’ve spoken to at various points over the years. But their attendance at the meeting seems to me to be not in the best interests of the CIOs, who of course can call either at any time for an update.

I’ve attended a number of conferences over the years which have had certain sections closed to both the press and vendors for exactly this reason. There are some secrets of customer-vendor relationships that are best kept behind closed doors – at least if the CIO concerned wants to keep his job.

I’d love to hear from some IT managers and CIOs out there about what they think of SAUG’s latest moves. Is it just me, or this one vendor relationship that is a little too close?

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