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Customer connection: brace for SAP’s HANA and Cloud strategy in HCM

What is customer connection?

I have been with SAP for almost 10 years and one feedback customers often passed to me is that facilitating and pushing through these types of smaller SAP development requests for products in mainstream maintenance—the type of improvements or changes that are delivered through notes or support packs—has long been a black hole in the development process. There are clear processes for bigger improvements delivered through enhancement packages and bigger projects via channels such as ASUG Influence Councils and SAP’s co-innovation program, but for incremental improvements, the path hasn’t been clear.

For the past 26 months, SAP, DSAG and ASUG have been working together to bridge that gap with a program called SAP Customer Connection. It replaced the defunct DRQ (Development Requests) process, and customers have been able to submit smaller improvements, under the condition they had a minimum of five fellow customers willing to implement the change. The improvements take on average, six to seven months to deliver. The key difference between this process and the old DRQ is that the user groups are working closely in partnership with SAP to deliver ideas when SAP is ready to invest in developing them. This video also provides some details on Focus Topics and how can customers get engaged.


Figure 1 A few key facts about customer connection

Fast, inclusive and effective

The process of idea submission and selections was designed to be simple and fast, inclusive and effective. It is simple and fast because members of customer group such as ASUG can petition a change through a simple channel as long as they have a total of five fellow customers committing to implement the change.

Figure 2. The customer connection process

It is inclusive because any member of a group can petition a change and SAP will have to take notice. It is effective because SAP put the people and the money to deliver those changes within a few months. As exemplified by the numbers, those changes are taking place.

But exactly how much money and resources is marshaled by SAP to make Customer Connection happen? How many developers are working on the program is difficult to tell, because in the area of Business Suite, the actual numbers fluctuate greatly depending on the time of the year and the quantity of submissions. However, the average number of developers is in the many dozens and a general rule of thumb is that roughly 10 percent of the suite development capacity can work on Customer Connection topics.

In the case of HCM, which is my focus area, literally hundreds of days of development have been dedicated to Costumer Connection projects in the past 12 months.

Now, how effective has it been? Let’s look at the numbers.  Overall, 381 improvements were delivered to customers so far and an additional 104 are currently in development, split across 42 focus topics. The details of those changes can be found here. An example of such development can be seen here, on the topic of iDoc Monitor” (SAP note 1724644)

Customer Connection innovation in the area of HCM has started later than for other topics. The focus areas were Time management and Organization Management and Personal Administration, which were started in Q2/2012, as well as Compensation and Recruiting which are the current focus areas. There were a total of 155 submitted Improvement Requests, which turned into 53 qualified Improvement Requests. Thereof 12 Improvement Requests were scoped for development, which means on average 40 or 45 percent of the qualified IR were delivered, somewhat below the overall average of 66 percent. Overall HCM represent 12 out of 381 delivered IR.

For our customers, it is critical to get a sense of what was delivered and what will be delivered going forward. This is the purpose of the customer connection roadmap,

Customer adoption

Figure 3 How effective is Customer Connection

Figure 4 Customer connection improvement note installation

How are customers reacting to these multiple developments? In date of today, we have a total of 20,138 improvement note downloads by 4,300 customers. Live customers on those notes are in the 4,000+.

On this video on ASUG TV, EVP Tanja Rueckert and program executive sponsor is talking about the value of Customer Connection.  I concur with her thoughts: we, as SAPs really need the input and feedback from customers and ASUG members. It is complementary to our standard development. With Customer Connection, we really focus on smaller improvements. What can make a difference quickly?  Customers can directly impact the portfolio. That’s why we have reserved some development capacity. If you, as an ASUG or DSAG member have an idea, by all means report it.

Customer Connection did not initiate the direct collaboration between SAP’s development organization and customers.  It was never really possible to draw a clear line, as customers always had contacts within Product Management, but Customer Connection is bringing some clarity to the process. I was privileged enough to talk with a few customers who participated in customer connect, or to process interviews they had with SAP. Dirk-Alexander Kogel is the spokesperson of the Project Management Special Interest Group, IT project manager, and member of the SAP BW and Document Management System teams at Südzucker AG.As Dirk-Alexander Kogel puts it this way: “The Special Interest Group did not have any adequate contact persons on the SAP side for a significant period of time. For many users, this was a reason to search for alternative project systems.”

Dirk-Alexander Kogel  explains how to ensure that the flow of information to SAP Development did not dry up: “It is important that suggested improvements be contributed exclusively through the Special Interest Group, channeled by the spokespersons, and coordinated with the SAP contacts. It’s the only way to guarantee that the process for short-term intervention can work seamlessly.” And Knut Kämpfert, vice-spokesperson of the Project Management Special Interest Group and Head of Project Portfolio Management at the ZF Group, adds: “The participants should use the opportunity to exchange information in the Special Interest Group before they start a project, instead of waiting to get active until after a system has been installed.”

Customer Connection in the HCM strategy going forward

The standard collection process for new requirements is continuing. For example, in June 2013, the collect phase for GRC Access Control 2013 started on June 17th. A collect phase is ongoing in Public Sector Management for IPSAS and Funds and Grants Mgmt. After talking to James Barron and Jeff Wible, representing the user groups, I believe that only SAP is able to offer is non-disruptive, controlled, orderly path for customers that will allow them to go to the next generation of applications at their own speed, very often the cloud. This blog entry provides more details on this strategy.

So how does Customer Connection fit in SAP’s strategy for HCM solutions? I believe it plays three key roles

1.    For on-premise solutions, in particular Talent Management on-premise, where there will only be spot investment going forward, it is the best way of channeling requests for those on-premise solutions and getting them approved

2.    As we embark on the cloud journey, changes to the software will be strategic, long –term changes. There WILL be needs for smaller improvements going forward. I believe that Customer Connection needs to be used to make sure no small improvement has been left behind by addressing the bigger picture. Let me give you an example.  As migration to Employee Central from our core HCM system becomes a priority for customers with a deliberate cloud strategy, the question arises of: what about regional Infotypes previously maintained in on-premise core HR? This is the kind of improvement that can be handled by Customer Connection

3.    As strategic topics are being delivered by SAP, Customer Connection can serve as a feedback channel on new cloud or mobile development as well.

The innovation delivered was as follows:

For OM/PA:

  • Add Position title history in IT0001 Overview
  • Bank Details Overview Screen
  • New field in  for Maternity Protection/Parental leave

For time management

  • Work Schedule finder for infotype 7
  • Control Dates in Quota Overview Screen via Configuration
  • New Infotype for Quota Type Selection Group (10663)

The indicative plan for new functionality is as follows

Request name



Better “free search” in object manager for PA20, PA30, PA40 etc

Q4 2013

ECC 600 / ECC 604

Include Accruals on Display Absence Quota Report

Q4 2013

ECC 600 / ECC 604

“Capability to add as standard additional OM infotypes to PPOME tabs” -> New Tab for IT1005 in PPOME

Q4 2013

ECC 604 / #10526

Vacancy Status of Positions to handle partial vacancies

Q4 2013

ECC 600 / ECC 604

The overall feedback about the program was positive. According to James Barron, Implementation Consultant for Telecom New Zealand and one of the key facilitators of the program, Customer Connection is a form of crowdsourcing. It makes a lot of sense to tap into the knowledge that is in the business. The biggest success was work schedule search. Six companies have adopted this, or are about to adopt it.

I talked to Jeff Wible, one of the ASUG HCM leader, who stated: “what I liked about Customer Connection, a big plus was the fact the topics were good. OM/PA and Time Management had little done in the past few years, before renewal came out, so those changes were welcome. It was also really good that ASUG was involved. There used to be a major gap in involving ASUG and the mentors. ASUG is about to publish the list of deliveries. Hopefully we will have a good wave of adopter.”

Update on 7/9/2013 Here is a nice feedback from Mr. Rudolf Hofmeister from the Ministery of Finance of Bavaria

What was your involvement with Customer Connection?  For what  solution?

I am speaker of the DSAG user group “Stellenwirtschaft”. In this function I had to deal with the Customer Connection Program.  The subject “Stellenwirtschaft” was a Focus Topic in 2011. Several development requests were set in the Idea Place. The SAP developed the requirements in 2011/2012 and delivered them promptly.  I was also involved in 2012 in the Customer Connection Program with the Focus Topic “PA/Organization”. Here, the experience was not so good. Only very few applications have been put into the development. The further handling of rejected topic remains open.

Is your company using the Customer Connection innovation?

Yes, we use the business function “Stellenwirtschaft” since 2013 (EHP 6). Before that we had customer-specific developments and several modifications.

What is your overall feedback about Customer Connection?

Customer Connection is a good way to further develop SAP program. The development cycle by SAP is manageable.  With customers and DSAG members there is a high expectation. But it’s hard to convince the DSAG members to participate in the Customer Connection program.  In recent years, the handling of the Customer Connection Idea Place was difficult (f.e. access to the platform, information about requests). Also less satisfactory is the requirement to formulate development proposals only in English. It is also difficult to get enough voters and submitters, especially for request in very special functions of the SAP system.

This statement is especially true when many applications are finally rejected by SAP.

Mr. Hofmeister’s feedback is consistent with the feedback I gathered, which stressed the need to change three aspects of the program:

  • The platform, the necessity to register and have an SCN ID. Quite a painful process for a lot of people. The ID should be publicly available.
  • The phasing of it: some good ideas could not be properly evaluated. The same ideas were logged several times with different ideas, thus diluting the number of votes. So consolidation by somebody would help. For example graphical org charting were put 4-5 times by different people but all the ideas were really the same ideas
  • Communication and sticking to the timeline after the voting could also be improved

Overall, I am looking forward to working more actively on these topics going forward.

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  1. Jarret Pazahanick

    Enjoyed hearing some inside perspective on it JB and glad to hear you are personally going to be more actively involved in this program moving forward.  Also happy to hear there were “hundreds of days of development” focused on this initiatives HR customer requests over the past 12 months but still a disconnect as to why only 5 relatively basic requests have been released to customers if you ask me.  Here is my take on the topic from a few weeks ago.

    Disturbing Facts about the SAP HCM Customer Connection Program

    On a side note you stated “There were a total of 155 submitted Improvement Requests, which turned into 53 qualified Improvement Requests. Thereof 12 Improvement Requests were scoped for development, which means on average 40 or 45 percent of the qualified IR were delivered, somewhat below the overall average of 66 percent” ->By my math that is 22% and “scoped” is a little different than “delivered” as 5 were delivered so far which is 9.5%. Please correct me if I have missed something.

    Fingers crossed there is a follow up article next year at this time talking about how the program is actually delivering for customers as it is obvious per your blog there is support at SAP (good to hear) for this program and it is going to be a key way for customers to have their voice heard within SAP.

  2. James Barron

    The Customer Connection program is good news for SAP HCM customers not because it’s a perfect mechanism (far from it) or because it delivered a decent stack of improvements (I share Jarret’s concerns).

    It’s good news because it’s a beginning to a transparent, measurable & accountable process to replace the “black hole” that was the DRQ (Development Requests) process.

    It’s good news because it has the potential to allow SAP to leverage customer knowledge to deliver more of what customers even with less development resources i.e. focus the “spot investment” for on premise.

    Not least the news that JB sees Customer Connection as the way to collect and prioritize cloud and specifically Employee Central development is good news for “on premise” customers as their voices will be sought and measured on the same platform as the new & “sexy” offerings (rather than left in the DRQ black hole).

    So what can and should (indeed must) improve with the Customer Connection program?

    Transparency. Anyone should be able to browse ideas, any SCN member should be able to comment. It’s certainly valid to ensure people subscribing to ideas are expressing a real commitment to deploying those ideas but requiring a SCN registration followed by a manual email to Waldorf to even see the program & ideas is ridiculous and an unnecessary barrier to participation. Separate the ideas collection & subscription phases/processes. Get the voting vs. subscribing confusion sorted.

    Transparency. Commit a number of development days, estimate each development & let the user community see the effort. Where a program is wildly successful in terms of number if ideas and subscribed customers (as the HCM & Time programs were) be prepared to meet and exceed the customers’ expectations with additional development commitment.

    Transparency. Having a fast timetable is great if it is adhered to. It wasn’t and the repeated delays were as excessive and unexplained as they are unacceptable. A forward timetable of programs coming up would also be valuable.

    Communicate. The people running the running the program need to not only understand their responsibility for delivery but also facilitate ‘customer ownership’ of the program. This was lacking.

    Communicate. Moderate the ideas to encourage similar ideas to be refined plus best articulated and similar ideas to be amalgamated. The people best suited to this “moderator” role are probably to be found in the SAP user groups and SAP Mentors rather than in Waldorf. Then go back to the idea contributors & ask for more – I know I wasn’t the only contributor with code & even custom developments we would have been happy to share & demonstrate had we but been asked.

    Communicate. Report back to user groups and customers (this blog is a great start) Some marketing (e.g. email, pamphlet with details of program & available ideas) into user group conferences & user group SIG (Special Interest Groups). The work schedule finder for example is a note most anyone who hears of it wants – but they have to hear of it first! SAP connecting with its customers is a good news story – tell it!

    Summary: SAP has come very late to the idea of “fast, inclusive, effective” (and just as necessary transparent) connection with customers. Maybe the first effort isn’t especially inspiring BUT the fact that it’s happening at all is very, very good news.

    Never underestimate SAP in its ability to catch up and finally get it right. A good example is SCN itself. For years SAP offered little more than OSS & a plethora of websites filled the gap allowing customers & consultants to share ideas ( being a HCM favourite). But eventually the value of connecting customers to each other and SAP was seen and today SCN is the only place any of us would consider having this discussion . I believe that Customer Connection for HCM deserves commitment from both customers & SAP as it has tremendous potential to deliver value for us all.

    1. Jean-Bernard Rolland Post author


      Thank you for your comment. I agree, the program could and will be improved. I am very grateful for the work that was put in by volunteers the past year, and I am looking forward to iterating with you on this.

      I particularly like the idea of opening the ideation process to a broader audience although, of course, it would mean more consolidation work.

  3. Andrey Savvin


    Feedback from Canadian Blood Services — in the past, we have given feedback on HCM functionality changes and improvements through various means.

    This round of feedback through this forum was effective and I’d like to see it continue and grow.   Nice to see suggestions being worked on.

    James and others who drove the process, thank you!


    1. Jean-Bernard Rolland Post author

      Thank you Andrey for your feedback, please be sure that we will continue taking customer feedback through this mechanism and others, such as coinnovation.

  4. James Barron

    I thought I’d add an update to this thread with some GOOD NEWS!


    It’s now much easier to find improvements delivered from the Customer Connection programmes (& remember to get the improvement you need to turn it on in some way – so if you don’t look you won’t know what goodies you could so easily get!)

    For more general info & background on Customer Connection see


    SAP has announced 2014 programs for Org Management/Personnel Administration & Time Management.

    Both are open from the kickoff meetings on 23rd June until the 26th of October with development & delivery of improvements in early 2015.

    Direct links are here – you’ll notice the registration & useability of the site have improved out of sight! (well the ideas place was half baked & woeful!)

    There are two kickoff meetings in English

    English meeting #1 (best for Asia Pacific)

    8:00 am Germany, South Africa

    11:30 am India (Bangalore)

    2:00 pm Australia (WA), China (Shanghai), Singapore

    3:00 pm Japan

    4:00 pm Australia (QLD/NSW/VIC)

    6:00 pm New Zealand

    Web Conference Link:

    Participant Passcode: 342 861 9241

    Full invitation here

    English meeting #2 (best for USA & EU)

    9 am US Central, Mexico, Colombia

    10 am US Eastern

    11 am Sao Paulo (Brazil)

    3 pm UK

    4:00 pm Germany, South Africa, BeNeLux, Nordics, Hungary

    5 pm Qatar

    7:30 pm Mumbai (India)
    Web Conference Link:

    Participant Passcode: 342 861 9241

    Full invitation here

    There is also a meeting in German

    Datum der Veranstaltung: Montag, 23. Juni 2014 Zeit: 11 Uhr (Berlin)

    For all three meetings

    Web Conference Link:

    Participant Passcode: 342 861 9241

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