SAP user groups are stepping up pressure on the vendor over the fees charged for its user-friendly Fiori applications, saying they should be included as part of the substantial annual maintenance costs customers already pay, particularly given SAP's dismal track record with interfaces for its Business Suite ERP software.
Fiori, which was launched last year, provides a set of lightweight, consumer-like applications that use Business Suite data and target various business user roles and processes. The software, which can be deployed across multiple device types, has received a generally warm welcome from SAP customers, save for the US$150 per user price tag required for a perpetual license.
"As a former CIO, one of the biggest and most consistent complaints I heard from my line of business partners was the complexity and difficulty of the SAP user experience," Americas' SAP Users' Group CEO Geoff Scott said in a recent blog post. "A great user interface is no longer a nice to have. It is an expectation. It must just be."
With Fiori as well as Screen Personas, which allows users to rejigger SAP screens to fit their preferences, SAP "recognizes that reality," Scott added. However, "in today's day and age, that user experience functionality and those enhancements should just be included as part of SAP's maintenance agreements."
Scott elaborated on his position in an interview. "The average user of SAP every day is not an IT person," he said. "It's an accounts receivable person. It's a person on a shop floor. My impassioned plea to SAP is, help your user community out. Help them run [SAP software] every day."
While Scott wants to keep the discussion going with SAP, he plans to do so with tact. "I don't think that ASUG benefits from being in SAP's face super-hard," he said.
ASUG wants to join forces with other SAP user groups worldwide, while pressing its case to the vendor. "A global, unified voice is critical on this," Scott said.
He'll be able to depend on support from DSAG (German-speaking SAP User Group), which has 49,000 members in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
"DSAG's position is clear. We say [Fiori] must be part of standard maintenance," said Andreas Oczko, DSAG vice chairman, in an interview.
SAP's contractual terms and conditions, as DSAG interprets them, dictate that technology such as Fiori should be supplied as part of maintenance payments, he added.
For example, PSLE (product support for large enterprises) customers commonly pay SAP several million euros a year in maintenance, and have for the past 30 years, he said. "And now they should pay again?"
In addition, SAP runs the risk of looking "old-fashioned" if it doesn't help customers widely adopt modern, mobile application interfaces like those provided by Fiori, he said.
Meanwhile, the terms and conditions don't clearly suggest that Screen Personas must be included in maintenance, although SAP should do so, Oczko said.
For one thing, Personas could lead to higher user adoption of core SAP systems, therefore leading customers to buy additional licenses, he said.
The UK and Ireland SAP User Group is also tracking members' discontent over Fiori pricing.
"We are aware that a number of our members are unhappy and concerned about the need to purchases licenses to use Fiori, rather than it being provided under support and maintenance contracts," group chairman Philip Adams said in an emailed statement. "As such, we are going to put out a survey to all of our members in order to understand these concerns in greater depth."
A key SAP executive in charge of Fiori defended SAP's decision to charge for the software separately.
"It's a value question at the end of the day," said Adi Kavaler, global vice president of UX products strategy and go-to-market, and SAP Fiori chief solution owner.
While Kavaler has a great deal of respect for community members who have protested against the Fiori pricing, some of their comments "read for me like an emotional response rather than getting into a very specific conversation about what the value is," he said.
For example, "people are perceiving Fiori as a UI only," Kavaler said in an interview. "This is one thing that is inaccurate."
"It is not simply some newly painted or rearranged screens," he added in a follow-up email. "Fiori is a brand-new product and future-proofed architecture that is a retrofit on top of 20 year old UI technologies. We have refactored the code to separate the business logic from the client code and created a clean interface (Gateway) for future innovations."
Customers who buy Fiori won't be charged additional money, no matter how many new apps SAP plans to roll out in this particular Fiori license offering, which is also subject to discounts, he said. SAP started with 25 Fiori applications and now has more than 220. Expect at least 60 more in the next few quarters, he added.
But it's not enough to simply examine the cost of Fiori licenses, as the software quickly pays for itself with the amount of time employees save doing common tasks, he added.
SAP also provides the Fiori design paradigm, best practices, and tools for building the applications at no charge, and is simply putting a price tag on the content contained in the Fiori applications it has built, he said.
Kavaler declined to comment on whether SAP is considering any changes to its Fiori licensing policy in light of customer complaints.
If history is any indication, however, SAP may indeed do so if the discontent is sustained and strong enough. In 2008, it made concessions regarding an unpopular support price hike following a protracted outcry from user groups.
Market pressures could also force SAP's hand with Fiori as it tries to compete with newer rivals such as Workday, which recently rolled out a next-generation, HTML5-based user interface for its cloud-based human resources and financial software, at no additional cost to customers.
"In a cloud world, you'd expect Fiori to be part of the upgrade cycle," said analyst Ray Wang, chairman and founder of Constellation Research. "Many of our customers feel that paying for Fiori hurts the overall SAP relationship."
(Computerworld UK editor Mike Simons contributed to this report.)
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com