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Why In-Person Training Is More Important Than Ever for SAP Customers

by Dave Hannon | insiderPROFILES

January 1, 2011

Attending presentations, meeting speakers, swapping ideas and business cards, and joining discussion groups — these are just a few aspects of in-person training events that cannot be replaced by other forms of IT education. Gain insights from the producers of the SAPinsider conferences about why in-person training is more beneficial than ever, as well as what events are happening in 2011.

For 2011, experts are forecasting an increase in enterprise IT-related spending, as more companies roll out projects they shelved during the recession. Market researcher IDC forecasts a software-driven jump of 5.7% in IT spending this year, while Gartner predicts a 3.1% increase.

For SAP customers, that spending can come in the form of SAP solution upgrades, expansions, and maintenance projects. To make the most of their IT investments, first and foremost, these businesses must select the right software solutions and projects to fuel growth — but just as importantly, they need to ensure their employees are properly trained. And in today’s world of enterprise software, in-person training is still the most effective way for SAP users to get the specific training and guidance they need to execute their projects.

Rizal Ahmed, Executive Vice President at Wellesley Information Services, producer of the SAPinsider conferences, says that getting out of the office to attend an in-person event allows people to focus on the training itself — free from the many distractions that can accompany desktop training sessions.

“As projects increase, typically, so does training,” says Ahmed. “We saw that increase in attendance at our events in 2010, and we expect to experience a continued increase this year.”

But not just any training will do for most organizations with tight budgets. “Companies today want training that maps directly to their active projects and will provide a direct ROI,” Ahmed explains. “People come to events to help solve current, critical business challenges they are experiencing today. SAP customers, specifically, are seeking education in areas where they can put their training budget against current projects.”

In-person conferences provide a variety of learning opportunities for SAP customers to address their specific projects or challenges. In addition to the formal presentations, in-person events offer many informal methods for acquiring project-specific information. Swapping ideas and business cards with other attendees at networking sessions; participating in discussion groups; asking speakers project-specific questions during a post-presentation Q&A; or previewing a hands-on demo of a new product release can be accomplished most efficiently by attending a live event.


Rizal Ahmed

“Companies today want training that maps directly to their active projects and will provide a direct ROI. People come to events to help solve current, critical business challenges they are experiencing today. SAP customers, specifically, are seeking education in areas where they can put their training budgets against current projects.”
Rizal Ahmed, Executive Vice President, Wellesley Information Services

Benefits of In-Person Training Abound

Keynote presentations and traditional expert-led classroom sessions — or “breakout sessions,” as they’re called — will likely always be the bread and butter of conferences. However, the more informal, interactive opportunities to get one-on-one exposure with both peers and SAP specialists are areas of expanding interest among conference attendees. The accessibility of knowledgeable experts from SAP and its partner community, as well as the ability to preview and demo software, are other examples of benefits that are unique to in-person events — perks that don’t come with online or desktop training.

Product roadmaps. For SAP customers, the opportunity to obtain product roadmap information from SAP executives is always a big draw. Attendees are eager to find out where SAP is going to be taking its solutions and how new acquisitions and products will fit into their existing SAP landscapes.

For example, the conference producer for Projects 2010, Kristin Bent, says that one of the most popular sessions at that event was The first look at a single, unified platform: A preview of the next release of SAP Solution Manager, presented by John Krakowski of SAP. It was a chance for attendees to get a detailed look at the latest SAP Solution Manager release, ask questions, and discuss the subject matter with colleagues and other attendees on-site.

At the Reporting, Planning, and Analysis 2010 event, SAP’s Dan Kearnan presented The SAP business intelligence roadmap: What’s in, what’s out, and what it means to you. In this heavily attended roadmap session, people packed the room to hear Kearnan review the role SAP BusinessObjects solutions will play in customers’ current and future SAP investment and business intelligence (BI) strategy, including how SAP BusinessObjects front-end tools integrate with SAP ERP and SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse.

“At both the SAP Solution Manager preview session and the BI roadmap session, attendees had the opportunity to see the new solutions planned for release and, just as importantly, understand which of the existing SAP solutions might be phased out down the road,” says Bent.

Contact with subject matter experts. An in-person conference provides the opportunity to not only listen to subject matter experts, but also interact with them. As Allison Martin, the conference producer for the SAPinsider event focused on governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), says, a new feature was added to the GRC 2010 conference to let attendees do just that.

“Our new GRC Expert LIVE sessions provided attendees the opportunity to sit in a roundtable setting, as opposed to a typical presentation setting, with experts who recently had an article published in one of our SAPexpert knowledgebases,” she says. “These popular sessions let attendees sit with an expert to discuss and probe deeper into the topic or article, as it pertains to their own work, and get their specific questions answered.”

The traditional breakout sessions from subject matter experts run continuously throughout each day and focus on the key issues and hot topics related to the respective event. For example, security was a hot topic at GRC 2010, where one of the more popular sessions was Prevent security breaches in your SAP system with techniques to merge identity management and compliance activities. In this session, Michaela Zwinakis of SAP walked attendees through three typical business scenarios and outlined the challenges companies can face with regards to compliant identity management, including how to deal with excessive access rights and costly manual security and compliance processes. She then described the options SAP provides to achieve compliant identity management and how those solutions can be utilized within each example.

Peter Graf of SAP

Keynotes. What consistently serve as big draws for audiences at conferences are the general assemblies, commonly referred to as “opening keynotes,” where high-level executives and experts from SAP, SAP partners, and SAP customers put broader trends into perspective for attendees and set the tone for the rest of the event.

The keynote speaker at the Financials 2010 event, Martin Naraschewski, Vice President of Finance Solutions at SAP, not only outlined SAP’s new offerings in the financials space, but also explained where these solutions fit in the “new normal” world of finance. Naraschewski described the current financial climate, saying CFOs are feeling a strong sense of personal responsibility to more efficiently manage risk, comply with financial reporting regulations, and push their businesses forward.

Amy Thistle, the conference producer for HR 2010, says that the value of a powerful people agenda was the focus of the keynote in Barcelona, Spain — delivered by SAP executives Karen Tobiasen, Senior Vice President of HR and Transformation, and Dawn Crew, Vice President of HR Line of Business Solutions. The co-keynote speakers’ presentation struck a balance between describing the trends in the HR business and laying out the SAP solution landscape and roadmap.

Keynotes are becoming more interactive as well. During the keynote address at GRC 2010 by Jim Dunham, Group Vice President of SAP Business-Objects GRC solutions, for instance, confeence attendees participated in online polling, providing their experience and interest in GRC programs and initiatives. The results of that poll showed that the majority of the audience felt that the exposure, cost, and risk of non-compliance were the key drivers behind their company’s GRC initiatives, and this information was leveraged in several other sessions throughout the conference. 

Panels and discussion groups. While keynotes provide a general overview and introduction to a conference, discussion groups and panel discussions provide the chance for more interaction with experts and peers. In fact, the more informal discussion groups are becoming more popular at events, says Ahmed. 

“We know from the feedback we collect at our events that attendees want more interaction, so we’re adding more discussion groups and incorporating more peer-to-peer networking opportunities to help attendees get their specific questions answered,” he says. “The popularity of our Ask-the-Experts sessions is an indication of that trend.”

To give attendees a more interactive option, all of this spring’s SAPinsider events will offer shorter, more interactive sessions that run concurrently with the more traditional presentations. The new 30- and 45-minute sessions will include live product demonstrations and discussion forums of hot topics in the given industry.

Panel discussions are also a way for attendees to maximize their time at an event by asking pointed questions and gaining multiple perspectives. At GRC 2010, one of the most popular sessions was the Jumpstart Day panel discussion moderated by James Roeske of Savera, which featured representatives from SAP customers, including Philips, REPSOL, Petrobras, and Sara Lee. Also, the conference that focuses on customer relationship management (CRM) is set to include more customer-led sessions and panel discussions. In addition to SAP customer-presented case studies by Applied Materials, Suncor Energy, and Infosys, CRM 2011 will include a panel of SAP customers to discuss top CRM strategies and how to ensure sales success.

Product demos. Another advantage of an in-person conference is the ability to either watch demos of new products or participate in a hands-on lab where attendees can test software with an expert or product manager looking over their shoulder. For example, GRC 2010 featured hands-on labs run by SAP — covering both GRC and enterprise performance management (EPM) solutions —  that were very popular with attendees. And, as previously mentioned, the SAPinsider conferences have all allotted more time for demos in 2011.

Another dedicated place at an event where attendees can demo specific solutions from both SAP and the SAP partner community is the exhibit floor, which is also a great place for attendees to track down experts, speakers, and exhibiting partners and consultancies.

A Sneak Peek at the 2011 SAPinsider Conferences

Selecting events to attend each year is not an easy task, especially when travel budgets at many companies remain tight. To justify traveling to an event today, conference attendees need to return to the office with answers to current challenges and projects. Events and training must be directly applicable to the business at hand.

SAPinsider conference

With that in mind, the 2011 SAPinsider conference line-up provides a fresh list of new speakers, topics, and formats. The most significant change is the addition of two new conferences, BI 2011 and IT 2011. These co-located conferences are expansions of the previous SAP NetWeaver/BI and Portals and Administration and Infrastructure events, and are a direct response to both SAP users’ trends and the direction of the SAP solution roadmap. BI is a growing priority for SAP users, who are looking for best practices and training in this area. However, the infrastructure and more general IT topics of relevance to SAP users remain, so the IT 2011 conference will address those issues.

In addition to the traditional session tracks, each of this spring’s events will offer interactive sessions that run concurrently with the tracks, providing solution demos or group discussions on particular topics. (See sidebar at the end of the article for a list of each conference’s respective website.)

Why You Should Attend Financials/HR/GRC 2011

The sessions for all three co-located events cover the latest SAP releases to help customers optimize the software they’re running today, as well as formulate a well-informed plan for the future. By co-locating three events in one, attendees of one conference can attend sessions of the other two for no additional charge. All three events include expert-led sessions, case studies, solution roadmaps, and Ask-the-Experts forums.

New this year, attendees of Financials/HR/GRC 2011 will see more discussion forums and panel discussions, giving attendees more opportunity to network with peers and meet with speakers. In addition to breakfast roundtables and interactive discussion forums during lunch, this year will feature Ask-the-Experts sessions, Expert LIVE, and additional exhibit hall receptions. For example, at Financials 2011, there will be a panel discussion on the Results of the 2010 IBM Global CFO Study: Insights for improving financial performance. New case studies will provide conference attendees with fresh real-world experiences. Also, new executive sessions running all four days of the event will appeal to a high-level audience in the C-suite.

The following are the hot topics for these events:

Integration. Because integration is always a hot topic for financials system users, Financials 2011 attendees will surely flock to Financial accounting (FI) and managerial accounting (CO). This track is dedicated to providing advice on how to better integrate SAP ERP Financials with other applications and highlighting features and ways of executing processes that attendees may be unaware of within applications they are already running.

Talent management. At HR 2011, Talent management to maximize employee ROI will be timely, as companies continue to seek advice on retaining top employees and getting more value from the investments they make in their employees via their SAP solutions. Attendees will learn how to deploy and get the most value out of SAP’s talent management applications and how to align compensation policies with performance, deliver the right blend of e-learning and classroom training, streamline and reduce the costs associated with the recruiting and hiring process, and prepare employees for succession and leadership.

Risk management. Because segregation of duties (SoD) continues to be a challenging issue, the GRC 2011 track Segregation of duties, risk remediation, and security will provide assistance to attendees struggling with SoD compliance. The sessions in this track are the most technical at the conference and include detailed coverage of the SAP BusinessObjects Access Control (formerly Virsa) application and guidance on how to minimize SoD violations. This track will help companies that are either running SAP BusinessObjects Access Control or currently implementing it to set up or modify existing SoD rules, tighten security, and integrate overall system security activities.

Why You Should Attend BI/IT 2011

New this year, BI 2011 provides a blend of education featuring product updates, customer case studies, hands-on labs, and detailed instructional sessions that deliver proven, field-tested techniques. BI 2011 will also include up-to-date product information and live demos from SAP representatives, customer testimonials, and thought-leadership sessions on both BI mobile and cloud computing.

SAPinsider conference

Also new, IT 2011 will help attendees reduce operating costs; optimally manage SAP ERP, SAP NetWeaver, and SAP BusinessObjects landscapes; and make the right strategic and technical decisions. Attendees will also build valuable connections with other SAP customers and gain a clear understanding of the SAP product roadmaps.

While they are both new events this year, BI 2011 and IT 2011 are not short on content, with 160 sessions and more than 20 organized networking opportunities. As part of the new 30- and 45-minute networking sessions, BI 2011 will include live product demonstrations of SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation (the versions for both Microsoft and SAP NetWeaver), SAP Solution Manager, and SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, accelerated version.

At IT 2011, thought-leadership sessions will focus on the most critical strategic IT issues SAP customers grapple with today. These sessions, geared toward VPs, directors, and senior managers, are designed to explore trends, showcase industry benchmarks, and highlight potential best practices and business outcomes. Most of these sessions will be technology-oriented and business-centric.

The following are the hot topics for these events:

SAP BusinessObjects solutions. Attendees will be looking for help selecting what business intelligence tools are right for their business. For example, SAP Business-Objects Planning and Consolidation is one tool sure to be a hot topic at the BI 2011 event, so the track Budget, planning, and consolidations should be a popular draw.

Mobility. The On-demand and mobile BI track is expected to be popular, as it explores new mobile technologies from SAP, best practices for developing a mobile BI strategy, and SAP’s in-memory computing roadmap.

SAP Solution Manager. SAP Solution Manager is a key topic on the IT 2011 track, as more organizations consider implementing it or fully leveraging its potential. So sessions and discussions addressing SAP Solution Manager at IT 2011 are expected to be popular.

Portals. Customers looking for new ways to customize SAP NetWeaver Portal will find useful information at the IT 2011 conference, including advice on integrating with other portals or securing sensitive corporate data from unauthenticated users.

Why You Should Attend Logistics and Supply Chain Management/ PLM/Manufacturing/Procurement and Materials Management/CRM 2011

One registration gets an attendee access to five conferences. These co-located events offer a comprehensive education for the diverse and interconnected audiences that have a stake in ensuring customer demand is met with the right supply at the promised time.

The content is organized in a way that offers a number of unique perspectives to attendees and includes customers presenting case studies and lessons learned; consultants providing best practices from their field experience; and SAP solution executives offering new application updates and SAP roadmap information so attendees know what to expect next. Attendees last year came from more than 27 countries, representing all areas of the end-to-end supply chain across all industries. Plus, there is content relevant to all releases of SAP software.

The tracks at all five events are new this year and designed to include business process integration as an essential component for improvement. This year will provide more discussion opportunity at these events, allowing attendees to mingle, network, and learn from each other. Various panel discussions and case studies will represent a broader industry profile for attendees to learn from. Overall, the conferences continue to focus on content that will provide a proven return on investment.

The following are the hot topics for these events:

Data/systems integration. At Logistics and Supply Chain Management 2011, a hot topic will include moving from siloed applications such as order processing, planning, purchasing, and production toward integrated systems that provide deeper transparency. At Manufacturing 2011, there will be high interest in information on shop floor data integration. One of the hot topics at PLM 2011 will be the integration of a bill of materials with production systems.

Optimizing inventory/supply chain. Best practices on inventory replenishment processes are in demand. Supply chain professionals also want information on how to leverage SAP Supplier Network Collaboration (SAP SNC) scenarios and how to optimize SAP ERP to get more from their existing investment.

E-sourcing/online catalogs. At the Procurement and Materials Management 2011 event, e-sourcing case studies will no doubt draw in many attendees. Also, how-to sessions on implementing online catalogs and effectively leveraging online reverse auctions will be popular.

Increasing sales opportunities. Growing the top line is a priority again at most companies, so the CRM 2011 track Increase the effectiveness of your sales processes and teams will teach companies using SAP CRM how to increase sales opportunities and close more deals.

Targeted marketing. Targeted marketing is a top priority for many companies, so the session Strategies to better manage, execute, and analyze your marketing activities is sure to be popular. In this session, attendees will receive guidance about fine-tuning marketing messages and distribution, see new capabilities in SAP CRM trade promotion management for 2011, and explore how to perform more effective customer satisfaction surveys.



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