Several years ago, SAP introduced enhancement packs, which were supposed to provide a much easier and less painful way to upgrade its ERP (enterprise resource planning) software. Executives extolled how customers could add new functionality without committing to a full-blown upgrade.
But in reality, the packs involve enough work on the part of customers to inspire a session at last week's Tech Ed conference in Las Vegas that focused on how to make the process as "silent" as possible.
The very notion of SAP upgrades tends to inspire "fear and apprehension" in customers' minds, said speaker Calvin Hill, SAP release manager at Microsoft, which uses SAP ERP.
But enhancement packs are well worth the effort for many reasons, not the least of which is that the new functions provided can help cut down on the amount of custom code companies write, he said.
Some key steps should be followed by all customers weighing enhancement pack upgrades, according to Hill.
For one thing, technical staff should perform a functionality scoping exercise with business users, to determine which enhancement pack features should actually be included in the upgrade and help minimize risk and downtime, he said. It's also important to perform an impact assessment of the changes inside a sandbox environment, Hill added.
SAP is providing tools to help with enhancement pack projects, including a business process change analyzer, he said.
It's wise to consider placing any discretionary SAP system work on hold while the enhancement pack is implemented, he said.
Hill gave his talk in a large conference room with few empty seats, suggesting that many SAP customers are both interested in applying packs but aren't certain of the best way to go about it.
Overall, SAP users are adopting the enhancement pack strategy, but "slowly," said analyst Ray Wang, CEO of Constellation Research.
While the packs have "helped ease the pain" of upgrades, "the promises of plug and play and upgrade when you want is not entirely true," he added.
While SAP has shown no public indication otherwise, it's conceivable that the company could somehow back away from enhancement packs over time in favor of SaaS (software as a service) extensions to the core ERP suite.
The next generation of the suite, which isn't expected to emerge for a number of years, could also provide an improved means for adding functionality instead of continuing with the enhancement pack approach.
Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is [email protected]