Panelists outline customer retail projects

SAP emphasized its commitment to the retail industry at its user show, putting together a panel of customers to discuss their retail projects.

Two months after Oracle snatched Retek away from suitor SAP, SAP is eager to remind the industry that it remains committed to the retail market. At its Sapphire show Wednesday, the vendor put together a panel of customers to share their experiences deploying SAP's retail applications.

Several on the panel said they looked closely at Retek before choosing SAP. Convenience store chain Wawa decided SAP's applications would be easier to support over their entire life cycle than Retek's, according to Wawa Chief Information Officer (CIO) Neil McCarthy. "Retek could do a lot of the same things. There wasn't a lot of difference in the functionality, but the bigger picture pointed to SAP," he said.

Asked about anticipated cost savings from adopting SAP, all four panelists said they doubt they'll see any. Instead, they hope SAP's software will help them realize better value from their IT investments.

"We're worrying about minutia all the time and maybe don't see the bigger stuff because of all the ground clutter," said Wickes Furniture CIO Frank O'Connor. O'Connor expects to spend 30 percent less on hosting costs and slightly less than he does now on maintenance when his SAP project goes live, but O'Connor said his primary goal in adopting the new software is to enable Wheeling, Illinois-based Wickes to expand its business.

"I hope we have more dollars freed up for discretionary activities rather than just keeping the lights on," said Karen Etzkorn, vice president of IT for merchandising and marketing at The Home Depot Inc. Home Depot, based in Atlanta, is a longtime SAP customer that announced on Wednesday its plans to run its retail operations on SAP's software. "We're really looking to SAP to help us standardize our business processes across our organization," Etzkorn said.

Process standardization was an oft-mentioned goal for the panelists. Brookshire Grocery made the decision to change its business practices around SAP rather than modifying the software. "Historically, in our business we bought packages and customized the heck out of them. Then we could never stay current," said Tim King, Brookshire's vice president of finance.

One SAP initiative generating noticeable excitement among customers is the in-development joint product with Microsoft Corp., code-named Mendocino, that SAP announced last month at its European Sapphire show. Scheduled for release in late 2005, Mendocino is intended to integrate SAP's software with Microsoft Office.

"I think the opportunity to have a single desktop that can be leveraged across the business is huge," said The Home Depot's Etzkorn. Wawa's McCarthy said his company's employees rely heavily on Outlook. He hopes Mendocino will help smooth the way for Wawa's enterprise-wide SAP rollout.

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