Five quick facts about SAP, its software

February 7, 2005 

What is SAP?

The Walldorf, Germany-based company is the leading provider of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and the world’s third-largest independent software supplier. It claims 12 million users, 88,000 installations and 1,500 partners around the world.

Who uses SAP?

Founded in 1972, the company made its reputation supplying software for manufacturing companies, but it has branched out considerably and now offers something for nearly every market, including retail, financial services and the public sector. Many of the world’s biggest companies, including Coca-Cola, Chevron and Dow Corning, use its products. Area customers include Vancouver, B.C., and the Seattle School District.

What’s good about it?

It’s regarded as a highly flexible and powerful tool that will provide officials with data they didn’t have before. And by integrating parts of city government that once were separate, it can make it easier to share information. Eventually, officials say this will allow them to provide better service to taxpayers and utility rate payers with fewer city employees, even eliminating entire layers of government.

What’s bad about it?

The system’s strengths – the amount of detail it offers and its flexibility – are often described as its weakness, as well. The city now has the ability to analyze data in new ways and in real time, but someone must enter all of the data into the system. As a result, the workload has shifted. Front-line workers spend more time entering data into the system, so that managers can analyze it. Also, because the same software is used for a variety of needs, it can’t do each one as well as more specialized software can.

How does it change things?

Installing an ERP system such as SAP’s is a lot more than just buying a new computer and plugging it in. It changes the way a company – or in this case, a city – operates. Preparing employees for this kind of organizational shift is called “change management.” Tacoma’s top computer managers said they tried to prepare workers for the seismic shift they encountered with SAP, but they admit they didn’t do as well as they wanted.

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