IT suppliers need to listen much more to their users, according to the SAP UK User Group.

The group made the call after its research found 85 per cent of IT directors and CIOs want more access to the senior management of their suppliers, in order to influence product development and raise concerns.

"If, like me, you are a CIO, you want to talk to the senior people in the organisation," said Alan Bowling, chairman of the SAP UK User Group.

It insisted the call represented no complaints about how SAP handles customers. Nevertheless, SAP users have in recent years piled large amounts of pressure on the vendor, forcing it in April to announce it would slow the rate at which it applies new software support charges.

Bowling said it was important that vendors listened to users about what they want from products and support. Users wanted to deal with vendor senior management “rather than sales staff”, he said.

“Users have big questions over product development,” he said. “If businesses spend a lot of money, it's disappointing if they then then have to upgrade excessively and the new version requires more training and costs.”

SAP UK User Group commissioned research of 100 UK IT directors, conducted by Vanson Bourne, which found that half of respondents felt suppliers were not taking on board their product feedback. Bowling told CIO UK that they commissioned the research to assess how they as a group dealt with vendors and to see what was required of them. "We are using this research to shape some of our actions. It highlights that we are right to be campaigning," he said.

Bowling said user groups played a crucial part in changing this. “When you’ve got massive vendors like SAP, you need more weight when you’re talking to them. As a user group you can get a lot of their [vendors] time and the vendors do like spending time with user groups,” he said.

But Bowling insisted this was not because users and vendors were adversaries. “I’m not talking about confrontation, it’s about influence,” he stated.

Some 85 per cent of users polled expressed frustration that vendors constantly upgraded products and then withdrew or reduced support. “We [the SAP UK User Group] have been successful working with SAP to help extend the life of some of its older products, making the eventual transition to newer products much smoother for users,” he said.

User groups also offered better collaboration opportunities, he said. This was important when over eight in 10 users said they knew more about the products than the suppliers , and they wanted to collaborate with their counterparts to discuss technology.

In addition, user groups offer training resources and events where companies can share experiences, addressing specific vertical and niche uses of the technology.

UK and Ireland SAP User Group Annual Conference is on 23 and 24 November, Manchester, More details available here