SAP: Something for Everyone

Orlando -- In a keynote address that pulled from every corner of the SAP organization, co-CEO and founder Hasso Plattner managed to pull it all together. Before thousands of employees, customers, analysts and journalists at the annual SAPPHIRE conference, the message was unity, better performance, and, best of all, something for everyone. "These are tough times, said Plattner. "It's better to deliver something than just to promise or talk about the future." After a few false starts, SAP feels it has gotten the message right on its product plaforms. Building on its open architecture message of November, SAP is migrating a broad range of applications into a better defined three-tier offering, which technically covers any company with more than a couple dozen employees. "SAP has to be for every size business," says Plattner. First on the list of deliveries is a newly launched solution for SMBs called SAP Business One. Business One, built on technology acquired from Israeli firm TopManage, addresses common requirements in the areas of accounting, sales force automation, logistics and reporting. The starter system, which comes available in Q3 (Q4 in the U.S.) will be offered in geographically localized flavors, is scalable to and will eventually be compatible with the flagship mySAP line of products, according to SAP SMB Vice President Allen Brault. Business One is likely to ready to bump heads with Oracle, as well as Microsoft's new line of CRM and ERP solutions and a potential foray into the supply chain space. But Plattner sees Microsoft as both competitor and partner. On the subject of open source, Plattner paraphrased Ronald Reagan while referring to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates. "Mr. Gates, tear down that wall," quipped Plattner to wide applause. "One of SAP's appeals to customers is to pressure Microsoft to support the Java Virtual Machine," says Aberdeen Group analyst David Alschuler. The other, says Alschuler, is more proprietary and refers to Microsoft's recent Navision acquisition, and that of Great Plains before it. "Hasso thinks that's an opportunity for SAP because those customers are facing a migration issue." SAP's mid-tier, vertically oriented offering, mySAP All-In-One, has been in the works for a while, and is now in a more understandable form, says Alschuler. All In One is a specially configured version that runs on a single database and single instance of the application server. The idea is more out-of-the-box functionality, lower cost and speedier deployment. "It sacrifices customization and has limitations in terms of performance which is why it is positioned in the middle of the market," says Alschuler. Plattner says this makes sense for a company with 1,000 employees, but not enterprise customers who wouldn't want to risk running on a single instance of SAP. As for the flagship mySAP.com, the SAP co-chairman says customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management (SCM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) now make up 60 percent of SAP's software functionality -- and so components formerly housed in SAP's R/3 system are migrating to the newer mySAP products. That doesn't mean there will be an immediate migration to mySAP, says Plattner. For example, SCM is a standalone system, but R/3 MRP functionality is still in wide use by many customers. The same is true for sales functionality currently residing in R/3. "It will be replaced, but we won't take it away from you," he says. Also, SAP says it has delivered better integration between SCM and CRM offerings to compress the lag time between customer demand and supplier activity. On the integration front, SAP announced cross-applications, what it calls a "new breed" of technology interfaces to bridge business processes, including those of third-party products from the likes of Oracle, PeopleSoft and Microsoft. "xAPPS" claim to leverage existing IT investments and relationships by delivering cross functional business processes and automated interactions, the same turf covered by enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors. But AMR analyst Jim Murphy says it's not clear that SAP intends to enter the contested EAI marketplace. Rather, the first goal would be to provide better cross-functionality among SAP products. "They haven't yet clearly articulated the distinction between low-level back end integration and more ambitious plans," he says. The first of these "xAPPs," called RPM, or Resource and Program Management is being demo-ed at SAPPHIRE; other prototypes released at Sapphire RPM address the gas and chemical industries. Last but not least, SAP announced it will move to a new uniform user interface, underpinned by Web Dynpro, a design environment that supports three runtime environments: SAP's own ABAP, J2EE and Microsoft's .NET. Supported on any device, the interface gives a consistent look and feel. "Web Dynpro will help reduce development costs while providing support for multiple devices," says Alschuler. "With multiple devices, you end up with development threads that have to be supported for each. Now you end up with one set of specifications."
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