Plattner adds letter

SAP AG is ready to tackle the Internet — that was the message heard by more than 14,000 delegates at this year’s Sapphire ’99 user conference in Philadelphia.

The three-day event kicked off with a visually dazzling video montage that traced the evolution of humanity’s search for a prophesied utopia, what the video referred to as the “city without walls.”

The search, went the story, began in ancient times, before the birth of the world’s major religions and stretched through to the Renaissance, the Age of Reason and the Industrial Revolution. But that search has ended, it alleged, with the birth of the so-called “City of E,” which just happens to be SAP’s slogan for its new Internet strategy.

During his keynote address, SAP co-chairman and co-CEO Hasso Plattner admitted the Walldorf, Germany-based SAP has been slow getting with the ‘net.

“Internet commerce doesn’t allow members to join that aren’t fully committed. That was our problem,” Plattner said. “We had to show that commitment to the Internet, and with we try to embrace all aspects of the Internet.”

Plattner then launched into the details of – first announced in April – and an initiative he said will make SAP a Web leader. covers four key areas: Marketplace, a portal where companies can meet to buy and sell goods; Workplace, where employees at work or home access SAP and non-SAP solutions alike on a job-role basis; business scenarios, where SAP customers can integrate certain business-to-business and business-to-consumer solutions; and Web-based application hosting, which Plattner said will allow resource-strapped companies to take advantage of SAP tools.

Responding to critics, who charge this might require architectural changes, Plattner said SAP users, at least, have nothing to fear.

“We foresaw that a three-tier architecture is the right architecture. We were always in favour of thin clients.”

He also said the EnjoySAP initiative, the revamped R/3 interface launched earlier this year, was a pre-requisite for Web-enablement. And Plattner stressed SAP will allow third parties to play a large role in the strategy. “We have learnt this lesson…we cannot build all the applications,” he said.

To that end, partners including IBM Corp. Hewlett-Packard Co. and Microsoft Corp. announced they will be contributing to Many products will be available by Sept. 30, Plattner said.

Plattner told delegates that is nothing less than a new way of doing business for SAP – one that will allow companies to tie together back offices and engage in truly collaborative forms of commerce.

Cameron Dow, an analyst with International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. in Toronto, said will likely be slower to come to Canada than the U.S.

“It’s ahead of the curve for Canada,” Dow said. “Obviously it’s the largest companies, the top 250, that will go down this path first.” A lot depends on how many Canadian companies sign on, he added.

But he said the ERP vendors, Oracle Corp. and SAP in particular, are venturing into new territory. “This is not about applications, it’s not about products. It’s about a new business format,” Dow said. “None of them know how this is going to play out.”

One Canadian company that has already jumped on board is Canada Post Corp.

Its new Electronic Post Office (EPO), built in conjunction with Cerba Inc. and which went into beta this month, will be made available to the community of users. The goal is to give the EPO access to electronic bill payment and other on-line mailing services.

Bill Robertson, general manager of electronic commerce with Canada Post in Ottawa, said will help it secure SAP customers, which include some of the largest organizations in Canada, as part of the EPO initiative.