SAP is set to pare down its suite

SAP AG chief Hasso Plattner kicked off the company’s recent Sapphire ’02 user conference by promising 8,000 attendees to put its software suite on a diet.

Plattner said SAP will scrap as much as 50 per cent of unused functionality in its flagship R/3 software. SAP also unveiled a nimbler ERP package designed for small and medium companies, as well as a set of new, simpler user interfaces.

“Total cost of ownership is the highest priority topic at SAP,” he said. “We want to engage with you to reduce (it).”

SAP also renewed its focus on the integration front. To that end, Plattner announced the shipment of SAP Web Application Server, a Web services platform designed to help customers tie together applications and business processes. Besides Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP), the Application Server currently supports Java 2 Enterprise Edition, Microsoft Corp. .NET and IBM Corp.’s WebSphere.

The Application Server will also ship with Web Dynpro, a design environment that enables developers to quickly alter both the user interfaces and run-time environments, according to SAP.

But it was talk of Business One that appeared to garner the most excitement among Sapphire attendees. Business One is a set of applications designed for mid-market and regional office customers to help them integrate quickly with and centralize their data. It will be available in Canada in the fourth quarter of this year.

John MacFarlane, the Longueuil, Que.-based manager of the SAP competency centre at aviation engine maker Pratt & Whitney Canada, and an R/3 customer who helps oversee more than 5,000 users, said Business One is an appealing concept for his company, given its track record of mergers and acquisitions involving smaller firms.

“Sometimes…SAP is too heavy for them, and it’s forced us to look at other alternatives, because you want something that’s going to be quick and efficient,” MacFarlane said. “With Business One, if it lives up to its expectations…I’m sure you can truly reduce the amount of time it takes to [implement] a solution. I’m definitely going to spend some time looking at it.”

Another customer said the notion of simplifying R/3, and how that could help make future upgrades less daunting, intrigued him. “The idea that (Plattner) was talking about…of not only expanding functionality but also slimming down areas that aren’t being used is relevant to what’s going on,” said Steven Fiendel, Halifax-based director of e-services at Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.

Fiendel is currently rolling out a test version of his department’s service delivery portal, which links back office registry and service components with SAP software, to Service Nova Scotia staff.

“The next piece that I’m starting looking at is the CRM component. We’re licenced for it, we just haven’t implemented it yet,” he said.

Although he welcomed SAP’s focus on integration and total cost of ownership, MacFarlane, who also came to Sapphire to scout out SAP’s business intelligence and CRM offerings, said he’d like to see SAP generate more “out-of-the-box” supply chain management software and cut the time required for customization.

And given that Pratt & Whitney had to undergo a time-consuming and costly migration to R/3 4.6c only 12 months after installing 3.1h in early 1999, MacFarlane said he remains cautious about how easy it will be for customers to upgrade their user interfaces.

“If you’re significantly changing the GUI, this is a massive change management process, a massive training process. And then you’re going to have high levels of testing,” MacFarlane said.

SAP unveiled several other products at Sapphire, including the SAP Exchange Infrastructure. Based on the Application Server, it’s designed to help customers integrate business processes across heterogeneous environments via XML.

SAP also announced a new breed of cross applications, dubbed xApps, which allow users to pull data from any application, whether it belongs to a competing software vendor or sits outside the organization. The first, Resource and Program Management, is expected to be available in the fourth quarter.