SAP to offer open software platform

Users of SAP AG’s business software will soon be able to pick and choose between elements, even integrating them with applications from other providers, thanks to a new open-standards policy.

The German software company announced the plan in a statement Tuesday, as it kicked off the TechEd 2001 technical conference in Los Angeles focusing on its product line.

The new service, called MySAP Technology, will give developers Web access to SAP software, allowing them to tailor elements of the MySAP line – which includes electronic commerce applications as well as ERP (enterprise resource management) and CRM (customer relations management) functions – to their individual needs.

“What our customers have asked us for, since the mid-’90s, again and again, is openness – openness so that we can integrate our software with other software components which are there and will be there for the long haul,” said Hasso Plattner, SAP’s co-chairman of the executive board, chief executive officer and co-founder, during a conference call with journalists.

“The question of openness directly ties in to the cost of implementation and cost of ownership,” he continued, adding that maintaining the links between different systems consumes between 60 and 75 percent of many companies’ IT budgets.

The move marks a departure from the way business software makers have previously operated, SAP said, in that customers will now be able to update and add flexibility to existing systems, instead of having to “rip and replace” expensive infrastructure in order to install entire new packages.

“A more open and integration-friendly environment for SAP is certainly a very good move for customers,” said Jennifer Chew, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “I think that SAP has been the most forward in embracing this open architecture, when you compare them to (competitors) Oracle (Corp.) and PeopleSoft (Inc.)”

Enterprise software users have long been integrating applications from different providers, she continued, calling SAP’s announcement an acknowledgment of common user practice.

“They are now free to choose their other technology partners freely, and they won’t be stuck with the high cost of custom integration,” she said.

Gartner Inc. analyst Bruce Bond also praised the move, though he said it would be of most interest to existing clients and unlikely to gain the company new customers.

“If you are a current SAP user, and you’re thinking you want to develop some stuff in Java, this is a good move. But people are not going to say, ‘I’m going to buy this instead of (competitors) IBM (Corp.) or BEA (Systems Inc.)'”

“SAP as a product has a reputation of being extremely clunky and hard to work with, and this creates a kinder, gentler SAP,” he continued. “This message says they can live in this heterogeneous world.”

SAP’s new Web Application Server will provide access to the company’s software via widely used protocols including Sun Microsystems Inc.’s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and Microsoft Corp.’s .Net platform, and will feature a development tool developed by SAP partner Dynpro Inc.

“There’s a growing Java community, and customers ask us again and again to incorporate this community into our family, so that we can use their skills to adapt and enhance our systems,” Plattner said. He added, however, that the company will continue to maintain its internal programming language, known as ABAP, for at least 10 years.

Tuesday’s announcement is likely to be seen as a setback for Microsoft, despite SAP’s insistence that it will support .Net as well as Java.

The MySAP Technology announcement follows on demonstrations of interoperability with several other enterprise systems made by SAP during its Sapphire conference in New York in June.