TORONTO—SAP AG certainly could have done things a little differently when it chose to take a focused effort to maintain the individual brands acquired — Business Objects in 2007 and Sybase in 2010 — that ultimately fuelled customers’ concerns that the German-based company had no future for NetWeaver, said Vishal Sikka, a member of SAP’s executive board in charge of technology and innovation, to ComputerWorld Canada.

“I think this whole brand preservation and so forth got a little bit out of hand, preserving the brand and then people were asking, ‘Oh, what happened to NetWeaver?” said Sikka, prior to speaking onstage at the Toronto stop of the SAP World Tour, a traveling event meant to bring the company’s annual user conference Sapphire to those who couldn’t attend.

Sikka said that was compounded by the industry’s failure to understand that NetWeaver has not changed. Since its inception in 2002, NetWeaver — “the weaver of the network of systems from SAP” — still is a platform for people, data and process integration, despite the injection of cloud, in-memory and mobility along with two acquisitions.

Over time, the data and people aspects of the platform grew as customers identified new priorities, hence the integration of Business Objects and Sybase technologies, said Sikka. “You cannot expect that in eight years, nothing changes,” he said.

Sikka went on to say that Oracle Corp. did something quite similar to its Fusion middleware, yet no one blinked. “I find it extremely interesting that Oracle can throw $7 billion on the table and buy BEA, get rid of Fusion, call WebLogic ‘Fusion,’ and this is still Fusion,” said Sikka. “We acquired Business Objects. We acquired Sybase. And this is not NetWeaver anymore?”

At SAP TechEd earlier in October, SAP made several announcements, including the synchronized release of NetWeaver 7.3. There has been mention by SAP that the company may move towards re-branding NetWeaver, Business Objects and Sybase under a single umbrella. Sikka said he hopes that will happen and that “it would be good.”

SAP will also announce BusinessObjects 4.0 in November, which is “deeply interwined” with NetWeaver, so much so that the user experience will be the same and there will be really no difference between the two, said Sikka.

Business Objects 4.0 will include capabilities like a new dimensional semantic layer so different data warehouses can be integrated, as well as a single design time whether the user is building reports, doing ad hoc analysis or dashboarding.

An attendee, Subodh Malik, director of services for Toronto-based TeachSAP Inc., runs a business that helps customers implement SAP technology, but he also uses it in-house, specifically tools for business intelligence and customer relationship management. He told ComputerWorld Canada that, in general, customers fear large-scale technology implementations, but he thinks Sikka’s keynote that morning served to relay the message that the company “is attaching itself to the customers by giving them a very down-to-earth opinion about their realistic problems and the solutions, which are existing solutions and going towards innovative solutions,” said Malik. “I think that is quite a good balance.”

Malik, also a developer, was at the event to understand more about SAP’s open mobile platform, recently released as a mobile app development platform based on technologies from SAP and Sybase Unwired Platform. Malik thinks that mobile apps are especially useful for back-office work like claim processing or travel expenses. “I think mobile is a big push. The way SAP is focusing on mobile I believe is a big deal. Definitely, as a company, I will be looking into mobile solutions,” said Malik.


Prior to the announcement of NetWeaver 7.3, Malik said the period of silence from SAP about the middleware concerned him. But with the release finally available, he thinks SAP should focus on helping customers better understand the new capabilities, as well as walk them through a ramp-up plan and potential cost to migrate to 7.3.

“Definitely with the new features, there have to be more demonstrations to people, maybe sending a CD to customers telling what features there are,” said Malik.

Another attendee was Manoj Tuli, senior functional configurator at Home Depot of Canada Inc., a retailer that uses SAP’s Business Suite, among other software. Tuli told ComputerWorld Canada he appreciates SAP’s approach of non-disruptive innovation that aims to bring new technology to customers by fitting in with existing and future systems.

“When companies operate at a global level, they tend to have different legacy systems and different versions of the systems … (and SAP wants to) maintain the sanctity of the data flow,” said Tuli.

Besides Business ByDesign, SAP’s hosted offering for the midmarket, SAP is also building out extension apps for large enterprises to extend individual pieces of functionality for lines of business.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau

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