Time is ripe for integration, says SAP chief

ORLANDO – SAP AG chief Hasso Plattner Wednesday outlined several initiatives designed to help the company’s 18,000 customers tackle the cost of integrating and maintaining its applications. He announced SAP’s plan during the opening keynote on the first day of SAP’s Sapphire user conference here.

SAP’s mix of R/3, mySAP.com and business software, while good from a functionality point of view, “haunts us,” said Plattner, adding that the company now faces multiple implementations of its own software in a variety of circumstances.

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

To that end, SAP announced a renewed focus on integration. 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 also supports Java 2 Enterprise Edition, Microsoft Corp. .Net and IBM Corp.’s WebSphere middleware.

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

Also currently shipping is 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 unveiled a new breed of cross applications, dubbed xApps, that allow users to pull data from any application, whether it’s from another vendor or sits outside the organization. The first, Resource and Program Management, is expected to be available in the fourth quarter.

But it was talk of Business One that appeared to garner the most excitement among attendees. Designed for small and medium businesses as well as subsidiaries and partners of large companies, SAP said Business One can help customers integrate quickly with mySAP.com in order to help centralize data and reporting data.

“What is right for a medium enterprise with 1,000 employees is not right for Coca Cola,” Plattner said.

John MacFarlane, the Longueuil, Que.-based manager of the SAP competency centre at Pratt & Whitney Canada, said Business One is an appealing concept for his company, which has been involved in mergers and acquisitions with smaller firms in the past.

“We’re committed to SAP across the board,” MacFarlane said. “But SAP might be too heavy for them…Business One is the type of thing we can use.”

Another customer said he was intrigued by notion of simplifying R/3, and how that could future upgrades less daunting. “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 referred to Plattner’s call on attendees to help SAP slash the functionality in R/3 in order to boost its overall performance. “We can drop 50 per cent of all these objects,” Plattner said. “We have to do this cleanup.”

Although he welcomed the overall message of integration and TCO, MacFarlane said he’d like to see SAP generate more “out-of-the-box” software and cut the time required for customization.

He also played down the importance of portals – a topic that loomed large on the first day of Sapphire.

“Until we have all the right content to post on the portal, what’s the point,” MacFarlane said.

Sapphire continues until Friday. Sapphire is online at http://www.app.sap.com/usa/sapphire/online/.