A diamond in Sapphire

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As they did two years ago, SAP and Adobe announced an integrated product set at the Sapphire conference. However, the two have combined to surpass the initial announcements significantly, both from functionality and user potential perspectives. The benefits from weaving together new products from both companies will extend beyond electronic document output into electronic forms, collaboration, and process management.

META Trend: Through 2005, organizations will be forced to expand their definitions of what content requires formal management, due to increasing compliance and legal risk (e.g., e-mail and collaborative interactions). By 2007, most Global 2000 organizations will take a Web services-based infrastructure approach capable of addressing all forms of digital content through their life cycles. This will result in greater overlap with storage and relational database vendors for strategic G2000 deployments that will increasingly blur data and content management. G2000 tactical and small/mid-market opportunities will remain dominated by solution-oriented vendors and their partners.

In July 2002, we discussed announcements SAP and Adobe made at SAP’s Sapphire conference that we thought would herald increased information access, collaboration, and presentation capabilities for SAP users (see EBS Delta 1249). At that time, the companies primarily discussed an ability to “distill” SAP output to PDF format as well as integrate with the then SAP Web Application Server (WAS) to provide built-in PDF rendering. Although documents created through these integrations would carry all the benefits of any other PDF documents, we believed the announcements were good but incomplete. At that point, Adobe had recently acquired Accelio (the former JetForm – e-forms, workflow, output management) and was just rolling out its initial document servers. SAP, meanwhile, was new to the integration/middleware space, having acquired the In-Q-My application server and Top Tier (which would be renamed WAS and SAP Portal, respectively). Thus, despite the promise and fanfare around unifying SAP output with PDF formatting and security (and the uses of same within SAP modules), we believed that the real goods had yet to be delivered due to product and integration maturity. Adding (less?) fuel to the fire, we found that the applause shared between the two companies was more like the sound of one hand clapping — Adobe’s — thus somewhat diminishing our expectations that this integration would make huge inroads into user deployments.

Currently, there is quite a different story at multiple levels. Adobe and SAP were together again at this year’s Sapphire conference, providing information on the evolved relationship and product set. Consummate with Adobe’s document server products maturing and concomitantly with the ongoing rollout of NetWeaver, SAP and Adobe have advanced their relationship and integration to provide a much more seamless function set to users. Improvements within the past two years include, among other things the following:

– Integration of the Java PDF object and ABAP PDF Object with ABAP Workbench, NetWeaver Development Studio, and Web Dynpro

– The ability to use interactive forms both online and offline (forms were not part of the original product integrations and announcements)

– Full integration with SAP’s WebFlow and storage of forms in the SAP repository

The evolution of Adobe’s XML capabilities also is a boon for integration with SAP. Given that an XML schema accompanies each Adobe PDF object, users can achieve a better level of control and integration with various SAP modules, either using the product as is or exploiting the Master Data Management (MDM) capability within NetWeaver. Web services also lend a hand in enabling applications to call interactive or printed forms, depending on the situation.

PDF is also the standard output format for SAP, granting users of any SAP module the ability to view documents in a standard fashion. This was the baseline capability outlined in the original announcements in 2002. As we stated in EBS Delta 1249, we believe there is an as-of-yet-untapped potential to use PDF as the output format for both externally focused documents (e.g., invoices) and internal documents that could be archived (e.g., reports). Both modes would be enhanced by the integration with SAP Portal, enabling the right PDF documents to be driven in context to the appropriate users. Moreover, the recently announced Adobe Policy Server could provide for significant value for externally distributed and “at risk” documents.

There are still a few unknowns concerning the relationship. Adobe certainly intends to capitalize on add-on server sales (e.g., Document Control and Security; Collaboration), and though we do know that there will be collaborative selling (solutions can be purchased from either Adobe or SAP) and support (SAP provides level 1 and 2 support), pricing has yet to be determined. Adobe has also inked a similar integration relationship with IBM, though obviously the integration points will be different (i.e., predominantly within recently announced IBM-rich Workplace Clients and middleware). Although this is certainly a boon for Adobe, it could make decisions (a bit) more confusing for end users that are both SAP and WebSphere customers.

It is difficult, though, to see anything but positives about these announcements. The preponderance of Acrobat Readers and the likely success of NetWeaver uptake (albeit predominantly in large SAP accounts) provides a path toward more unified information presentation and management for end users. Indeed, given the unparalleled status of the portal as the deliverer of contextual information and PDF as the increasing de facto rich-output/presentation format — not to mention Adobe’s increasing ability to provide revisable, collaborative, and secure information via PDF — the match is a win-win for users. Although Microsoft will certainly have something to say about this, given its InfoPath dynamic XML composition product (available as part of Office), adoption is much slower and less widespread than is PDF (and Microsoft’s reliance on a think client for InfoPath gives it somewhat less flexibility than PDF). That said, SAP also announced a tighter relationship with Microsoft, largely around the .Net framework (and thus more important to application development and NetWeaver integration), but the door is clearly open for users to experiment with integrating Office and NetWeaver capabilities. Still, Adobe’s position as output format of choice should give it an edge for more strategic deployment and usage.

Bottom Line: SAP and Adobe have made a good relationship significantly better, and though the broadest potential adoption will be gated (seeded) by SAP customers’ deployment of NetWeaver/mySAP, the combination offers a strong path toward information and process unification.

Business Impact: Users are receiving increasingly easier means of consuming information, making them more effective decision makers and process navigators.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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