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Speaking to more than 15,000 delegates at the opening of the Sapphire user conference in Orlando, Fla. Tuesday, SAP executives outlined why users should standardize on SAP’s software platform, and give the company a bigger share of their IT spend.

SAP Americas president and CEO Bill McDermott and Leo Apotheker, SAP’s president, customer solutions and operations, stuck to the broad strokes of SAP’s business strategy in their addresses.It would really be nice if the chainsaw could send an e-mail to the head of the rental department and say ‘I’m ready to be sharpened, get over and sharpen me!Robert DeRhodes>Text

Noting the railway didn’t really become a success until it standardized in a common gauge, McDermott said standardization is happening now in enterprise software. Pointing to its NetWeaver platform as the emerging standard platform, McDermott said SAP’s brand of service-oriented architecture (SOA), and enterprise services architecture (ESA), will be the glue that ties together a new set of component-based offerings, rather than hardwired products.

“Industry-specific solutions are now [broken down] into smaller enterprise-service repositories that all applications can draw upon,” said McDermott.

In addition to highlighting several recent product announcements from SAP, including CRM On-Demand, SAP Analytics and Duet (jointly developed with Microsoft to help users access their SAP data from Microsoft Office applications) McDermott said the company is also signing up hundreds of independent software vendors to develop applications on the SAP platform.

Flexibility was also the theme of Apotheker’s speech. He said in the past ERP systems didn’t give the IT department the change things on the fly in response to changing business needs. However, he said today the ability to do this is critical – as IT is no longer a separate function and needs to be more closely aligned with business strategy.

Apotheker said SAP’s ESA approach was the “best way” to balance the two IT imperatives of efficiency and flexibility. But before companies start down the road, Apotheker said, they should put an architecture roadmap in place. “It is imperative to start with a clear view of your destination…so you have the right tools to use to your competitive advantage,” he said. “You can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines.”

On hand to provide a customer perspective on recent SAP announcements, Home Depot’s executive vice-president and CIO, Robert DeRhodes, outlined how the retailer is using SAP technology to maintain an existing base of legacy systems as well as build out new systems, including tools for inventory management, workforce management, and a services automation platform.

Home Depot is also an early adopter (a beta user) of Duet, and DeRhodes said the platform has great potential. He said in most large businesses today – including Home Depot – there are two separate technology communities: enterprise applications users and the office applications users. Both have separate systems, and tend to stay in their own worlds.

DeRhodes said they’ve invested heavily in each group, and will continue to do so, but the company thinks it can get more out of those investments with Duet. “We’d like to make it easier for people to navigate and bridge that domain.”

The Home Depot CIO also shared his SAP wish list for the future: he wants to see enhanced event management, specifically a store shelf that can send e-mail to the manager when it needs to be restocked.

DeRhodes pointed to Home Depot’s tool rental business as a prime example: each tool is currently scored and has its details entered into SAP already. “It would really be nice if the chainsaw could send an e-mail to the head of the rental department and say ‘I’m ready to be sharpened, get over and sharpen me!’ We think there are some possibilities long-term for event management.”

Sapphire continues thru Thursday.

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