SAP to unveil Web agenda

After several months of floating internet trial balloons, this week SAP AG will start trying to convince users that it has a coherent plan for supporting Web-based computing with R/3 and its other applications.

SAP plans to detail the technology underpinnings for its mySAP.com internet push at a conference for developers this week and at one for business users two weeks from now. It will also announce guidelines for setting up collaborative applications that run on the Web and mix its software with third-party packages.

Several R/3 users said they're waiting to hear what SAP has to say - and hoping the details will be more understandable than what they were previously told.

Jeff Smith, CIO at AlliedSignal's diesel-engine turbocharger division in California, met early this month with SAP executives to discuss the strategy.

"They had a very hard time articulating it," he said. "It was one of those things where it sounds great, but you don't know exactly what they were saying.

Ben Vettese, director of SAP applications at Elf Atochem North America in Philadelphia, had a similar reaction after a meeting in May.

"I got kind of a picture of what it's going to be like, but it was pretty vague," Vettese said. He noted it wasn't clear if a group of companies looking to automate transactions via the Web would all need to install SAP's software.

Chris Larsen, a senior vice president at SAP America, acknowledged that the company has "sent a lot of mixed messages out the door since May". But he said the strategy should be ironed out by the Sapphire '99 user conference.

Some things still aren't past the vision stage, Larsen said. For example, SAP is trying to sign up financial services and third-party logistics companies to build automated bill-payment and order-fulfillment capabilities into the mySAP.com.

"A lot of this is conceptual, but the direction is the right one," said Stephen Cole, an analyst at Forrester Research. Especially important, he said, is the need for SAP "to reach beyond itself and look at integrating with other applications".

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