SAP pushes NetWeaver platform, architecture

Openness is now a keyword for software vendor SAP, which was once notorious for taking an all-or-nothing approach to its applications and discouraged integration with rival software makers' products.

At the business applications vendor's Sapphire '04 user conference last week, SAP officials also touted plans to make inroads in the retail industry and pledged a greater effort to cater to midsize companies. SAP has been largely seen as selling primarily to large customers.

Company executives also highlighted SAP's efforts to create an easily integrated Web services-based enterprise services architecture. Such an architecture is designed to cut integration costs by allowing companies to tie together both SAP and non-SAP software to create business processes that flow across multiple applications.

With that in mind, SAP CEO and Chairman Henning Kagermann last week said the company intends to use its NetWeaver integration platform to help customers use their existing software investments.

While SAP's software offers flexibility, Kagermann said, it will also give customers a single vendor. "I'm convinced this is the right architecture for the next 10 or more years," he said.

Kagermann also said that with SAP's "long-reaching maintenance strategy," companies wouldn't be forced to migrate from an existing R/3 ERP backbone to the next-generation mySAP ERP platform.

Among SAP's new offerings is a set of CRM, ERP and vertical offerings aimed at midrange companies. The software will be sold to the automotive, high-tech, chemicals and other industries, and SAP plans to partner with IBM to sell applications geared toward the retail market. That software offers customers radio frequency identification and special data management technologies to boost warehouse and stock forecasting and replenishment efficiency.

SAP also announced a partnership with Research In Motion Ltd. to allow that company's BlackBerry wireless handheld devices to link up with the mySAP CRM sales automation software. The offering will be available later this year.

While SAP tends to be seen as strictly a big-company vendor, it can also handle the needs of midrange customers, said Autumn Bayles, CIO at Tasty Baking Co., a Philadelphia-based bakery with revenue of US$250 million. Looking to reinvigorate the company's operations, Tasty Baking is implementing the mySAP Business Suite, which includes components of R/3. Bayles noted that "one thing we had to deal with is the perception SAP is only a Fortune 500 company. Even I thought that."

But after talking to other customers and doing a demo of the product, Bayles said she was sold on SAP.

She noted that SAP could handle the particulars of the bakery industry, such as complying with bioterrorism laws governing the safety of the supplies. "We just wanted the wealth of resources from a partner like SAP," she said, adding that Tasty Baking hopes to go live with mySAP Business Suite before year's end and retire its legacy applications.

SAP's new modular approach to installation is appealing to users at Arctic Cat Inc., a Thief River Falls, Wis.-based maker of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. The company uses R/3 4.6 as well as the mySAP CRM 3.0 application for its operations.

"The problem with SAP has been, until recently, it was an all-or-nothing approach, particularly with upgrades," said Ronald Moses, ERP analyst and team leader. If one application had to be upgraded, it meant all had to be upgraded to ensure interoperability -- a process he said he dreaded. However, with SAP's more flexible services-based architecture, "we can pick and choose those things we want to upgrade and keep other things the way they are. We can have the latest and greatest (enhancements) by using this building block approach."

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