SAP and IBM forge retail systems alliance

To help retailers increase the efficiency of their IT systems and improve the customer experience, IBM and German business software vendor SAP have agreed to form a global, nonexclusive technology alliance.

The alliance, announced Wednesday at SAP's Sapphire international customer conference in New Orleans, brings together the IT retailing hardware and software expertise of IBM and SAP at a time when many retailers struggle with the rising complexity of their hardware and software systems, said executives here.

"On the one hand, retailers are battling a commoditization of their products and need to find ways to operate more cost efficiently," said Christian Nivoix, general manager of IBM's global distribution sector. "On the other, they're having to connect more systems in their stores. We can help them reduce the complexity and increase the efficiency of their IT retail systems by offering end-to-end integration. We're putting all our hardware and software on the table."

Wireless technology, in particular, is an area where retailers see huge opportunities to increase store efficiency but, at the same time, challenges in connecting multiple devices with their software systems, according to Robert Hafker, global retail solutions manager at IBM.

"Retailers, for instance, may want to take advantage of wireless PDAs (personal digital assistants) to provide real-time sales support but have difficulty integrating these devices with their ERP (enterprise resource planning) system," he said. "Under our new alliance, IBM and SAP will work closely together to help them integrate all this technology."

SAP and IBM will jointly market their retail partnership service but have yet to give it a brand name, according to Peter Kabuth, vice president of retail business systems at SAP.

Kabuth was unable to provide pricing information. "Pricing will be done on a case by case basis," he said.

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