Big isn't better

"Customers come first," says SAP CEO Henning Kagermann. "Shareholders are second."

Well, at least he has the order right, but by some strange application of logic, he's referring to a potential combination with Microsoft.

Last year's talks about a possible deal between Microsoft and SAP AG became public only because of Oracle's ongoing efforts to take over PeopleSoft.

Microsoft realized that the US Department of Justice's antitrust investigation into Oracle's proposed deal would reveal its own interest in SAP. So, to which SAP customers is Kagermann actually referring? Not the ones that have selected IBM's WebSphere platform. And not the J2EE champions either.

Let's see -- Microsoft, a convicted monopolist, would link up with the world's biggest maker of business software. And this is supposed to benefit customers how?

Maybe there is an IT advantage to having all that software under one corporate brand, but if Microsoft and SAP are so dedicated to being customer-friendly, there is little to prevent them from building interoperability into their current product lines.

Microsoft and SAP are already in a 10-year agreement to integrate Microsoft's .Net with SAP's NetWeaver platform. The goals are to make it easier for Microsoft Office users to connect to SAP applications and to make Visual Studio the development tool of choice for SAP connections.

Last month in New Orleans, SAP announced that the next version of NetWeaver will include interoperability with Microsoft's BizTalk Server.

But why would a merger of giants help customers more than just better IT cooperation would?

There are some major gaps between SAP's back-office applications and the thousands of Microsoft .Net customers, and sure, they could be plugged by a Microsoft acquisition of SAP.

But the real consequence of a takeover of SAP would be less choice for customers.

Microsoft has demonstrated in the past that it views antitrust laws more as suggestions than as strict rules.

Microsoft has never allowed constraints to get in the way of business, and there's no reason to believe it will change its behaviour. What has changed is the scope of IT industry deals. They will be bigger and more costly and limit customer options.

And as for investors, well, Kagermann is right: they will come second, because there's no consensus on whether big IT mergers create or destroy value.

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