SAP continues NetWeaver focus

Since its introduction three years ago, SAP has been steadily promoting its NetWeaver technology stack as a pervasive part of its applications, despite user confusion over exactly what it is or fears that it's a proprietary technology.

As the core component to SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA), NetWeaver comprises a set of service-oriented architecture (SOA) technologies, including a portal, business warehouse and other infrastructure applications. It's meant to enable customers to create integrated workflows over various applications. Not surprisingly, at this week's Sapphire 2006 user conference in Orlando, SAP made a number of NetWeaver-related announcements.

Among its other initiatives, the company announced a US$125 million fund to invest in NetWeaver technologies developed by software companies, as well as a planned rollout of business intelligence (BI) applications and its next-generation product, mySAP ERP 2005, which is heavily reliant on NetWeaver.

The technology is a fact of life for customers, said Matthew Rickard, a director of groups and chapters at the Americas SAP Users' Group (ASUG). "All our members at some point in time are going to have go to the ESA. I don't think there is anyone who doesn't believe they aren't going there." Rickard is also special projects manager at the New Brunswick Power Holding, an SAP shop in Fredericton.

That's not a bad thing, he said. "I believe that SAP has got the vision right, and ESA will deliver long-term benefits to their clients through increased flexibility and adaptability, allowing companies to gain competitive advantage through more rapid development and deployment of solutions," said Rickard.

A couple of other ASUG board members concurred that the ESA technology and NetWeaver are good for SAP's installed base. In fact, customers are going to want to move to the mySAP ERP 2005 application to exploit the ESA technology, said Mike Perroni, vice president of IT at Halliburton in Houston. He is also the outgoing president of ASUG.

However, several other users were more hesitant about adopting the technology, wondering just what it would entail or fearing they would have to abandon their existing investments in Microsoft .Net technology.

Just what NetWeaver is has yet to be fully defined, said Stanley Ezzell, vice president of strategic initiatives at Wellborn Cabinet Inc. The Ashland, Ala.-based based furniture maker has successfully deployed a set of ERP applications through the SAP BusinessOne program, which is tailored to medium-size businesses. Ezzell has done customizations with his R/3 application and doesn't want to lose them if he consolidates his stack on NetWeaver.

"What NetWeaver really means to the R/3 customer, I don't know," he said. Ezzell was also unclear about just what migration path he would have to take to get mySAP ERP 2005 if he wants to migrate.

"For me to go and say to my company, 'We've spent millions on this, and guess what, we'll spend more millions for that,' I might be calling looking for another job," he said. For now, he plans to hold off making any moves until he has a higher comfort level with SAP's plans.

SAP executives have made it clear they won't force any customers to NetWeaver and have stressed that it's an open, industry-standard-based architecture.

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