SAP chief stresses portal, exchange software

SAP AG sees its future in enterprise portals and in electronic-exchange systems, and is committed to allowing integration of its products with those of other companies, said Hasso Plattner, co-chairman of the executive board, chief executive officer and co-founder, in his keynote address opening the company's Sapphire conference Monday.

The enterprise software suite is built around the principle that enterprise programs need to be able to handle data hosted on various systems both inside and outside a given company, he told an auditorium full of participants.

More than 9,000 SAP employees, customers, and prospective users have gathered here at the futuristic Lisbon Expo fairgrounds, for sessions hosted by SAP and partner companies.

Portals offer a simple interface that seamlessly integrates information from multiple sources, which means interoperability with other vendors' software is vital, he said. Users don't even have to know where a given piece of software is running, "just as when you access a Web site you don't know where the server is."

The company's electronic-marketplace software, developed in collaboration with Commerce One Inc., builds on the opportunities afforded by the Internet to share information outside the boundaries of a given company, Plattner said. Subsidiary SAPMarkets Inc., which was set up last year to develop electronic- exchange software, announced Monday a strategy focusing on company-specific private exchanges rather than the industry-wide virtual marketplaces that have often failed to attract interest. SAP's older enterprise product, R/3, was designed on the assumption "that we take data necessary to business, anywhere in the world, and encapsulate it within the R/3 'egg,'" he said. But SAP has had to abandon that model. Even the company's largest customers have not concentrated all of their information systems on the R/3 platform, he said. "You will never reach the stage where everything runs on SAP."

Instead, he said, "we want to build systems which use our components, and components from somebody else. But we guarantee the flow of information from one component to another, even if one component is not made by SAP."

"Never will there be an efficient IT system for medium or large enterprises where all the information is in one database," he said, taking a jab at competitor Oracle Corp., which he said follows that model.

SAP's focus on enterprise portals was highlighted earlier this month when the company announced a new subsidiary, SAP Portals Inc., combining internal SAP assets and those of portal company TopTier Software Inc., which SAP is acquiring. Also this month, SAP announced a partnership with Yahoo Inc. to develop enterprise portals. SAP Portals and SAPMarkets already employ between 650 and 850 people each, Plattner said.

"It is absolutely clear that both companies have got the charter to be number one in their segment," he said.

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