Plattner Plays Up

LAS VEGAS (06/14/2000) - This morning, SAP AG co-founder Hasso Plattner opened the U.S. version of the business application vendor's Sapphire user conference with what could have been billed as a survey class in

With the aid of dozens of giant screens suspended from the rafters of the Sands Convention Center, lots of digital charts with triangles, squares and lines connecting them and two role-playing assistants, Plattner walked attendees through his vision of the future.

It's one in which virtually all of a company's employees log onto, the German vendor's new e-business platform for delivering a whole range of SAP and non-SAP applications and services. And it's not all that far away, at least in Plattner's mind. By this time three years from now, he predicted, 75% of current SAP R/3 users will have migrated to

But so far, SAP has had a hard time getting many of its users to understand exactly what is and how they can transition from their R/3 systems to the new suite, which combines R/3 and companion applications for tasks such as supply-chain planning and customer relationship management together with an Internet portal user interface and business-to-business exchange software.

SAP officials dismiss such criticisms and claim that has been licensed by companies with a combined total of more than 1 million end users since it was announced last August. But at Sapphire, Plattner's keynote speech included a detailed explanation and demonstration of what users can do with

" is not a technology change (for users), but a business change," Plattner said. For example, he added, a sales manager needs - and would get - different application functionality and data views than a human resources or customer service manager would.

SAP developers rewrote virtually all of the transactions within the company's software to reflect this major shift to software that's customized for different end users, Plattner said. The company also has developed some 300 prototypes of application bundles for different job roles in sales, supply-chain management and other business areas.

From a single workspace, Plattner and his cohorts demonstrated how users can drag and drop their way through a full day's activities, from checking e-mail and updating their employee benefits files to buying and selling products and services on external Internet-based marketplaces. Users also would have access to information in their R/3 systems, again customized to their individual jobs.

SAP also has changed its software pricing by switching to an approach that bundles together R/3 and the other applications needed by different users under a single license fee. For companies licensing under the approach, pricing is now based on "the number of users who connect to the system (and) the type of services they use," Plattner said.

Three weeks ago at the European version of Sapphire, SAP announced that users of R/3 Version 3.1 and higher have until August 2003 to upgrade to under their current maintenance contracts. The company is also giving users a choice of buying traditional licenses for each application or paying under's role-based pricing model.

In addition, SAP is offering users a credit for license fees paid for R/3 and the other applications that make up if they convert this year to the new Internet-based technology.

But SAP user Ken Dawson, information technology manager at Charlotte, North Carolina-based Celanese Corp., said he doesn't expect his company to make the leap to in the immediate future - or even within the three-year time frame that Plattner cited.

One reason is that Plattner's promise of simple-to-use, highly intuitive, no-training-necessary software is difficult to swallow, Dawson said as he exited the keynote session. "SAP has a great deal of ground to make up if it'll truly be that easy to use," he said "Today, it takes a great deal of effort to run your business on (R/3)."

Celanese plans to upgrade its R/3 system to Version 4.6, the latest release of the software, this December, according to Dawson. After that, the company won't be ready to jump to for another two years, he said.

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