SAP strategy questioned in wake of Clarify deal

It's official: SAP AG will implement the call centre application from Nortel Networks' Clarify unit in the SAP CRM customer relationship management module. The move has observers speculating about an SAP takeover of the Nortel subsidiary, and about other possible matchups for SAP.

SAP officially announced its cooperation with the Nortel subsidiary Clarify a few weeks ago, after rumours of an acquisition of the Nortel unit had already circulated for weeks. The goal of the agreement is to integrate Clarify's call centre package into version 2.0b of SAP's CRM customer relationship management module.

The two companies are currently in the process of getting a common development team up and running, and want to get an integrated package out the door as early as possible. The integration of the two packages does not pose a problem since several SAP customers are already working with Clarify's CRM solution, according to Dietmar Saddeif, who is leading SAP's development in CRM.

The multilayered integration will be accomplished in several steps. A development timeframe of one year or more is realistic, especially since SAP developers have little experience with the integration of extensive applications into their own platform, according to Meta Group analyst Ruediger Spies.

The pressure to hit the market with a strong and widely accepted integrated CRM package is mounting fast for the Walldorf-based company. The underlying reason is the sluggish sale of SAP's own application, a fact that has been confirmed by a Mummert & Partner poll.

According to this poll, about a third of all SAP customers are considering the purchase of a CRM application, but only one quarter of these wants to put their trust in an SAP product.

Industry insider Helmuth Guembel of Strategy Partners, based in Munich, believes that SAP has waited much too long to implement a strategy in the CRM sector. Through continuous delays, the company missed the largest opportunity on the market since their own launch, he said.

While in the past, only occasional technology partnerships were arranged, the German software giant is now forced by the e-business market to agree to wide-ranging cooperation. Apparently, SAP is also mentally ready to work together with other large manufacturers or at least to give it a try, according to Meta Group analyst Spries. This appraisal is supported by the announcement, almost simultaneous with the Clarify announcement, of co-operation between SAP and Nokia to support the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) via a global technology agreement that will give handheld device access to the Mobile Workplace.

On the other hand, Armin Jost, responsible for consulting at SAP's laboratories in Mannheim, does not want to hear anything about a change in strategy. Rather, he regards the cooperation with Clarify as an expansion of the previous strategy.

SAP opened up to third party providers some time ago with its BAPI (business application programming interfaces) interfaces, and also, only a small component of Clarify's "E-Front-Office" is being integrated, he points out.

However, development leader Saddei believes it is conceivable to cooperate not only in the call center sector, but also in other CRM areas, without "throwing out the baby with the bathwater." After all, one has to start somewhere.

With the choice of Clarify and the failed SAP strategy to conquer the market with a completely self-developed CRM solution, the race has been reopened for other third party providers.

For example, Peoplesoft has already announced that it would approach SAP's customers more directly. In addition, rumors are circulating in the industry that Nortel is currently considering the sale of its just recently acquired subsidiary Clarify, which would open the door for SAP to take over the complete CRM package. SAP may also be interested in the planned sale of the entire CRM division of the severely damaged ERP competitor Baan.

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