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SAP Opens The ‘Miss Congeniality’ Contest

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: December 4 2001

SAP Opens The 'Miss Congeniality' Contest
P.J. Jakovljevic - December 4, 2001

Event Summary

On November 6, SAP AG (NYSE: SAP), the leading provider of business software solutions, detailed its open-standards-based infrastructure that should enable technical interoperability and should drive collaborative business in a heterogeneous IT world. The foundation for all mySAP.com solutions, mySAP Technology reportedly enables collaboration across business processes and among users within and beyond company boundaries by integrating applications and Web services from different vendors on one common, reliable and open Web infrastructure.

In the announcement Hasso Plattner, co-chairman of the executive board, CEO and co-founder of SAP AG, basically reiterated his keynote speech from SAPPHIRE, again addressing the need for software companies to adopt and adhere to open industry standards, in the interest of customer needs for integration and communication. The mySAP Technology infrastructure should supposedly solve a long-standing dilemma for CIOs - whether to purchase natively integrated applications from a single vendor or custom-integrated applications from different vendors - by providing support for both approaches. SAP touts that customers will benefit by reducing their cost of ownership, adding flexibility to their technology infrastructure and protecting existing investments, with no need to "rip and replace" current systems. mySAP Technology consists of three elements driving collaborative business: Web Application Server, exchange and integration infrastructure, and portal infrastructure. All three elements reportedly enable compatibility with technologies from other vendors.

The SAP Web Application Server (WAS) provides Web services through platform-independent, maintainable business Web applications and technologies. These encompass Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and ABAP as well as connectivity with other technologies such as Microsoft .NET. In addition, with Web Dynpro, the Web Application Server provides a Web development tool and runtime environment for professional Web business applications addition. The portal infrastructure provides user-centric collaboration based on data unification and role management capabilities that deliver relevant information to users, easing navigation and allowing people to work smarter. With a common, seamless point of entry across disparate systems and information sources including any back-end system the user will be presented with only relevant personalized information and should therefore make the best decisions based on previously invisible informational relationships. The exchange infrastructure (EI) provides process-centric collaboration based on shared business knowledge for designing, configuring, changing and executing collaborative business processes. Its realm of operation is in tying together processes across multiple applications.

SAP believes with mySAP Technology, customers should benefit from both the strong heritage of SAP and the new world of open integration, as the traditional strengths of scalability, broad functionality and mission-critical performance provided by SAP are now extended to J2EE. mySAP Technology is envisioned to reduce the pain of abrupt, disruptive shifts in technology with continuous, evolutionary improvement. As a result of this evolutionary approach, customers should be able to modify, enhance and adapt individual Web services without changing other services, mitigating the need for the huge technology platform shifts and upgrades of the past. This allows companies to protect existing investments and add new functionality that can be easily designed, built, deployed, accessed and combined with existing Web services and syndicated across division, company and geographic boundaries.

Market Impact

SAP has been following up on what it committed to at SAPPHIRE last summer. The unveiled product architecture was devised as the technical underpinnings of the "Five Pillar" strategy that SAP rolled out then (see SAP - A Humble Giant From The Reality Land? Part 2: Expanding Functionality). If those announcements sounded grandstanding at that time, then the latest announcement would be the fleshing out of the vision. Having the largest market share and the broadest offering among business application vendors represents a double-edged sword, as it also brings with it many challenges - e.g., new technology introduction and new application deployment, while ensuring to spare existing customers from any shock-therapy-like changes.

While SAP has not been known for speed, its holistic and meticulous approach to new product delivery this time may give customers some breathing space between adopting new software standards and solutions, while at the same time upgrading and maintaining custom legacy environments. Oracle and PeopleSoft, on the other hand, while gaining market shares with their respective groundbreaking technologies at that time, have felt the displeasure of client bases that were far from being ready to make a significant technological leap. As a result, both vendors had to backpedal and rethink their older product releases discontinuation strategies.

The battle for ownership of the collaborative infrastructure platform has been raging for some time now (see The Application Server War Escalates). SAP's introduction of a Web Application Server is a noteworthy move, as it has long been the remaining major piece of the puzzle for its offering. The company has thereby made a major shift from providing 'points of integration' solutions through business applications programming interfaces (BAPIs) running over a proprietary remote procedure call (RPC) protocol called RFC (Remote Function Call) to providing a strategic integration platform for its customers, which allows it to offer possibly a complete collaborative solution even when some of the component applications are not provided by SAP.

Furthermore, EI (Enterprise Integration) supersedes SAP's proprietary enterprise applications integration (EAI) architecture called Application Link Enabling (ALE) that was mainly suited for asynchronous transaction process needs. Consequently, at first sight, mySAP Technology addresses the major infrastructure requirements of an exchange platform, including internal integration within a single company and external between companies, business process workflow across applications, identity/role management, and content management. The users ability to dynamically write business process rules and to share them internally and externally might give other vendors pause and force them to come up with their solutions. There will also be complementary infrastructure services for issues such as security and globalization, but these are seemingly not strategic, though.

Given the leadership position and the consequent influence, SAP's decision on any technology carries significant specific weight. To that end, having a company with the stature of SAP supporting componentized Web Services technology is likely to increase the concept's awareness and speed up its adoption. SAP's endorsement of Web Services technology might help it make up for its latency of endorsing the component (object oriented) technology several years ago. Web Services have a potential of becoming the latest evolution of application integration technology and/or a revolutionary new application design model by enabling developers to create or enhance applications by connecting granular components that are accessed via platform-independent Web protocols.

While Web services leverage the aged concept of objects' reusability, they may finally offer that extra mile by adherence to standards that are taking hold (see The SOAP Opera Progresses - Helping XML to Rule the World). Further, they tend to be simpler in their nature, partly owing to the Internet standards, and they also tend to be higher-level abstractions, which implies more likely platform independence and "mixing and matching" opportunity by developers.

SAP's decision to support more open standards - from popular programming languages like Java to support for evolving standards such as eXtensible Markup Language (XML), Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI), and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) - should raise the bar for many enterprise application vendors. Moreover, SAP's open preference for Java could give the upper hand to the Java-centric Web services standards promoted by Sun in its ongoing battle with Microsoft's .NET counterpart. Although SAP will by no means shut the door to Microsoft, SunOne will seemingly be supported natively, while .NET standards will have to settle only for a support through an adapter/connector. While Microsoft may regard this as a slap in the face, we do not foresee any direct clash of the two software Godzilla's - the stakes are too high and will force both companies to continue with their hot-cold relationship.

Effect On EAI Vendors

While it is also not very likely SAP will use this technology outline to aggressively pursue application server or EAI markets, it will certainly make the respective niche vendors' jobs of selling into fertile SAP client base very difficult. Nevertheless, in the short term, it will not affect nor lessen the value proposition of independent EAI vendors such as SeeBeyond, Tibco Software or webMethods, or vendors that provide generic application servers, such as IBM, iPlanet and BEA Systems. In the long term, however, these will have to devise an answer to SAP's business process level of integration and modeling, in addition to their offerings' immaculate transactional performance.

Most likely, SAP will develop integration capabilities internally only for selected most widespread 'alien' applications in the SAP-controlled environment. Although the new architecture blueprint provides SAP with a more open approach to integrating its applications with others, it is also reinforcing SAP's ability to maintain account control in these multi-products environments. The caveat remains that in the guts of the applications much of SAP technology will continue to be implemented in its proprietary Advanced Business Application Programming (ABAP) technology, but the provision of XML interfaces and publishing applications as Web services should ease the integration effort for SAP customers notwithstanding. However, the litmus test of the mySAP Technology's collaborative innovativeness will be in whether users can integrate J2EE-based applications into their SAP environment without tweaking it again in ABAP. Otherwise, this will be regarded as yet another sugarcoating of a proprietary unwieldy architecture.

SAP's Challenge

SAP's challenge will also be the articulation of business benefits of its latest technological infrastructure. There is still lingering market confusion over mySAP.com's value proposition to both existing and potential customers. As the market leader continues to evolve from functionally broad ERP-centric processes and closed monolithic architecture, to processes that encompass the entire value chain, with open architecture, it is of paramount importance for it not to fall in the trap of yet again confusing the market with a jumbled message. While indisputably a compelling proposition, the mySAP Technology is based on still 'moving-target' technologies, with lesser market awareness. The terminology and message simplification for average customers still remains wide-open game.

User Recommendations

SAP has embarked on a journey with no return ticket. This is by all means good news for its customers that need to integrate their internal applications with applications from other vendors and/or who need to exchange information with their business partners that are not SAP shops. While SAP's new technology blueprint is impressive, the market has often in the past witnessed how long the road is between the vision and execution, SAP's huge resources notwithstanding. Therefore, potential and current SAP customers with hefty integration requirements should not depart from their short-term IT investment strategies. They should also consider third-party EAI alternatives. Current mySAP.com users should enquire about their license entitlement to mySAP Technology.

The depth and breadth of mySAP.com's offerings should be attractive to a wide range of companies, both industry- and size-wise. However, users should question the company's delivery fulfillment of its strategy and appreciate that migrating older instances of SAP R/3 to mySAP.com and/or integrating mySAP.com components to other software will remain painstaking for some time to come, despite SAP's commendable initiative in easing that.

Users anticipating projects only in a year time framework should ascertain the announced technologies bearing in mind the maturity factor and while comparison-shopping with other renowned available products. Early adopters should observe the J2EE-based components performance compared to their ABAP-based counterparts. While the coexistence of Java and ABAP is comforting for existing users, they should anticipate the appropriate skill-sets of their developers. Further, although the widespread acceptance of Web services implementations will not happen any time soon, large global enterprises should start learning the new protocols, standards and technologies in order to grasp the underlying business advantage.

More comprehensive recommendations for both current and potential SAP users can be found in SAP - A Humble Giant From The Reality Land? Part 5: Challenges and User Recommendations and in 'Collaborative Commerce': ERP, CRM, e-Proc, and SCM Unite! A Series Study: SAP AG.

 
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