SAP continues spreading SOA message

SAP AG Chief Executive Officer Henning Kagermann used his opening keynote address at SAP's Sapphire user conference in Boston to reiterate the vision of more flexible, modular IT systems that SAP has pursed for the last several years.

SAP has rebuilt its software around its integration-focused NetWeaver middleware and will have its full mySAP suite of ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications available on the new platform by the end of this year, Kagermann said. By 2007, it expects to have the full mySAP suite running on an updated architecture, dubbed the Business Process Platform, that SAP hopes will allow customers to treat IT operations as configurable piecemeal processes.

"IT cannot be viewed as a cost center in the future. It has to be viewed as a strategic lever for businesses," Kagermann said. "[We have to] take the hard-coded logic out of the software and put them into models."

Like many other enterprise software vendors, SAP has hitched its vision to the SOA (service-oriented architecture) star. The idea is to move away from monolithic, highly customized applications and toward a standards-based, modular approach that will allow customers to more easily tailor their IT systems to changing business needs and processes.

Getting there, though, is a challenge for customers still struggling with the day-to-day issues involved in deploying and managing complex software that underpins critical corporate functions. Several attendees said after the keynote that they appreciate the direction SAP is headed but still remain years away from realizing those goals in their own implementations.

Like many other SAP customers, Switzerland-based Novartis AG's consumer health division is still running R/3, SAP's predecessor to its mySAP product-line revision. Novartis SAP services development team leader Andreas Lauper said he likes what he hears about SAP's newer, more flexible technology, but his company is too busy dealing with extending its current R/3 deployment to consider migrating to the newer offerings.

Some large customers have decided that the advantages promised by SAP's new architecture are worth the risk and expense of becoming an early adopter. Atlanta-based The Home Depot Inc., the second-largest retailer in the U.S., has used SAP in pockets of its business for seven years and decided several years ago to increase its reliance on the vendor. Last year, it completed a major rollout of SAP's financial software. At Sapphire on Wednesday, Home Depot announced plans to deploy a broad assortment of SAP's retail management applications and to partner with the vendor on research and design of new features.

"We don't have great visibility on our supply chain and inventory turns today," said Bob DeRodes, executive vice president and CIO at The Home Depot, during a panel discussion. "We really have a tremendous technology need to further the transformation. ... We think we have eight to 10 years to go to get what we want done, long-term."

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