SAP admits to integration oversight

Before developing NetWeaver, the world's largest business software maker confessed it did not address integration pains of customers.

SINGAPORE--German business software giant SAP admitted it had not paid close attention to technology integration, an area the company now hopes its NetWeaver platform will address.

Simon Dale, CTO at SAP Asia-Pacific, said the NetWeaver infrastructure software was created in response to problems faced by businesses when they tried to integrate multiple applications.

"We didn't realize how important technology [integration] was to our customers until we found out that most of their problems were caused by us not paying attention to [this area]," he said during a briefing Tuesday to discuss SAP's latest products, such as CRM on-demand.

Dale added: "We always thought that once our customers run SAP, we didn't have to worry about anything else. But we discovered that as customers grew their operations, they were running other things besides SAP.

"Integrating [different applications] was costing them a lot of money," he noted.

Dale said SAP's traditional customers have been the finance and human resource departments in companies, with little attention paid to the needs of IT departments that have been struggling to meld multiple applications together.

To fill the gap, SAP developed NetWeaver, a standards-based infrastructure software, or middleware platform, to ease interoperability among business applications.

According to Dale, NetWeaver might appear to be just another approach to gel disparate applications in a service-oriented architecture (SOA), but the platform can also be used to develop new applications.

He said attracting partners to build applications on NetWeaver is a core strategy of SAP, which has set itself a target to acquire 100,000 customers by 2010. To date, the company has over 33,200 customers in some 120 countries.

Last September, the company established its Enterprise Services Community Process, an organization that encourages SAP customers and independent software vendors to develop products for the SAP platform.

Dale explained: "It [works] like Microsoft, which created the Windows platform and encouraged communities to develop for the platform."

In a separate announcement, SAP revealed that its CRM On-demand software--with additional sales and marketing modules--would now be available in the Asia-Pacific region. With prices starting from US$75 per user, the software as a service (SaaS) offering is based on the same architecture used by SAP's packaged software.

Although Salesforce.com last week introduced a connector that links its on-demand CRM software to SAP R/3 ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, the German software giant is confident that its own SaaS product will be better integrated with SAP R/3.

John Goldrick, SAP's Asia-Pacific head of business development for CRM On-Demand, said: "The core of our infrastructure is NetWeaver, and the connector is already there. If you want the strongest connector to an ERP backend, it will be a SAP [CRM] on the frontend."

Company executives also showed off Project Muse, a new user interface that will be available over the next 18 months. When released, the software component will allow users to access SAP applications from their Windows, Linux and Mac desktops as well as mobile devices.

The new interface was developed over the past year through SAP's partnership with Macromedia, announced in April last year. Project Muse is based on the Flash authoring software, as well as Macromedia's Flex technology that is widely used to create interactive software and Web sites.

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