Software powerhouse SAP has come a long way from being the provider of rigid, megalithic and monolithic ERP systems that took center stage in the 1990s. Now, the company says it wants to open up its vast platform toenable a new wave of entrepreneurial development projects, according to a recent piece by CNET's Martin LaMonica. Indeed, it wants to place itselfat the center of a business process revolution.
Leveraging its NetWeaver platform, it hopes corporate customers, third-party software developersand service providers of various types will create an array of new applications and offerings. SAP execs refer to the initiative as a "community process."But some analysts are skeptical and cite the company's poor track-record with partnerships and cultural openness.
"It's a very radical, extremely different approach to the whole software world," said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting. "SAP can develop all the great technology in the world, but they have got to get their partnership chops in line -- that's where the rubber meets the road."
WhileSAP's traditional products have had proprietary application programming interfacesrequiring specialized skills and tools, NetWeaver relies onindustry standard Web services to expose data and transactions.
The company soon intends to release a blueprint for its Enterprise Services Architecture, or ESA.This is designed to help developers produce new applications. In fact, SAP has catalogued more than a thousandservices that can be accessed by developers and linked to other services.One example is afinancial program that tracks the time between a purchase order receipt and an actual payment.
The ESA is expected to extend the value realized by SAP customers within existing installations. "Opening it up is a subtle way to get customers to begin investing again," says Bruce Richardson, an analyst at AMR Research.
Meanwhile, the SOA approach to middleware infrastructure is designed to make SAP's applicationsmore flexible and adaptable -- open to changes and enhancements.
"SAP has to figure a way to manage upgrades," Richardson said. "Today, it's like when a lightbulb goes off in your house, you'd have to replace all of the wiring."
But mysteries continue to surround SAP's newapproach. What remains unclear,for instance, is how much third-parties will be charged to access services and what might be involved in an eventual certification process.
Meanwhile, some potential partners (who have seen SAP's relationships with companies like i2 and Commerce One fall apart) are skeptical that SAP will enable them to buildlong-standing relationships.
SAP, however, remains steadfast in its stated commitment. "In an open platform, the risk is you do need to work with competitors and you do have to accept there will be competition--perhaps even with our own products," says George Paolini, the company's senior vice president of platform ecosystem development."But the idea is that you grow the pie for everyone."