The future for SAP lies in a service oriented architecture and in closer links with Microsoft, but all roads lead to NetWeaver.
Those were among the messages to emerge from the Sapphire user conference in New Orleans last week, where SAP executives gathered to make a slew of announcements to customers.
SAP plans to build an inventory of stand-alone Web services this year, with a NetWeaver services repository slated for delivery next year. In 2006, the company plans to make its Enterprise Services Repository available for active use, which will enable customers to use the repository for building their own services-centric infrastructures. And by 2007, the mySAP ERP offering is scheduled to become fully services-compliant.
"From 2004 on, all SAP applications will be shipped on NetWeaver" said SAP CEO Hennig Kaggerman. "This is not an option. It's an integral part of our solution. What you will see today and tomorrow is how NetWeaver will evolve into a services platform.
"We have to solve the dilemmas in the IT department and ask ourselves, are we flexible enough. We started a journey to create enterprise business services architecture last year with NetWeaver, but to truly change takes time.
"So what is our priority? Where will we start first? The first is supporting business collaboration... to improve [users'] flexibility and make them more knowledgeable through services. [Next] is making business processes more flexible to adjust to changing business needs.
"Enterprise services are services on a business level that businesses understand, such as available to promise. They are a combination of Web services and the services of our applications. This is a big commitment from SAP and we will deliver on this road map".
SAP also announced closer ties to Microsoft, particularly in the area of bringing NetWeaver closer to .Net. "It means that you can better leverage your investments because you get improved interoperability between the two platforms" explained Kaggerman.
In the coming months, SAP will begin a beta software developers' kit for .Net to help programmers develop capabilities for SAP's Enterprise Portal running on Windows.
In August, SAP will deliver the next version of the SAP .Net Connector so businesses can more easily integrate their SAP apps with systems built on .Net. New functions in the Connector will include greater language support for Visual Basic .Net, better integration with Visual Studio .Net and better security and control.
Finally early next year, Microsoft will deliver repository managers that integrate knowledge-management functions within NetWeaver, Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Exchange Server.
In a taped address to the audience, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect, Bill Gates said "Our goal is to help customers protect, integrate and extend their investments. Almost two-thirds of new SAP installations are deployed on Windows. The foundation of our work together begins with the retooling of the software industry around Web services. Both Microsoft and SAP are increasing cooperation around advanced Web services protocols and NetWeaver will support those [protocols] next year".
In another move, SAP announced plans to deliver its CRM applications on BlackBerry mobile devices. The application, which requires no manual synchronisation, will allow sales representatives in the field to update and access information they need for their sales calls anywhere and at anytime.
Bill McDermott, CEO and president of SAP America - who has been trialing the service internally - said that a customer survey had revealed that one of the biggest demands was for mobile applications. "This is an example of how we aim to deliver solutions that meet these demands" he said.