SAP ties future to collaborative applications

Enterprise software giant SAP is merging its SAP Portals and SAP Markets divisions into the main body of the company in a bid to...

Enterprise software giant SAP is merging its SAP Portals and SAP Markets divisions into the main body of the company in a bid to boost the development of collaborative applications.

The company will now organise its business around four development groups: the platform, which includes the portal, the exchange, and the integration infrastructure; the commerce applications; the collaborative applications; and the marketplaces, according to Peter Graf, chief marketing officer at SAP Markets.

The aim is to use application connector interfaces and Web services technologies to integrate back-end SAP applications and non-SAP applications together, and then present them via the SAP Portal interface.

The SAP approach is diametrically opposite that of Oracle, which has been urging customers to move their enterprises to entirely Oracle applications, including the database, application server, and all the enterprise applications.

Graf said that the new organisation marks a change for the way SAP handles the integration of applications with portals. "What's happened is the integration challenge has outgrown the technology stack and it has entered the application space," Graf said.

He added that enterprise application vendors must stop thinking that they are the only ones who can create good software and open their systems to work with all other types of software.

SAP's vision of collaborative applications involves the software supporting a team on any given project, rather than the individual said Graf.

"It's also cross-functional, meaning that it is leveraging different types of systems and pushing processes and providing capabilities to use these different types of systems in a coordinated fashion," he added.

The back-end is where Web services standards and application connectors come into play to integrate otherwise disparate applications in a fashion that they can be accessed, and the data presented via the portal.

Another approach SAP plans to offer is to leverage its experiences in exchanges. Rather than creating interfaces for every system to connect with all other systems, for instance, systems can connect to a hub to be integrated, Graf said.

"The effect is [that] it is much easier to connect a non-SAP system to a hub than to connect a non-SAP system to 10 other systems," Graf added. "In this way, you have a much-reduced cost of integration."

This allows companies to tap their existing SAP systems and expose that functionality as a Web service, Graf added. For customers that don't want to connect systems directly to the hub, they can access a supplier portal where they can use a browser to gain visibility.

Furthermore, the data that gets integrated via the hubs also can be viewed through a portal.

"The portal plays a significant part, and is a very quick and easy way to reduce the cost of integration and to create value," Graf said. "It's not thinking in silos, it's thinking across the silos."

Indeed, Web services will make it easier for SAP to open up its own applications than the more traditional approach of building a connector for every application that customers might want to integrate with SAP applications.

Rob Perry, an analyst at Yankee Group, said that Web services will be the next generation of enterprise application architecture. "I think all the enterprise applications vendors will support Web services in this integration capacity," Perry said.

However analysts said that until all of the enterprise applications vendors, such as Siebel, Oracle, and PeopleSoft, fully support the Web services standards, the vision of easy integration between the applications will not be realised.

"These issues are starting to crop up as implementations mature," said Tyler McDaniel, an analyst at the Hurwitz Group.

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