ERP giants prepare for Web services

Top-tier enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors are aggressively embracing Web services to create a new generation of tightly...

Top-tier enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendors are aggressively embracing Web services to create a new generation of tightly integrated collaborative applications.

SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle and JD Edwards are among those focusing on using Web services to tighten links between their own suites while simultaneously making it easier for customers to abstract data from multiple applications to create new applications that make use of XML.

The initiative should also make it easier for IT companies to create new collaborative applications that combine data drawn from financial, human resources, and supply-chain applications.

The ability to extract XML data from enterprise applications will allow IT organisations to build new applications that span company boundaries and tie together business processes. The application integration process today is laborious, requiring millions of dollars.

SAP detailed its xApps architecture at its Sapphire user conference this month, pitching it as the start of a "new generation" of application integration.

"We bring the different aspects of information we have stored on our systems together within the context of the business to have more intelligent collaboration between people and systems," said SAP co-chairman and chief executive officer Hasso Plattner.

SAP's first xApp, Resource and Program Management, is designed to allow customers to drive change throughout the company, particularly around activities such as new product launches, mergers, and acquisitions. Resource and Program Management is slated to ship late this year.

SAP's core platform for running xApp is its Web Application Server, which will include the Web Dynpro run-time for J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and ABAP (Advanced Business Application Programming) applications. SAP's suite project also includes a new user interface for its mySAP CRM solution to aggregate business processes from multiple data sources, both internal and external.

Plattner said SAP's new exchange technology will be the underpinning for business process integration. The SAP Exchange Infrastructure uses XML messaging for process integration to connect any component from any vendor or technology.

Oracle recently outlined a similar approach to business process integration using Web services, and other ERP vendors, including PeopleSoft, are expected to follow suit. But most ERP vendors don't expect the advent of Web services to result in a return of best-of-breed approaches to enterprise applications.

"People will continue to buy suites even with the advent of Web services," said Michael Madden, chief technology officer of J.D. Edwards. "Web services will provide a nice technology stack, but it will not provide the business semantics necessary for different pieces of software to talk to each other. We're going to see smart companies continue to buy suites and then they will buy point applications to fill out their portfolio."

Nevertheless, many third-party vendors, including Vitria, webMethods, Tibco, Fuego, Fiorano, Microsoft, IBM, and WRQ are building XML-based application architectures to facilitate the integration of best-of-breed enterprise applications.

Some ERP vendors acknowledge the place for best-of-breed solutions. "With Web services, best of breed becomes more feasible," said Rick Bergquist, chief technology officer at PeopleSoft. "In a commercial world, 80% of our sales are for one or two product lines as opposed to all four that we carry. So best of breed exists today and people are dealing with that in large organisations. We can point at hundreds of customers that have a mixture of us and SAP. Web services will make best of breed more cost effective."

Siebel brought Universal Application Network to market in early April. It consists of an integration server that connects applications and a set of prepackaged business processes to make Siebel's software work with, for example, an SAP ERP application, Siebel said.

Countering the tightly integrated suites of major ERP vendors, Siebel's Universal Application Network is getting support from integration server vendors, including IBM, webMethods, and Tibco, which are updating their products around the offering.

Siebel is also working with system integrator partners to build a library of industry-specific business processes and business process flows.

The business processes and the flows in the library, which use Web standards such as XML, are customised, extensible, and upgradable, and can be used and reused independently of both the underlying applications and the integration server, Siebel said.

"There is always a pendulum between best of breed and suites," said Peter Solvik, a senior vice-president at Cisco, during the recent Enterprise Outlook conference. "[But] the suites are now getting so big that the pendulum will start to swing back [to best of breed]. It will be easier for people to buy portions of their product line."

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