NetWeaver dominates SAP conference

While some customers endorse the company's upgrade plans, others are confused about them. Marc L Songini reports

Since its introduction three years ago, SAP has been steadily promoting its NetWeaver technology stack as a pervasive part of its applications, despite user confusion over exactly what it is, and fears that it’s a proprietary technology.

As the core component to SAP’s Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA), NetWeaver comprises a set of service-oriented architecture (SOA) technologies, including a portal, business warehouse and other infrastructure applications. It’s meant to enable customers to create integrated workflows over various applications. At the recent Sapphire 2006 user conference held in Orlando, Florida, SAP made a number of NetWeaver-related announcements.

Among its other initiatives, the company announced a US$125 million (NZ$200 million) investment fund to put money into ISVs (independent software vendors) developing NetWeaver technologies, as well as a planned rollout of business intelligence (BI) applications and its next-generation product, mySAP ERP 2005, which is heavily reliant on NetWeaver.

The technology is a fact of life for customers, says Matthew Rickard, a director of groups and chapters at the Americas SAP Users Group (ASUG). “All our members at some point in time are going to have go to the ESA. I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t believe they aren’t going there.”

That’s not a bad thing, he says. “I believe that SAP has got the vision right, and ESA will deliver long-term benefits to its clients through increased flexibility and adaptability, allowing companies to gain competitive advantage through more rapid development and deployment of solutions.”

A couple of other ASUG board members concurred that the ESA technology and NetWeaver are good for SAP’s installed base. In fact, customers are going to want to move to the mySAP ERP 2005 application to exploit the ESA technology, says Mike Perroni, vice president of IT at oil services company Halliburton and the outgoing president of ASUG.

However, several other users were more hesitant about adopting the technology, wondering just what it would entail or fearing they would have to abandon their existing investments in Microsoft .Net technology.

Just what NetWeaver is has yet to be fully defined, says Stanley Ezzell, vice president of strategic initiatives at Wellborn Cabinet. The furniture maker has successfully deployed a set of ERP applications through the SAP BusinessOne programme, which is tailored to medium-sized businesses. Ezzell has done customisations with his R/3 application and doesn’t want to lose them if he consolidates his stack on NetWeaver.

“What NetWeaver really means to the R/3 customer I don’t know,” he says. He is also unclear about just what migration path he would have to take to get mySAP ERP 2005 if he chose to migrate.

“For me to go and say to my company, ‘We’ve spent millions on this and, guess what, we’ll spend more millions for that’, I might be calling looking for another job,” he says. For now, he plans to hold off making any moves until he has a higher comfort level with SAP’s plans.

SAP executives have made it clear they won’t force any customers to NetWeaver and have stressed that it’s an open, industry-standard-based architecture.

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