SAP inks Microsoft, RIM deals

Energy sector customer positive on developments

At its Sapphire '04 user conference in New Orleans last week, SAP announced two technological alliances: a joint detailed road map with Microsoft for better integration between Microsoft .Net and SAP Netweaver and the combination of SAP's CRM and mobile business solutions with Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry wireless handheld platform.

In his morning keynote, Henning Kagermann, chairman of the SAP executive board and the firm's CEO, told his audience that through the improved interoperability between the platform offerings of Microsoft and SAP, who have been partners for over a decade, customers will be able to "better leverage their investments ...Those developers trained in .Net ... will be able to extend our solution offering."

In a statement, SAP said more than 40,000 of its installations run on Windows and almost two-thirds of all new SAP installations are deployed on Windows. Eric Rudder, senior vice-president, server and tools business for Microsoft, in a separate presentation noted that the direction of the two vendors is "really for friction-free interoperability. It's not just a little adapter, a little controller you can put in."

Shai Agassi, member of the SAP executive board, added that the companies "want to put the two different platforms as close together as possible." According to SAP, the details of the joint road map fall into one of two categories: technology deliverables and business engagement.

The technology deliverables portion includes the introduction of the SAP Enterprise Portal software development kit (SDK) for .Net. SAP will begin a beta program this summer to help enable developers who use the ASP.Net programming model to customise and extend SAP solutions by delivering enterprise portal development capabilities on the Windows platform using Visual Studio .Net as a development environment.

Version 2.0 of SAP .Net Connector will be released in August; it will include enhanced language support for Visual Basic .Net and better integration with Visual Studio .Net, as well as enhancements to support development of more secure applications and controls. SAP plans to join the Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program, allowing developers who use Visual Studio .Net to more directly program against SAP applications from the Visual Studio Integrated Development Environment (IDE).

The next version of NetWeaver will provide native support for advanced web services protocols, enabling interoperability with core .Net technologies, as well as additional products from Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft and other companies. Microsoft and SAP will expand their cooperation around defining and ensuring interoperability of advanced web services and implement them in their respective products, SAP said.

SAP is also delivering sample applications for developers to implement smart clients to access its system capabilities from Microsoft Office System applications and Visual Studio 2005, a smart client user interface, and an SDK. Microsoft will deliver repository managers, expected to be available in early 2005, which will integrate NetWeaver knowledge management functionality, Windows SharePoint Services and Exchange Server.

On the business engagement front, the two vendors will jointly staff a Collabouration Technology Support Centre (CTSC) in Walldorf to help them identify and showcase integration scenarios. They also plan to collabourate on marketing and activities such as the joint publication of white papers and joint support of a marketing development fund to allow the two companies to pursue sales opportunities together.

Paul Kurchina, program director for Transalta, a Calgary-based power generator and wholesale marketer of electricity, said the enhanced Netweaver/.Net interoperability will "help minimise the training impact" for smaller and medium-sized businesses that have developers trained in .Net, who will now also be able to work on SAP solutions. Kurchina said he was optimistic about the outcome of this announcement because of his previous experiences with SAP.

Last year, he said, the big announcement at Sapphire was SAP/IBM integration. "We're a big customer of both...and SAP delivered and it worked as promised. Based on past experience, this should work as well."

Meanwhile, Kurchina said SAP and Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM's integrated mobile sales solution is in line with the direction in which Transalta is heading.

To meet the information requirements of mobile sales forces, SAP said the application will enable sales reps in a variety of industries to access and update information from mySAP CRM via BlackBerry handhelds. The solution will enable users to manage their customer accounts, including activity and opportunity management, SAP said. Sales reps will be able to view sales orders and CRM analytics reporting remotely.

Kurchina said this concept can also be applied to a utility plant environment. In November 2003 the firm started its rollout of BlackBerries, and currently one out of 20 Transalta employees carry them. With the new RIM capabilities, "we'll be able to get an alert on an incident in the plant (on the BlackBerry) and quickly collabourate and act on it," he said. "The person might be in a pit, in a mining operation, and if they see a problem, they can log it right away and the information goes right back to the database. Or they can do it while in transit — they don't have to go back to the office."

SAP said it is also building radio frequency identification (RFID) functionality into its mySAP Business Suite solutions and offering RFID packages that target particular industry demands. One application, enterprise asset management from the mySAP Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solution, helps manage physical assets like machinery, power plants and vehicle fleets, said the vendor. With the addition of SAP's RFID-enabled Mobile Asset Management solution and the firm's Auto-ID Infrastructure, service technicians will be able to manage assets in a predictive and preventative way rather than taking a reactive, break-fix approach, SAP said.

Kurchina said Transalta is looking at applying such RFID capabilities in its plants. "When a piece of equipment is tagged, it can give guided advice (to the technician)" related to things like shutdown and startup procedures, depending on the readings it is giving, he said. "This saves time and prevents plants from going down." SAP's focus on mobile and RFID is an indication of "a move from the application side," Kurchina said. "It's not just technology anymore. Mobile devices get the right stuff to people in the fashion they're designed," and SAP is enabling this by "taking (its) applications and making them available to a whole new crowd."

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