SAP moves to make its software more flexible

US customers give new developments thumbs-up

Openness and flexibility have become mantras for SAP, which was once notorious for its all-or-nothing approach to ERP applications. And at its Sapphire '04 user conference in New Orleans this week, SAP took further steps aimed at making its applications easier to use.

For example, SAP and Microsoft said they're working to tighten the links between SAP's NetWeaver middleware technology and Microsoft's Office applications and Visual Studio .Net development tools.

In addition, SAP announced plans to add adaptive computing capabilities to NetWeaver next month so the software can shift applications between servers as needed.

SAP said both developments are part of its effort to create an enterprise services architecture based on NetWeaver and web services technology in order to simplify the process of tying its applications with those from other vendors.

SAP's more modular approach to software installation is appealing to Ronald Moses, ERP analyst and team leader at Arctic Cat. Minnesota-based Arctic Cat, which makes snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, uses SAP's R/3 4.6 applications and the vendor's CRM software to run its business operations.

"The problem with SAP has been, until recently, it was an all-or-nothing approach, particularly with upgrades," said Moses. If one application module was being upgraded, the rest had to be as well to ensure continued interoperability — a process that Moses said he "dreaded."

However, he said, with SAP's more flexible building-block approach, "we can pick and choose those things we want to upgrade and keep other things the way they are."

Kathy Hamperian, director of information management at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, said the tighter integration between NetWeaver and .Net "positions us very well."

For example, the school runs a .Net-based point-of-sale system, and Hamperian said the integration road map detailed this week could make it possible to exchange information between that system and the university's SAP ERP applications in real time.

Tasty Baking in Philadelphia is installing SAP's applications on Windows servers. Autumn Bayles, Tasty Baking's CIO, said she thinks the closer ties between NetWeaver and .Net will be good for her company if they help make it easier to run the SAP software under Windows.

SAP said it plans this summer to begin beta-testing a software development kit for customising its Enterprise Portal software via Visual Studio .Net. The company added that it will release an upgraded version of its .Net connector in August, while Microsoft plans early next year to ship tools for linking NetWeaver to Exchange Server and its Windows SharePoint Services collabouration software.

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