Sapphire America well timed

The timing of next week's Sapphire show in Orlando, Florida, couldn't be better. The SAP customer event is taking place just weeks after two separate acquisition moves have put the market for enterprise applications software in a tizzy.

The timing of next week's Sapphire show in Orlando, Florida, couldn't be better.

The SAP customer event is taking place just weeks after two separate acquisition moves have put the market for enterprise applications software in a tizzy.

With customers growing increasingly worried about their IT investments, SAP will have the stage to itself to deliver a very clear message: Come to us if you seek certainty in these uncertain times.

For many enterprise software users, these are uncertain times indeed. First the news that PeopleSoft has agreed to buy JD Edwards and then the bombshell that Oracle is mounting a hostile bid for PeopleSoft. This has prompted a flurry of analyst bulletins warning users that they could face a rough transition as a result of the acquisitions and should hold off on purchasing software or even consider switching vendors altogether.

It's times like these when IT managers like to speak to their peers. And what better place than an avenue like Sapphire, company officials say.

Around 6000 users are expected, roughly the same number that attended last year's event, according to SAP spokesman Bill Wohl. They'll have an opportunity to personally meet with, or listen to, CEO Henning Kagermann and chairman Hasso Plattner, who will be on board to talk strategy and share their views of the enterprise application market moving forward.

But Sapphire is really about products and users and both will share the spotlight. Around 50 customers will deliver presentations on how they're using SAP technology in their enterprises, Wohl says. As for product-related news, the list includes:

-- Immediate availability of the newest versions its CRM (customer relationship management) and SCM (supply chain management) software products.

-- Enhanced service management functionality in areas such as spare parts.

-- New channel partners for mid-market products, such as Business One.

-- NetWeaver technology enhancements.

Customers can expect to hear much about SAP's "suite" approach, according to Wohl. The approach focuses on offering a bundle of applications, such as CRM and SCM, that are fully integrated into the company's core ERP (enterprise resource planning) product.

For IT veterans, that may sound a bit like Oracle's old mantra: Buy everything from us and you'll know it will work together. But if that is what the market wants, SAP aims to deliver.

"Customers are telling us they're more interested in buying pre-integrated systems rather than individual models from niche players," he says. "We have some very competitive individual applications and the expertise to integrate these. This integrated approach cuts time and cost."

NetWeaver will play a key role in this integration process. It's the platform, or backbone, on which all SAP business software will run, the company says. Based on web services and aimed at simplifying integration, NetWeaver can also link disparate applications and data sources, enabling companies to make use of their existing IT investments and personnel skills, while exploiting the power of Web services.

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