SAP looks to invigorate sales

A new face as well as a new application strategy are on tap for 8500 attendees expected at SAP's North American user conference, which begins Wednesday.

          A new face as well as a new application strategy are on tap for 8500 attendees expected at SAP's North American user conference, which begins Wednesday.

          The fresh face is Leo Apotheker, newly named president of global sales operations for SAP. Just in time to host the Sapphire conference, Apotheker also has assumed, temporarily, the helm of SAP America following the reassignment of Wolfgang Kemna. Kemna held the post of president and CEO of SAP America for two years during a period of declining license revenue; his replacement was anticipated by industry watchers as SAP attempts to bolster its US sales.

          The application strategy SAP is expected to highlight revolves around so-called collaborative applications, which are lightweight, process-oriented applications that pool information from multiple sources - inside and outside of a company - to facilitate a specific task.

          "These collaborative apps are sort of mini apps that are not big-bang ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications but provide a lot of functionality specific to certain business processes and cross different application and business boundaries," says Joshua Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting. For example, instead of something as complex as "partner relationship management," a collaborative application might tackle "merger and acquisition," and pull together the business processes that go into a merger-and-acquisition scenario, Greenbaum says.

          An SAP spokesman confirmed that collaborative applications will be a significant topic of discussion at Sapphire. The technology is being developed within the SAP business unit headed by Shai Agassi - former CEO of portal vendor and SAP acquisition TopTier Software - that combines formerly independent subsidiaries SAP Portals and SAP Markets (which were subsumed within SAP in April).

          The collaborative applications will build upon mySAP Technology, an infrastructure platform SAP announced in November that combines a web application server, an integration platform and portal technology.

          The approach of delivering small, digestible software that can enhance existing SAP installations is just what users are looking for, Greenbaum says. "SAP has a real ability to leverage its installed base in terms of a sales opportunity and go quite far with these collaborative applications," he says.

          SAP also will demonstrate enhancements to its customer relationship management (CRM) software at the show, though officials declined to share specifics.

          Like its enterprise resource planning brethren, SAP is engaged in a heated battle for CRM sales with market leader Siebel Systems - which captured 18% of CRM licence and services revenue in 2001 to SAP's second-place 8%, according to AMR Research.

          Three years ago, SAP didn't have the software even to compete. Today, SAP has the technology but still needs to overcome the perception that CRM is Siebel's market, Greenbaum says. "That needs to happen sooner rather than later because Siebel certainly is selling a lot into the SAP installed base and that's enormous revenue and opportunity lost for SAP," Greenbaum says.

          Kelly Spang, senior analyst for e-business applications at Current Analysis, agrees. "SAP needs to step up the momentum in terms of its marketing and messaging to the installed base," Spang says.

          While Siebel rivals SAP, Oracle and PeopleSoft still haven't caught up to Siebel in terms of pure CRM functionality, each can make a case for its application integration features, Spang says. SAP, for example, is starting to do more work to integrate its CRM modules with other SAP back-office applications, such as human resources and financials, which is something that Siebel, as a pure-play CRM vendor, can't offer without relying on outside partnerships.

          These days, the integration message resonates with users who want to get more out of their existing IT investments, Greenbaum says.

          "Integrating CRM to the back office has been more mythological than real over the last few years. It has very recently gotten into the mainstream thinking of corporate customers. And that's a real shift that SAP can now exploit that just wasn't there before."

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