- Enterprise portals are the key to corporate success and the linchpin of SAP's future strategy, SAP CE and co-chairman Hasso Plattner said this week during his keynote speech at the company's annual Sapphire trade show.
Plattner laid out the five "pillars" of SAP's future direction -- enterprise portals, private marketplaces and exchanges, SCM (supply chain management), PLM (product life cycle management), and CRM (customer relationship management) -- and said that the internet revolution's legacy is its demonstration of how far-flung employees and business processes can be united.
"The fundamental value of the internet is that we can reach everybody, anywhere in the world," Plattner said. "We can work in a way we were never able to work before. We have also learned that never, ever will the world be standardised on one set of systems, one set of applications -- not even one set of protocols."
SAP is now a champion of openness, Plattner said. He argued that user demand for multiple systems and applications from competing vendors is an immutable aspect of the IT landscape, and that vendors should accept that and focus on meeting customer needs, rather than thwarting competitors' products.
"The intention is not, once we have a portal installed, that only our applications can work with the portal. Our clear mission and objective is for our portals to support the other software providers as well as SAP. Otherwise we don't achieve what we want to achieve, (which is) to have an intelligent integration of services for you users," Plattner said.
But Plattner's new embrace of openness doesn't translate to any fondness for his company's competitors. Oracle was the target of particular venom. Plattner claimed that his company's approach to software is more flexible than Oracle's, and hailed SAP's 1996 decision to structure its suite of applications as a package with separate, independent components. Customers can choose to buy or upgrade products piecemeal, an opportunity Plattner said is central to SAP's strategy.
SAP also attacked Oracle's much-publicised boast that it will save $US1 billion annually by using its own software; in a sketch at the beginning of the keynote, an actor dismissed the $US1 billion figure as a claim from "fantasyland."
Oracle clearly weighs heavily on Plattner's mind. Midway through his speech, he paused to introduce Michael Capellas as a longtime SAP customer and CEO of ... Oracle. When Capellas took the stage, he assured the crowd of several thousand that so far as he knew, he was still running Compaq and had not overthrown Larry Ellison.
A former Oracle executive did brave the crowd of SAP fans to make an appearance via remote webcast. Ray Lane, who stepped down as president and chief operating officer of Oracle last July after eight years with the company, tuned in to offer his assessment of SAP.
Great staff, great customers, great products, but some troubling management issues, was Lane's verdict. "There's been a lot of turnover in North America because of internal strife, " he said. "The strife evident between Walldorf [SAP's headquarters] and America needs to be resolved."
At last year's Sapphire show, SAP was defending its MySAP.com suite and battling the perception that the company had missed the internet boat. Since that boat has run into an iceberg, Plattner engaged in a certain amount of gloating about having stayed out of the fray, while also expressing bitterness about the attacks that SAP faced two years ago.
"There have been some recent comments that SAP is having a big comeback. I'm ambivalent about that," he said. "Yes, good that we get much better press, good that you, our customers, don't feel that you're on the wrong track, but I'm still upset that we got beaten so heavily in the perception wars in the last two years. We lost some of our friends because they thought the grass would be greener outside our campus."
Going forward, SAP is confident that focusing on uniting business process though portals will help it dominate the industry, Plattner said.
"This vision we have is that in the near future people will work all the time on portals, run the transactional parts of their business though exchanges, and use applications (such as) SAP's. I believe everybody will pick up this strategy probably within the next six months and go with it, because it's so obvious," Plattner said.
Plattner also used his keynote for a demo of how a typical user might take advantage of an SAP portal, using the single interface to check his email, stock portfolio and news headlines, and access corporate supply chain and inventory data. The demo also showed SAP's portal cooperating with third-party products, including Microsoft's Exchange program and a PeopleSoft system.
Several audience members cited the demo as the most compelling part of the keynote, including a pair of employees from John Deere Credit who said they are attending Sapphire because their company is considering becoming an SAP customer. Internec Technologies staffer Rick Taylor, an SAP user since 1997, also appreciated the demo but took issue with Plattner's jabs at SAP's rivals.
"Disparaging the competition is never the way to sell yourself," Taylor said. Audience member Sam Matteni, with UMB Financial agreed with that assessment. He said Platter came off too arrogantly during the speech.
A group of staffers from Informix said they were surprised by Plattner's emphasis on openness. "The tone was different than anything I'd heard them say before," Brian Mckay said.
"Seeing a PeopleSoft panel in an SAP window is something I didn't expect," added his colleague Veneta Kanelakos.
Mckay said he's curious to see if SAP will actually follow through on Plattner's new support-thy-rival philosophy. For years, Informix has been using SAP software for its back-end operations while using applications from Siebel Systems for functions visible to customers, Mckay said. He'd said he'd be particularly interested in seeing the two systems work together.
Sapphire 2001 continues through to Friday in Orlando, Florida.