SAPPHIRE - SAP seeks to boost use of middleware suite

SAP AG plans to use its Sapphire '04 conference this week to try to sell its ERP installed base on the idea of investing in newer products, particularly the company's NetWeaver middleware technology.

At the conference, which starts Tuesday in New Orleans, SAP will unveil new bundles of its business applications and announce a deal with a large maker of consumer packaged goods to jointly develop a CRM offering for users in that market, said SAP America Inc. spokesman William Wohl. He declined to disclose the identity of the consumer goods company or provide further details about the agreement.

But SAP's main goal at Sapphire will be to demonstrate to users that products like NetWeaver can help them cut IT operating costs, Wohl said. NetWeaver, which includes an integration broker and products such as SAP's data warehousing and portal software, is designed to help users seamlessly link SAP's applications with ones from other vendors.

Lori Schock, global business process manager at silicone products maker Dow Corning Corp. in Midland, Mich., said she plans to attend Sapphire to learn more about NetWeaver and mySAP ERP, the latest version of SAP's flagship R/3 software. The conference "will allow us to validate our architectural strategic intent," Schock said, noting that Dow Corning is running pieces of NetWeaver in pilot mode.

The NetWeaver technology could make it easier to link R/3 to SAP's Business One applications for small and midsize users and to software from other vendors, Schock said. She added that she also wants to investigate SAP's radio frequency identification technology -- "fact, fiction and future."

In March, SAP said it was building support for RFID tags into an upgrade of NetWeaver that is more unified than earlier versions were. And last month, the company announced that users will be able to incorporate RFID data into a release of its supply chain management applications now in beta testing.

Mike Perroni, vice president of IT at Halliburton Co. in Houston, said he has particular interest in an employee self-service module that will be included in the next version of SAP's Enterprise Portal software, one of the NetWeaver components.

Because SAP has put so many components under the NetWeaver umbrella, it's hard to judge how widely the middleware technology is being adopted by users, said John Moore, an analyst at ARC Advisory Group Inc. in Dedham, Mass. And it's an open question whether users will swallow NetWeaver whole or just install pieces of the software, Moore said.

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