SAP Turns to Partners to Flesh Out mySAP.com

Last month's SAPphire gathering in Philadelphia marked a turning point for SAP AG (www.sap.com): The company’s core functions are moving out of the data center and into the open electronic marketplace. Surrounding SAP's refocusing on the portal arena (see Oct. 6 issue, page 1) were an array of partner announcements that included assisting SAP customers' move to e-commerce and enhancing system support and report generation.

While an industry of third-party solutions vendors has sprung up around SAP reporting tools, the ERP giant's move to electronic marketplaces -- evidenced by the formation of mySAP.com – will bring an increased level of reliance on third-party solutions. Such partnering "is a pretty radical move for SAP, which is a software company that likes to build its own stuff," says Vinnie Mirchandani, vice president of business applications at GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com). SAP is relying on partnerships with companies such as W.W. Grainger Inc. (www.grainger.com) and Neoforma.com Inc. (www.neoforma.com) -- which sponsor industry-specific electronic purchasing sites -- to provide content and communities for the Marketplace version of the mySAP.com initiative.

The technology infrastructure underpinning mySAP.com is the result of acquired technology, as well. Portal developer TopTier Software Inc. (www.toptier.com) is providing the technology for advanced portal capabilities for mySAP.com. TopTier's portal technology helps users access, search and share information contained within mySAP.com and relate it to information found in other applications.

For existing customers, for example, an SAP user can locate all pending sales orders in SAP R/3 and discover all customers associated with those pending sales orders via the Internet. TopTier's approach is to provide information to end-users "without having to master the complexities of enterprise applications or arcane decision support tools," says Shai Agassi, CEO of TopTier. Support for the mySAP.com Marketplace infrastructure also comes from webMethods Inc. (www.webMethods.com). SAP’s Business Connector, an XML-based communications component, is built on webMethods' B2B product suite.

Overall system performance and tuning -- often a challenge for SAP user companies -- will be addressed by large vendors such as Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., EMC Corp. and Compaq Computer Corp. These companies recently rolled out SAP performance-related initiatives from outsourcing to storage and network reliability.

Microsoft and Cisco announced a new quality of service (QoS) package supporting mySAP.com. The solution consists of a Windows 2000 server and Cisco switches. It is intended to improve the management of network resources through more detailed application recognition, which in turn allows the network infrastructure to define and enforce business policies. For example, an SAP payroll transaction type could be prioritized over an SAP print job. Support for the new mechanism will ship with the release of Windows 2000, and will be supported by the Cisco Catalyst 6000 switches by the end of the year. The Cisco QoS Policy Manager will support the solution in the first half of 2000.

Candle Corp. (www.candle.com) announced Candle CommandPro for R/3, a Java-based performance and system management solution that manages R/3 application performance. CommandPro monitors an entire SAP installation from a central location. CommandPro's proactive performance monitoring capabilities allow systems administrators to centrally track the availability and performance of servers, databases and R/3 instances. "ERP application customers are making multimillion dollar investments into SAP deployments, and the intent is to create flexibility in their manufacturing processes and provide reduced operating costs through increased automation," says Fran Phair, product manager at Candle Corp. "Since some of these deployments often run over their budgets or exceed schedules, they're rarely prepared for poor performance that inevitably surfaces as R/3 goes into production." Candle expects to offer CommandPro into the small to mid-size business market where network administration resources are scarce.

"CommandPro is designed to provide administrators insight into these performance bottlenecks, and give them the tools to take automated action to mitigate performance roadblocks before they surface for the end-user," Phair says.

Other vendors support enterprise application integration between R/3 and other back-end applications, which now extends beyond the corporate firewall with approaches such as mySAP.com. "Enterprise integration is just the beginning. With the Internet, companies today must focus on interenterprise collaboration and create virtual communities," says Karl-Heinz Hess, executive vice president for systems and technology development at SAP.

Even with XML support, there are numerous back-end applications that will not support the protocol for some time to come, says Connie Galley, president and chief executive officer of TSI Software (www.tsisoft.com). "XML is not a silver bullet," she points out. "Integration is not anything new, but the nature of integration has changed -- from batch to real-time, from time-driven to event-driven, from custom programming to more of an architected approach. The Internet has changed the way we look at integration." TSI's Mercator product serves as the back-end integration tool for a number of SAP deployments, including CompUSA's leveraging of mySAP.com.

Providing access to SAP data has always been a challenge for user companies.

Data access and business intelligence vendors such as Cognos Inc. (www.cognos.com) and Information Builders Inc. (www.ibi.com) announced support for SAP's Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW). Information Builders demonstrated its OLAP tool that will extract and analyze data. Cognos announced that it is field testing its PowerPlay product to run against the next release (2.0) of SAP BW.