Finding the easy way in
By Randy Weston
Staff Writer, CNET NEWS.COM
LOS ANGELES--SAP has an image problem
and its founder is going all out to change that.
Long known as a company with a highly technical focus, the German software
giant is now branching into new markets and is searching for a kinder,
gentler identity with which to gain ground. For pursuing such markets as
sales force automation demands less technical mumbo jumbo and more user
friendliness than does the plant management application niche.
SAP is launching the image campaign as its latest product line, New
Dimensions, starts to hit the streets. New Dimensions is SAP's new software
line that targets front-office needs such as sales, marketing, customer
service, and the supply chain execution and planning markets--areas that
the scope of SAP's traditional stomping ground of enterprise
But along with the new market focus, comes the need for SAP to shed its old
image as a maker of highly technical software systems. Instead, SAP must
persuade current and potential users that it can make easy-to-use software
that even a temporary data entry clerk could be trained to use in minutes.
CNET News.com talked to SAP chairman and cofounder Hasso Plattner at a
user group conference in Los Angeles about SAP's current projects and
future plans such as embedding R/3 in all sorts of devices--even a Coca-Cola
News.com: How much of SAP's business do want to see New Dimensions
encompass? And are you looking more to your existing customer base or new
customers as the source of revenue?
Plattner: In three years, it should be more than 30 percent of our product
revenue. Our customer base has verified that they want this, but if we can
penetrate someone else's turf, all the better.
Analysts seem skeptical that SAP will be able to sell the New
Dimension products beyond its existing customer base because so many other
niche companies--like Vantive and Scopus in the front office space and i2 Technologies and Manugistics in the supply chain
arena--have been doing this for years. Do you think SAP can get the New
Dimension products up to a point that they could sell them as standalone
products to customers beyond R/3's existing base?
It is not enough to make a system for existing customers. What we
make has to be as good or better than the other products on the market. You
can integrate systems now between existing software suppliers. The
technology is there to easily integrate. We should not build software on
the concept that only one vendor's software will work for a customer. You
can go down on the show floor of the conference here and see hundreds of
software vendors that integrate with R/3. Integration is not the major
Integration is not the major selling point? That was SAP's main
message until now. This sounds like a complete philosophical shift for SAP,
which made its name for R/3 on the power of integration.
It was important. It brought the industry forward. That is all
true. But SAP was always about more than integration. If end users want us
we have to be easy to use. The departments that do the software purchasing
may love us, but they won't buy us if the end user doesn't want us.
For your partner companies, it must be a frightening proposition
to make a deal with you. After all, they spend money building integration to
your product and then you may turn around and decide you are going to build
that product yourself and cast them aside. What do you tell partners?
We have no marketing agreements [in many areas] because we
know we are going to get into that market. There are many companies with
certification on R/3, but it is not like we ask them to become partners. SAP
has a partnership with Oracle for the
Oracle database. But that is not like Oracle as a partner is going to do
anything to promote or market SAP applications.
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