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SAP gets boost from ex-Oracle president

As SAP executives emphasize a commitment to making their software better link with competing systems, the company gets a surprise plug from former Oracle President Ray Lane.

ORLANDO, Fla.--As SAP executives emphasized a commitment to making their software more flexible to better link with competing systems, the company got a surprise plug from Ray Lane, the former president of SAP rival Oracle.

SAP co-Chief Executive Hasso Plattner briefly shared the stage at SAP's annual user show on Wednesday with Lane, who is now a partner with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

"One vendor cannot do it all," Lane said, contrasting SAP's goal with Oracle's one-size-fits-all software package that requires little customization or systems integration work.

Lane, who left Oracle last July, has switched from enemy to ally for SAP, which has been heavily criticized for being slow to understand the Internet and lagging behind the competition.

Appearing via satellite before the almost 9,000 attendees, Lane said that despite SAP's challenges in recent years, the company is "an awfully good bet." Lane echoed Plattner's claims that SAP is in a better position now and on a smarter path with its goal of tighter integration between its software and other systems.

The correct strategy "is not that one (software) vendor can run everything in an integrated package," Lane said. "That's probably where (Oracle CEO Larry) Ellison and myself disagreed (the most)--that one vendor could do it all.

"Actually, I think customization will come back in our business; it's been gone for a long time."

A clear jab at Oracle and Ellison, Lane's endorsement of SAP comes as the two rivals continue their battle to corner the market in all areas of business management software--from the front office with customer service applications to the back end with applications that automate the supply chain, financials and human resources.

Like other software rivals, including Oracle, PeopleSoft and J.D Edwards, SAP has been focusing on promoting a collection of Net-based software. Its applications help companies manage a wide array of business activities, including financials, purchasing, human resources and sales.

Plattner also touted SAP's recent moves into corporate portals, private marketplaces, supply-chain management software and customer service applications.

SAP announced Wednesday a deal with longtime partner IBM. Under the expanded alliance, IBM has agreed to become a major supporter and services provider of SAP's Internet-based business management software. IBM also is incorporating its middleware WebSphere software with applications such as corporate portals and private marketplaces to connect information in disparate software systems.

"Our objective for SAP portals is to support other software providers as well as SAP; otherwise, we don't achieve the intelligent integration of services for you, the users," Plattner said. "This is not easy. There is no Internet easy way to success. But what we can promise is that there's a lot of potential."

On top of playing up the importance of software integration, SAP spent time touting its efforts in corporate portals. Such sites offer content determined by each user's role in the company, such as sales information and applications, financial news, and stock portfolios.

SAP and Yahoo, through the new subsidiary SAP Portals, will jointly develop and sell Web portals designed for corporate clients. Plattner said that eventually companies will be able to integrate information and software from their customized SAP portal with different applications.

"The vision we have is that in the near future, people will work all the time on portals and run the transaction part of their business mainly through private exchanges," Plattner said. "I believe everybody will pick up this strategy probably in the next six months."

One analyst who attended the keynote here described Lane's appearance as adding some "shock value" to the presentation, but otherwise had little significance.

Lane "reinforced an important issue in the (software) market that one size does not fit all; one company can't serve all the needs of all companies," said Joshua Greenbaum, who heads Enterprise Applications Consulting. Lane's support wasn't a "low blow to Oracle, but the point was very well taken."