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SAP plugs strategy, products

At its Next Generation ERP conference the company shows off a slew of products and shares plans for its next enterprise applications package.

Attendees at SAP's Next Generation ERP conference held in San Francisco this week got a broad look at a number of products and the German software giant's latest plans for the upcoming release of its enterprise applications package.

As expected, SAP outlined its Business Framework strategy to evolve R/3 into a set of independent yet integrated components while providing the opportunity for integrating third-party units.

Yesterday, SAP gave a sneak preview of its Sales Force Automation (SFA) package, which integrates supply chain automation to bring independent business processes together into one "closed-looped" environment.

Under this model, SAP ties together supply-chain forecasting, decision support, optimization, and customer self-service systems with enterprise financials, human resources, and logistics applications.

The SFA package falls under the umbrella of the Business Framework strategy, which company executives at the conference said allows faster implementation, simpler administration, user security, and gives customers the ability to customize the system to their own industry needs.

Due to ship the fourth quarter of 1998, the SFA package also consists of an integrated set of capabilities including R/3 Release 4.0, the Business Information Warehouse, the SAP Advanced Planner and Optimizer (APO)-- a complete suite of supply chain planning functions, and other key enabling technologies.

SAP's liveCache, a memory-based technology for executing complex, data-intensive functions, also debuted at the conference. A key enabling component of the SFA package, liveCache combines transactional data from various sources in main memory--including non-R/3 systems--and then represents it in optimized structures for the job at hand.

Today is the last day of the Next Generation of ERP. SAP competes with Baan, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and, to a lesser extent, J.D. Edwards, in the global ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems market. These companies vie in providing packages used to automate and integrate corporate functions such as sales forecasting, inventory, control, procurement, manufacturing planning, distribution, finance, and project management.

ERP applications have become fixtures at a large majority of multinational corporations in recent years, but sales have begun to stagnate with market saturation, observers say. The major ERP vendors have devoted large resources to extend their core product to the front-office in an attempt to make it attractive to a more diverse market. Part of that strategy includes breaking core products into component models, like SAP's Business Framework and Baan's recently announced Baan ERP.