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SAP's CEO preaches nothing but Net at conference

If rivals don't consider German software giant SAP a serious player on the Internet, SAP's chief executive Hasso Plattner is working overtime to change their minds.

PHILADELPHIA--If rivals didn't consider German software giant SAP a serious player on the Internet, SAP's chief executive Hasso Plattner worked overtime today to change their minds.

During a nearly two-hour keynote speech here, which included fireworks and music from the rock group Queen, Plattner outlined the business-application maker's ambitious--and to some, unwieldy--plan to retool its software for the Internet.

"This revolution, the Internet revolution, is bigger for [corporations] than client-server ever was," said Plattner, who also revealed new partners and products for SAP.com at the company's annual conference of U.S. customers, called Sapphire. Plattner also trotted out industry heavy-hitters from Microsoft, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Cisco to endorse SAP's new plans.

Plattner said the Walldorf, Germany-based company will use this week's show to sign its customers up for the new e-commerce software, which will enable them to collaborate with business partners and suppliers. Analysts say it's critical for the company to recruit enough buyers and sellers to make new e-commerce software useful on both ends.

Plattner, who admitted the company took a beating from early bird Oracle on the Net, said enthusiasm within the company is greater than it has been in the past seven years. Commitment to the Net, as well as "breaking free" from a role as a "legacy company," has made all the difference, he said. SAP--with roots in making business applications that automate a company's human resources, financials, and logistics--has promised Web-enabled software for more than several years. To date, the company has delivered few products.

While a business-to-business procurement application shipped earlier this year, "that was obviously not enough," said Plattner, who promised more applications over the next several weeks.

But it is still unclear whether Plattner articulated how the company intends to achieve its Internet goals, say some industry analysts who have criticized the company for its late arrival to the Web.

"There's not much new here," said Joshua Greenbaum, head of Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, California. "I think that [SAP] is still not articulating a message in an efficient and effective way. What we heard this morning was a jumble of ideas and concepts without a structured framework."

Net strategies
Greenbaum said customers are "desperate for context" as they frame their e-commerce strategies, and they're looking to sellers including SAP to help guide them. For customers already confused about SAP's e-commerce plans, Plattner's speech could have caused more confusion than clarity, he added.

But Cameron Dow, an enterprise applications analyst at International Data Corporation, Canada, said Plattner's speech was a good kick off for a large-scale marketing effort the company is making to catch up with Oracle.

"This is the first step in their marketing campaign to get [the word] out," he said. "They've been losing some [ground] over the past 6 months to Oracle's Internet strategy. Having said that, with the launch of mySAP.com, SAP is in a position to gain some ground over Oracle--as Oracle's next release [11i] won't be out until next February," he said.

SAP's Web plans include two parts. The first is a Web-based enterprise portal, which is a Yahoo-like personalized portal that lets users funnel information from their core SAP system, as well as the Net, to their personalized site. SAP intends to market this to a whole new group of users within corporations.

The second is mySAP.com marketplace, which will enable customers such as Dow Corning and Eastman Chemical to form online trading communities, with a goal of obtaining goods and services at the best possible prices. The marketplace will allow companies to search for other companies registered within their vertical market and directly link to their Web sites. It will also provide community content, complete with chat forums and postings on industry trends.

Plattner said the company has signed up 600 companies for marketplace, which opens today.