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SAP paves the road to services

Applications giant will change its product release cycle to let customers upgrade in pieces to its SOA-based platform.

SAP on Tuesday detailed product developments meant to smooth the process of upgrading to the latest generation of its modular business applications.

, outlined the software maker's plans to technical executives and developers at its TechEd conference in Las Vegas.

He announced SAP Discovery System, a collection of software components meant as a "starting point" for a services-oriented architecture, a system design meant to make SAP's applications more modular and flexible.

In addition, he said, the company will shift its product release method to make upgrades faster.

Rather than release large-scale updates of closely interlinked components, SAP will release more narrowly defined packages every quarter or two, Agassi said.

These packages will address a certain aspect of SAP applications, such as human resources or travel management, and customers will have the choice to install them or not.

All the packages will work with MySAP ERP 2005, the core set of automated business processes in SAP that the company plans to leave in place for five years.

"You will have a stable core you can build on and continue to enhance," Agassi said. "It drives the ability to flexibly innovate at your pace. When you get services from us, you can decide how to use them in ways that we didn't think about."

SAP is trying to encourage customers to upgrade to the most recent editions of its applications suite, which has been rebuilt around a services-oriented architecture. Once customers adopt this "business process platform," they will be able to more quickly develop innovative software, Agassi said.

SAP Discovery System is meant to be a relatively simple way for customers to start adopting SAP's latest service-oriented suite of applications.

It includes the NetWeaver infrastructure software, Java-based tools for creating services, and a set of sample applications. SAP released a preview version of the package Tuesday, Agassi said.

Also at the event, the company's executives gave updates on products under development, including a search engine called SAP Enterprise Search.

A preview download is now available and the software will be available next year. It has been built so it can be embedded in different applications, such as human resources applications, or in a front-end user interface screen, Agassi said.

He added that the next version of SAP's portal, code-named Project Muse, will use AJAX-style development to improve the navigation of SAP application's screens.

Agassi also announced that a group of SAP customers and partners have formed a community of experts to share technical information and techniques pertaining to the consumer products industry.

Agassi said SAP, through its partnership program, expects to create expert communities in all 26 industries that it supports in its applications.