SAP spotlights new software architecture

The German developer plans to discuss on Wednesday a new software architecture designed to keep various business systems within a given company in sync.

Alorie Gilbert Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alorie Gilbert
writes about software, spy chips and the high-tech workplace.
Alorie Gilbert
3 min read
SAP plans to discuss on Wednesday a new software architecture that's designed to make its line of business applications easier to modify and better able to work with other systems.

As previously reported, the German software developer plans to release a collection of new programs, called NetWeaver 2004, by the end of the month. The official introduction happens Wednesday at the CeBit technology fair in Hannover, Germany, and at SAP's campus in Palo Alto, Calif.

NetWeaver, first unveiled last year, is the new technical foundation for SAP's popular application software, which is used by many of the world's largest companies to digitize accounting, customer service, human resources and other corporate tasks.

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The updated version is SAP's most significant product release since it introduced its flagship R/3 programs in the mid-1990s, which marked the company's move from mainframe to client-server technology, said SAP executive board member Shai Agassi. "It's a market-shifting event," he asserted of the NetWeaver release.

NetWeaver 2004 is a collection of new and revamped products packaged to run on one server. Previous versions of the programs required separate servers and different underlying technologies. That was a deal breaker for many customers, analysts have said. Included in the latest NetWeaver package are SAP's portal software and application server program, integration tools, data mining systems, workflow programs and the company's mobile computing infrastructure, SAP said.

Early NetWeaver adopters include appliance maker Whirlpool, jet manufacturer Eclipse Aviation and German-based Linde Gas Division, SAP said. They are using the software for tasks such as streamlining research and development, complying with government regulations and coordinating with distributors, according to SAP.

The most innovative feature of NetWeaver, Agassi said, is its ability to keep various business systems within a given company in sync. For instance, a company could take a sales report generated by SAP's data-mining program and automatically publish it to a corporate intranet, alerting certain employees to the report via e-mail, Agassi said. The system could also invite employees to start an online discussion about the report and notify them when it's refreshed with new data, he said.

In another example of NetWeaver's connect-the-dots capabilities, Agassi said the program is designed to help companies keep important data, such as prices, consistent across different systems. SAP's Master Data Management program, a component of NetWeaver, is designed to make sure that any price changes entered into the system are reflected in digital price lists, catalogs and other programs, Agassi said.

Software interoperability has emerged as one of the top priorities for many big companies saddled with multiple generations of incompatible software. Without strong links between business systems, companies can't easily access data stored in multiple programs, which cuts them off from important information. The lack of comprehensive data makes it more difficult to know, for instance, which customers are spending the most money, or which area of the company is least profitable.

Some components of NetWeaver, including the application server and data sharing programs, may put SAP at odds with its longtime partners, analysts have said. IBM, Microsoft, BEA Systems, WebMethods and Tibco all make products that compete at some level with NetWeaver, they said.

SAP downplays any intensifying rivalries, noting that the money companies save from using NetWeaver could fuel further investments in all kinds of information technology. NetWeaver "puts us very much in alignment with customers," Agassi said. "We're not doing it against anyone else."

SAP is vague about the price of NetWeaver. At a general level, the company will charge perpetual license fees based on users or central processing units, according to Agassi. The Master Data Management program and, in some cases, the data sharing application, are priced separately, he said. In addition, SAP will "grandfather" contracts for previously released NetWeaver programs, such as its data mining and Internet portal products, he noted. All together, SAP customers have already installed more than 14,000 various bits of NetWeaver, he said.

In related news, the company also announced a development deal with credit card giant Visa. The two companies plan to enable SAP customers to download spending data from all Visa commercial payment products directly into their SAP business systems.