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SAP's latest Net move: personalized portal

SAP unveils plans for a portal site that will eventually serve as a central yet personalized hub for connecting users to customers and business partners across the Internet.

SAP today unveiled plans for a portal site that will eventually serve as a central yet personalized hub for connecting users to customers and business partners across the Internet.

The portal site, called mySAP.com, is expected to be up and running in the fourth quarter and will serve as a focal point of SAP's Internet strategy, which was announced today at Sapphire '99 in Nice, France.

Like Yahoo's portal site, mySAP.com is intended to provide one stop for everything from ordering from an online catalog to scheduling corporate meetings internally to communicating with suppliers. Initially, the site, which employees can access using SAP's new EnjoySAP graphical user interface, will serve as a marketplace for customized third-party content--including personalized news and travel information and job market opportunities, for example.

SAP also plans to make the portal a full blown e-commerce site that lets users buy from partners selling merchandise, such as hardware and software, office supplies, or other goods, according to Frank Buchheit, director of Business to Business procurement for SAP in the United States. SAP's long-term strategy covers both sides of procurement relationships, so you can sell as well as buy online, and the company plans to eventually build a worldwide marketplace exchange.

Jim Shepherd, a vice president at AMR Research, said SAP's initiative will help build trading communities aligned to specific vertical industries, including chemical, pharmaceutical, and automotive. Together, these companies can almost instantly put together a critical mass of buyers and sellers, Shepherd said.

Overall, SAP's strategy, which is similar to rivalPeopleSoft's and ties together some existing applications, is an obvious way for SAP to supply content to a broad base of users, he said.

"This is the e-commerce initiative of the world's largest application vendor and in that context it's a very comprehensive effort," Shepherd said.

The plan also enables SAP to add to its base of 10 million users at 20,000 user sites by reaching new audiences. A secretary, for example, can use mySAP.com to book hotel rooms and conference space using the Web,as well as to coordinate executive schedules and to change personnel addresses on a corporate intranet.

SAP executives said the company needs to build a user base before determining how to best make money off the new venture, but suggested advertising and subscription-based fees as possibilities.

The site will be open to both SAP and non-SAP customers and comes in two types, mySAP.com for work, which will be personalized with industry-specific content, and mySAP.com for home, which employees can use during off-hours. Companies will also be able to tap into mySAP.com to access SAP's business-to-business procurement applications, which have been generally available since last month and enable the procurement of goods and services online.

In the fourth quarter, SAP plans to offer business-to-business selling, which connects companies to their distributors and resellers. A business-to-consumer selling application for the SAP platform is available now, with a plan on tap for loose integration with other platforms as well, Buchheit said. A standalone Web storefront building product is available today, he said.

SAP is also working on its e-commerce initiative with Microsoft--which announced today a plan to link its BizTalk commerce server to SAP's back office server. That will enable mySAP users to do business over the Web--including ordering from a Web-based catalog or trading business documents--with other companies using Microsoft's XML-based platform. BizTalk is based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) language and industry standards that ease communication across different business applications and platforms, improving how companies share information

The specification created for integrating the two platforms will be used to connect SAP's business-to-business procurement application and Microsoft's commerce server.

The firm is also calling on some e-commerce veterans for help, including Memphis-based FDX, Mountain View, California-based content provider Aspect Development, and Pandesic, a jointly owned venture of Intel and SAP in Sunnyvale, California.

Specifically for smaller companies, SAP is partnering with systems integrator EDS, as well as telecommunications firms British Telecom and Deutsche Telecom, to provide Web-based applications hosting from mySAP.com.

Users access the hosted application--which could include financials or human resources--over the Internet via a browser. The offering is targeted to companies that can't afford to buy and maintain business applications.