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SAP details Web services plans

The software maker says it's developing applications that use Web services standards to ensure smooth interaction between its business applications and other systems.

Software maker SAP unveiled plans Tuesday for a new line of applications that will use Internet standards to make its popular business software interact more easily with a multitude of computer systems.

The new applications, called xApps, incorporate Web services technology, an emerging set of Internet protocols touted by nearly every business software maker as the future of the industry. All Web services-based software should allow companies to more easily exchange data among incompatible applications.

The business software maker, like software rivals Siebel Systems and PeopleSoft, has launched numerous initiatives over the years to make their products more interoperable. Their goal is to reduce steep consulting fees for business software that can cost customer companies more than three to four times the license fees for the software itself.

With the rise of Web services, many software companies have focused on Internet technologies in their effort to improve the interoperability of their products.

Germany's SAP first discussed plans to develop xApps in June through a joint effort with software and consulting partners, including Accenture. Since then, Accenture and Canadian software maker NRX Global have developed the first five xApps. They are designed, for the most part, to link SAP manufacturing software to more specialized software, such as the systems used to manage plant and equipment maintenance.

SAP's first xApp is scheduled to launch by the end of the year. Further editions in the series will be introduced next year, including one designed to tie its software to third-party systems for storing engineering data, such as computer-aided design files.

The company has also lined up information technology consulting firms Deloitte Consulting and Cap Gemini Ernst & Young to develop still more xApps. The software maker and its partners envision developing as many as 200 different xApps products eventually, said Shai Agassi, an SAP executive board member.

Although SAP claimed xApps are gaining "market momentum," the company has yet to demonstrate strong demand for the products. Only about a dozen companies--out of nearly 19,000 SAP customers around the world--have signed up for an xApp, Agassi said.

The main appeal of the applications, according to Agassi, is out-of-the-box SAP interoperability, which should minimize expensive consulting engagements with system integrators.

Such software is unlikely to ever completely replace IT consultants, though, given that system integrators like Accenture and Deloitte Consulting are among the lead xApps developers.

"It's funny how you never reduce the need for consultants," said Agassi.

However, SAP hopes xApps will improve consultants' productivity, so they don't have to reinvent the wheel for every IT integration job involving the company.

xApps are distinct from SAP's main line of business applications for bookkeeping, human resources and inventory tracking, requiring separate licenses, said Agassi. The German software maker has not yet determined standard pricing for the new products.

SAP detailed its plans at its annual TechEd conference, held this week in New Orleans. The company expects 2,800 attendees, mostly developers and consultants, to gather at the event.