SAP Watch

Mar 22 2010   8:04PM GMT

Could a stronger partnership with Microsoft be in SAP’s future?

CourtneyBjorlin Courtney Bjorlin Profile: CourtneyBjorlin

SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe said something during a press conference last week that hasn’t gotten too much attention – SAP’s goal is to reach 1 billion users.

Well, in order to do that, they have to get over one big hurdle — they have to provide a lot better user interface with a lot more end user tools to a lot more people. That’s according to the analysts on yesterday’s SAP JAM, a week-long series of Forrester webinars on SAP strategy.

Tackling this UI challenge hinges a lot on how SAP will handle its middleware strategy going forward. And in that light, a tighter relationship with Microsoft could be the answer.

First, there’s that Duet project – integration of the SAP backend with the familiar Microsoft Office front-end. SAP kicked this off a few years ago at Sapphire with much fanfare, but we haven’t heard about that project very much. One Forrester client on the call even questioned whether Microsoft was still committed to it. (Sidenote: SAP launched a similar partnership with IBM/Lotus Notes last year called Alloy)

They are committed, Forrester middleware expert John Rymer assured us. And he expects something big to happen in the next release.

“I am confident that they are going to align Duet and SharePoint in the next releases,” Rymer said.

The first versions of Duet were custom middleware that SAP and Microsoft had built. It is a very specialized piece of middleware, and therefore, it’s more expensive, Rymer said.

On the other hand, loads of organizations have already made an investment in SharePoint – and all SAP would need to do is provide additional use cases that leverage that integration, he said.

Closely related is the role for Microsoft in bolstering NetWeaver.

At one time, SAP had ambitions to compete with IBM and Oracle on the middleware front, Rymer said. But SAP has been falling behind in creating a comprehensive platform and maintaining a level of investment in NetWeaver necessary to keep up with Oracle and IBM in the middleware market.

Now, Forrester advises customers to use NetWeaver only to extend SAP applications –extending business applications to create integration links to SAP instances, or create focused portals for just exposing modules within the SAP application set.

Customers shouldn’t use NetWeaver for large or mission critical projects, those that require high availability, high security, running a lot of transactions and that involve integrations between a number of applications.

Those projects become very, very difficult, and costly and expensive and they require a certain level of support from your vendor for scalability and adapters to handle a wide variety of endpoints, he said.

“SAP is not as committed to those kinds of projects as the other vendors we’ve mentioned,” he said.

SAP is left with three options. One is to resuscitate NetWeaver with an acquisition or through organic development – which is unlikely, Rymer said.

Another is pursuing a Java partnership with Microsoft. Or, SAP could begin to rely on the application server of a single partner, most likely, IBM or Red Hat JBoss. Rather than selecting a single Java partner, it would support multiple Java partners.

In any case, “They are going to de-emphasize their own Java infrastructure, their own middleware and rely much more heavily on partners than they have in the past,” Rymer said.

Partnering more closely with Microsoft is something Josh Greenbaum blogged about months ago when Oracle bought Sun, saying SAP should start looking for some new partners to balance a growing “IBM/Oracle axis of competition,” Greenbaum wrote.

The usability challenge will continue to confront SAP, because “the Google generation” expects things to be intuitive. And it will continue to confront IT, which will have to deal with the complexity that ensues from requests to make things easier to use.

“The problem is, if you make a whole series of point decisions, you’re going to end up with a dog’s breakfast of user interfaces and perhaps even the underlying platform,” Rymer said.

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