SAP is charging ahead of the competition with a new set of technologies for Internet computing and E-commerce, but its future success is far from guaranteed.
A new report from Forrester Research says that SAP management and serious conflict within the top-level echelons is the culprit, and it lacks neither customer interest nor ability.
The company has changed direction over the past six months, focusing its efforts on standalone and distributed components; open component interfaces; Internet computing technologies; and piece by piece application upgrades.
More specifically, SAP?s independent components, for human resources and finance, for example, are being complemented by a new range of discrete, reusable business objects, and SAP?s ALE middleware will deal with the problems of duplicated distributed data, including multiple updates and update conflicts.
New open component interfaces - Business APIs (BAPIs) will replace the current 45,000 remote function calls for accessing R/3 data and executing R/3 functions, and the first tranche of BAPIs is being implemented by SAP and rivals alike.
On the Internet, R/3 3.1 has Java-based self service applications and complete Java-client access. SAP, says Forrester, will expand its use of Java, both in client and server application code.
The piecemeal application upgrades refer to SAP?s new R/3 applications, deliverable in parts rather than modules. Theoretically, they should coexist with current applications, minimising user problems and the cost of upgrading.
But Forrester warns that moving to standalone, distributed components is no easy task, particularly since the company?s technology culture is for tight, ?monolithic? integration.
The greatest challenge to SAP is juggling its commitment to seamless migration from the current ABAP/2-based R/3 to future releases, says Forrester. SAP will tackle this by wrapping up R/3 in BAPIs, making ?the behind the curtains technology invisible to users?. The consultants reckon that SAP will fail eventually. ?Pre-BAPI custom ABAP/4 code is a big headache; and the business and data structures must morph to meet new opportunities.?
In other wordsR/3 users and partners are still building RFC-based code that is difficult to upgrade to BAPIs. Secondly, at the earliest, it will be late 1998, before SAP has a complete set of BAPIs. This means the volume of legacy code can only increase.
The merging of business and data structures is difficult now, and as Internet commerce grows and new unpredictable ways of doing business are not supported in R/3, SAP must build anew in new code, making any the migration from current R/3 applications even more troublesome. SAP must, ?dominate component applications or be king of accounting,? says Forrester. If it continues ?its unrealistic commitment to upward compatibility, it will forfeit a lot of market opportunity.?
If it chooses to dominate component applications, Forrester advises two things. ?It must break R/3 functionality into 35 to 40 business components and 400 to 600 business objects by 2000. Delaying or partial delivery will restrict the company?s ability to deliver competitive supply chain and outward-facing apps, leaving it to be king of accounting and basic manufacturing.?
Secondly, to counter Oracle?s moves towards dominating the component market, Forrester recommends SAP makes: ?BAPIs the premier apps interface by publishing complete specs - distributed for free - and [it] takes on the role of integrating, selling and supporting best-of-breed applications.
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