The most interesting vision came from SAP AG, which laid out a very clear strategy, differentiated from other top IT vendors.
According to Shai Agassi, an executive board member at SAP, the company is focused on what it calls "applistructure," or the merging of applications and infrastructure. The company believes that this platform is the future—and it expects to capture a 25 percent combined share within a few years.
Agassi contrasted his companys approach with that of Oracle, which believes in combining the database and the infrastructure, and IBM, which is trying to merge applications with system software.
The only other company that sees the world like SAP does? "Microsoft is claiming to play that game," Agassi said. "Theres a network called MBF [Microsoft Business Foundation], and there is a claim that they will build a collection of objects … but it will take a lot of time."
SAP, on the other hand, has "done the long, tedious, painful effort around the world in a hundred countries," he said. "Weve localized in each one of those countries. Weve done it in 25 industries with the pain of understanding the difference between a financial services and toothpaste company."
Although the companys NetWeaver application-server platform was launched just this year, Agassi claims that 5,000 companies will be running it next year—or about 10 percent of its installed base.
And unlike in years past, "We dont steamroll our partners. Wed like them to succeed as much as possible." So why does SAP still have a rapacious reputation? "Some of them do self-inflicted damage and then come back and blame it on us."
Agassi went on to describe how the company is encouraging system integrators and ISVs to develop canned business processes that will run on SAPs platform. "We dont know how to do it. There is a space in there for startups that want to do (i.e. sell) another five (copies), or 50, and then not do 500, but do another 50 for the same audience. And build a catalog for the oil industry or the telco industry."
When it comes to the war over data and business processes, Agassi defined three critical battles: who owns the data, who owns the metadata (i.e. the definition of a "customer" or an "invoice)," and then who owns the meta-metadata (or the repository).
He said the master battleground that everyone wants to win will be fought around three asset areas—financial, manufacturing and product—and three relationship areas—employees, customers and suppliers.
Certain companies are already doing a good job in some of these areas. Ariba has a strong position in manufacturing, and Salesforce.com is taking a leadership position in customer data, but SAP wants to own it all. And SAPs position is that theres value in getting it all from one place.
Agassi was extremely negative about Oracles chances in the marketplace, characterizing the PeopleSoft move as "a great mistake." Thats because SAP stands to gain as many PeopleSoft customers as Oracle does in the long run—without the multibillion-dollar price tag.
SAP sees the database, and by extension Oracle, as a commodity. "That layer [database] is truly commoditized," Agassi said. "The stickiness that has remained isnt a feature; its a knowledge stickiness. Its how many Oracle DBAs in the market that have a comfort zone with Oracle. How long does that go before a MySQL with the right capabilities, or DB2 or SQL Server, comes in and completely depresses the prices in the market?"