SAP Pushes to Open R/3

The company is looking to open up its R/3 enterprise software suite with tools designed to let developers integrate SAP-defined business processes with those of third-party applications.

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa.--SAP AG is looking to open up its R/3 enterprise software suite with tools designed to let developers integrate SAP-defined business processes with those of third-party applications.

For starters, the company is planning to release a new version of its Application Development Workbench by the end of next year that will enable corporate developers to seamlessly switch back and forth between the open J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and SAPs proprietary ABAP development environments.

Version 6.3 will let coders integrating existing SAP applications with new SAP and non-SAP e-business applications produce a Java front end that ties into existing ABAP objects on the back end. As a result, a companys substantial investment in ABAP training can be preserved.

But the upgrade, which will be a critical component of SAPs recently announced Exchange Infrastructure architecture, will have to unseat existing technologies from EAI (enterprise application integration) providers and systems integrators.

Floral exchange Inc., for instance, working with systems integrator e-Integrators Inc., used IBMs MQSeries messaging middleware to link the front-office and back-office applications. e-Integrators President Dietmar Hinz said he would have considered SAPs Exchange architecture and the forthcoming workbench, but they werent available when he started the project more than a year ago.

But even with the benefits of using an all-SAP infrastructure, the third-party tools still offer more flexibility, Hinz said.

"MQSeries is more of a programmer-level tool, and that comes much cheaper than a fully integrated package than, say, SAPs integration engine," said Hinz, in Boca Raton, Fla. "SAP is going to cover standard interfaces, like XML. But there is always the need where you are going to have to do custom programming. In that case, youre probably better off with a cheaper, third-party product than with SAP or big EAI vendors."

SAP America Inc. CEO Wolfgang Kemna acknowledged in an interview here last week that SAP is behind the curve when it comes to offering integration in-house. But, Kemna said, the company had to walk a fine line to avoid upsetting large professional services companies and EAI vendors that have made a business out of integrating SAP and non-SAP applications.

Nevertheless, providing easy access to Java in its development tools was essential to SAP customers, he said.

"Its much easier for them to extend integration to e-business solutions, which are based on an Internet architecture, which are then relying on a Java-based architecture," he said. "Its complementary to ABAP."

This made a lot of sense to big SAP shops such as Hollister Inc., a Libertyville, Ill., maker of medical supplies. "That will help us immensely," said Joel Cox, manager of global technical services at Hollister.

Hollister will go live in January with a business-to-business site that enables order tracking and maintenance of customer information. Using the SAP Exchange Infrastructure and workbench will save Cox and his fellow developers the tedious task of mapping data types.

Cox looks forward to Version 6.3 of the workbench, which will connect ABAP and Java on a memory level. "Thats the way it needs to run," he said.

In addition to Application Development Workbench 6.3, SAPs integration products will include the Walldorf, Germany, companys previously announced Web application server with separate J2EE and ABAP virtual machines, which is due in controlled release in the second quarter of next year. Also by then, SAP will offer in limited release its Exchange Infrastructure, which provides process-centric integration. Cox, however, said he is unsure that the first versions of Exchange will have the maturity of existing integration technologies.

"It is at a kind of a very high-level format now," Cox said.