SAP Builds New Business User Apps Product Group

SAP execs have a hard time defining the "business user applications" at the core of its new product group.

BOSTON—SAP is developing business user applications—a term coined in the 48 hours after head of development Shai Agassi resigned in March—as a fourth product group that will take its place alongside NetWeaver, SAP's Business Suite and Business ByDesign.

The little known category, however, is not clearly defined at SAP, even by company executives.

During SAP's Influencer Summit here in Boston on Dec. 4 and 5, executives attempted to explain the concept of business user applications—SAP's next-generation applications that apparently weighed heavily in the company's decision to shell out $6.8 billion for Business Objects.

"It's a separate category [from SAP's ERP suites]," said SAP CEO Henning Kagermann during a press conference.

"Look, Business ByDesign [SAP's mid-market on-demand suite] is more a categorization of client size. Business user has nothing to do with the size of a company. It's more the type of work a company is doing with applications. The business user category [refers to] the needs of a specific user in an organization. Why is it coming up? There is a need for something on top of transaction systems."

SAP tipped its hand on business user applications during its Bangalore, India TechEd Nov. 28-30 when the company's Chief Technology Officer Vishal Sikka told reporters that SAP plans to use tools and technology acquired from Business Objects—a deal that's currently pending—to build the applications.

But aside from SAP naming Doug Merritt, a SAP corporate officer, as head of the Business User Development group after Agassi's departure, little was known about the company's development efforts with business user applications. SAP plans to fold Business Objects into Merritt's group to form the separate business unit.


Click here to read more about why SAP doesn't want people to call its CRM 2007 product a "hybrid."

In a press conference with reporters, Merritt said the new applications are best explained by what they are not, versus what they are.

"We are not a repetitive transaction driven applications group like ERP [enterprise resource planning] and CRM [customer relationship management]. What we [at SAP] and all our competitors have done is create engines that automate specific processes," said Merritt. "Business user is a whole new area automating tacit processes, non-repetitive processes, chaotic processes."

Merritt gave several examples of non-repetitive processes—risk management, corporate management, product recall, mergers and acquisitions management.

In fact, the business user group has already gone to market with two groups of applications—Governance, Risk and Compliance and Corporate Performance Management—that it classifies as business user applications. SAP competes heavily with Oracle in the areas of GRC and CPM.


"We are focused on carving out a new application area with processes that aren't currently automated," said Merritt. "On a tactical basis, what that means is two clusters of applications: GRC and CPM. Both are focused on how to make the finance group more effective."

On a broader scale SAP's business user applications will focus on five distinct user experience characteristics: community centric interactions; a consumer like user experience; user self sufficiency with diffuse processes; deployment flexibility (on premise or on demand); and providing intelligent insights—areas where Business Objects' technology fits nicely.

"Business Objects has a lot of intelligent information," said Merritt. "They have some interesting on-demand offerings they've been experimenting with, and some next-generation workflow they've been experimenting with."

SAP plans to sell the business user applications as a discreet set of apps separate from its various ERP suites and its technology stack.

"What we're crafting is something that would have enough value that it would generate income. The initial design is that it has to be technology platform agnostic," said Merritt.

He said customers like Unisys, Cisco and Lockheed Martin have already purchased SAP's GRC and CPM suite—despite having no other SAP footprint. Now those customers are looking at ERP as well.


Check out's Enterprise Applications Center for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.