SAP AG is working on a common application base that it hopes will serve as a beacon to the future for legacy R/3 enterprise application customers.
The Walldorf, Germany, company at its Sapphire user conference in New Orleans this week will spell out its claim that the SAP Enterprise Services Architecture will provide a more flexible and integrated application platform that can be more responsive to changing business needs.
A key part of SAPs efforts to move users forward is a project headed by executive board member Peter Zencke to provide a common application base for all SAP applications, according to sources briefed by the company.
This will provide a general definition for specific functions across SAP products and break down big SAP applications into logical components so they can be part of the companys Enterprise Services Architecture SOA (service-oriented architecture).
SAP will wrap the components with SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) so they can be delivered as services, according to Yvonne Genovese, an analyst at Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn. This could require application rewrites in some cases, but in most cases it means wrapping existing applications with a Web services capability so functionality can be accessed, sources said.
“The idea is to build enough interfaces into the old R/3 to make the individual parts of that functional as Web services,” said Joshua Greenbaum, principle at Enterprise Applications Consulting and Research, in Berkeley, Calif. “They need as much discrete functionality as possible.”
The common application base is needed because of conflicts in the way various applications in the SAP universe define, for example, order management. The common base will try to define a general functionality for order management when it shows up in R/3, MySAP or other applications, according to Byron Miller, principle analyst at Forester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.
“A lot of their applications are going to have to be extended in order [to provide an SOA]. If they do it very well, some of those may have to be rewritten,” said Miller. “They have at least a road map, and they have done some of that work. Some of it is happening because its already showing up [in new applications], but not to the extent that it needs to be a real SOA.”
“What SAP is really doing is building infrastructure pieces for SOA,” said SAP R/3 customer Mark Evans, CIO at Tesoro Petroleum Corp., in San Antonio.
“Their strategy is that they begin to examine their big applications like R/3 and break them into discrete services,” Evans said. “Its a longer-term deal, but were very on board with their approach. We believe its the right direction.”
Tesoro plans to upgrade from R/3 Version 4.6c to SAPs Web-enabled MySAP ERP 2.0, which is expected next year. “I think there is a component of this new architecture that you can lay over 4.6c,” Evans said. “But Im not worrying about it. I think we can evolve [to an SOA].”
Once customers think of their SAP installations in terms of an SOA, they likely will be more interested in using SAPs composite applications and NetWeaver integration technology, SAP officials said. These composite applications, called xApps, will enable users to reach into SAP and non-SAP applications and obtain functionality for a given business process—which is all part of what makes an ESA attractive, according to Bill Wohl, a spokesman for SAP.
To kick up excitement around xApps, SAP is expected to announce at Sapphire some substantive application development around xApps, according to sources.
SAP announced xApps at its 2002 Sapphire show and shortly after announced some xApp development partnerships with systems integrators that amounted to more press releases than actual functionality, some observers said. A year later the company announced NetWeaver and in the process lost the momentum it had built around xApps, according to analyst Greenbaum.
“Theyve certainly pushed NetWeaver out front because it needed to be done to do xApps right,” said Greenbaum. “From a development standpoint it makes the whole xApp [implementation process] infinitely more easy and inexpensive, so the cart got put before the horse. But now the horse is back in front, and now its time to fill the cart.”
The caveat for R/3 users seeking more flexibility within their systems, however, is that even with Web service wrappers around R/3 applications to expose specific functionality, whats needed to make it all work is the NetWeaver integration platform.
For customers still hesitant about upgrading, SAP plans to withdraw support for R/3 slowly between 2006 and 2009. R/3 users that upgrade to the next version, R/3 Enterprise or R/3 4.6D, are getting some components of NetWeaver in the software.
“The really difficult piece is, how do you migrate these superlarge customers?” said Tesoros Evans. “Ive had a lot of discussions with peers that have 15 worldwide instances of SAP and thousands of interfaces. Thats going to be difficult. For companies with agility, its going to be a lot easier.”
Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from analysts.
Be sure to add our eWEEK.com enterprise applications news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page: