SAP: Sticks, Stones and the Bones of Enterprise Services

Reporter's Notebook: At its Sapphire user conference, SAP talks up an SOA future in which the savvy use of services determines "whether you survive as a business."

BOSTON—I walked in 10 minutes late to the keynote, and a big, glowing, white spinal column greeted me.

Day Two of SAP AGs Sapphire user conference here, and SAPs remarkably non-German, dark-haired golden boy, Shai Agassi—the wunderkind executive board member now in charge of the companys technology development—was dancing in front of a slide show that somehow meant to stitch together a metaphor with IT infrastructures and the ESA (Enterprise Services Architecture) framework on one side as being comparable to the human body on the other side.

Muscles=application server, spine=data management, other skeleton sticks=process management, benign hip growth=whatever gadget is now sticking out of your pocket.

"[SAP CEO Henning Kagermann] talked about how the world is changing," Agassi said. "[These are] no longer simple processes. We insource, we outsource, we partner. Unfortunately, its getting faster and faster."

You need your eyeballs and your nose to sniff out data change. Youve got services stitched together into composite applications in SAPs vision of the SOA future, all modular and reusable just like your kidneys and your spleen if youre an organ donor. But you need your senses—your tongue, say, to get down and lick the competitive landscape and savor change on the sidewalk.

It was one of those keynote metaphor moments where you know you shouldnt have come in late. But, minus the licking of the sidewalk, that was the gist.

If youre not as flexible as contortionists from the Cirque du Soleil (of whom he also showed slides), youre a walking corpse, Agassi said. "This change that is accelerating is what will make a difference in your business," he said. "Not on return on investment or total cost of ownership—its [coming down to] whether you survive as a business."

The change, of course, is services. This Sapphire is basically leftovers of SAPs big Copenhagen, Denmark, show, but SAPs energy didnt flag when it came to pushing that SOA (service-oriented architecture) landscape and the partnerships that are very close to making the enabling technology real, such as the SAP-Microsoft Mendocino project that will free us from ever having to leave the Office suite to access SAPs ERP (enterprise resource planning) goodness.

Of course, the Copenhagen audience, Agassi pointed out, knows how to "ooh" and "aah" better than we North Americans, sitting there in stony, unimpressed silence as his assistant clicked on analytics and instantly changed forecasts.

I turned to a non-oohing North American woman on my left and asked her if the exciting world of services was blowing her away yet.

"Well … ESA, um… I cant say Ive grasped it yet," she said. Her pharmaceuticals company has been focusing on getting NetWeaver running, since its just on R3 4.7 now and is looking to add SAPs BI business warehouse.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about the Mendocino project, which is intended to link business applications from SAP and Microsoft.

But Mendocino? Ah, yes, that makes North Americans perk up and take notice. "Theyre trying to open things up, which is a good thing," the woman said.

I tried to get the womans name, but she shooshed me when a taped Steve Ballmer spiel came on. She really must have been hooked on the Mendocino message.

Analysts at the show liked it, too.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read details on Agassis demonstration of a prototype of Mendocino.

Melinda-Carol Ballou, principal analyst at Ballou IT Strategies, in Bedford, Mass., called the ESA strategy "visionary." "Theyre way out ahead of other companies in the space in terms of the way theyre saying about enterprise services," she said. "In context of an application platform thats now talking … with [Microsofts] Office suite."

Next Page: A service-based approach to development.