SAP Eyes Web Services Development

NetWeaver update to give business analysts the ability to create apps.

SAP AG is working on a variety of developer technologies designed to make its notoriously difficult-to-program enterprise software easier to configure and customize and, as a result, faster and less expensive to modify.

The next iteration of the companys NetWeaver integration offering will include enhancements in its application server, data warehouse, integration engine and portal that officials said will enable developers to abstract the business logic inherent in applications using SAPs ABAP, or Advanced Business Application Programming, language.

The business logic will then be reconstituted as Web services that less technically sophisticated business analysts will be able to mix and match to create new composite applications, according to Shai Agassi, an SAP executive board member. As a result, business analysts will be able to change a service as business demands change.

"With Web services, you can create composite applications; you can create composite [user interfaces]. Before, when you wrote something [in ABAP], you were almost locked in," Agassi said.

SAP, of Walldorf, Germany, next quarter will roll out NetWeaver 04, as the upgrade is being called internally. A key component for developers will be Version 6.4 of the SAP Application Server, which will include enhanced Java support and support for services management and messaging management, Agassi said. Business Warehouse 3.5 in NetWeaver 04 adds support for multiple data sources, including sources from third-party applications.

The Master Data Management component in the upgrade enables management and mapping of Web services. New portal tools add the capability to "build and model [a business process] in a very visual way, without code," Agassi said.

To give users and developers some consistency in what they see when switching among SAPs sprawling suite of applications, the company over the next two years will add a technology it calls Patterns to its various modules. This will provide the same look and feel across the suite. The core enterprise resource planning applications will get the Patterns technology next year; supply chain management and product lifecycle management modules will get it in 2005.

SAP has been trying to advance beyond the client/ server model of its R/3 suite of applications for several years—first with its MySAP suite and then with NetWeaver.

These latest moves put SAP in tight competition with business process management software developers and take the company further down the new technology curve than competitors such as Oracle Corp. and PeopleSoft Inc. But making it easier for non-IT professionals to model processes makes some SAP users nervous.

"Transactions are the lifeblood of the company, and this isnt just somebody slicing and dicing a workflow [for analysis]," said SAP R/3 user Paul Hoogenboom, vice president of operations and CIO at RPM International Inc., in Medina, Ohio. "These transactions ... have a great impact on the GL [general ledger], and people like me have to sign off and have integrity in those processes. You have to be really certain in an auditable process that your transaction has integrity. A lot of processes have impact on the GL."

While he admires SAPs initiative, Hoogenboom said he does not think its realistic. "They are pursuing a holy grail," he said.

SAP user Carlos Cruz, managing director of Agile Solutions, in São Paulo, Brazil, has been using the first generation of NetWeaver and is enthusiastic about the direction that SAP is heading.

"The basic concept here is object-oriented programming, and it is easier to integrate everything as a server," said Cruz. "You have processes existing, and you put more processes on top of that, and you get a personalized process with the power of the back end. So with few alterations, you can customize a process. We did not have this ability in the past."