SAPs Focus: Getting Pieces to Work in Harmony

SAP CTO Shai Agassi talks about the benefits in bringing applications and infrastructures into sync.

In 2003, at the tender age of 34, Shai Agassi became chief technology developer of SAP AG—a role he assumed from the Walldorf, Germany, companys venerable co-founder, Hasso Plattner. Now, Agassi is again shaking things up at SAPs highest levels. The first non-German to be appointed to SAPs Executive Board three years ago, Agassi earlier this month was named head of software development for the entire company. Agassi spoke last week with Senior Writer Renee Boucher Ferguson about the challenges that lie ahead.

How does the realignment in your responsibilities change your day-to-day duties?

What it allows us to do is look at a unified picture for technology and applications and accelerate the pace of adoption of NetWeaver into our suite of applications, as well as suites from one application to the rest of the stack.

When youre looking at the big benefits, its the proximity of application and infrastructure that are unified at the CTO [chief technology officer] level. Now the whole product and technology group is unified.

How much will your focus shift from NetWeaver development to, say, CRM [customer relationship management] development?

Theyre all my babies. Well focus on how you can consolidate the product so its more easy to operate, with a lot better cost of ownership and cost of operating. The focus will be on, "How do you get all the pieces working in harmony," including NetWeaver and using NetWeaver?

NetWeaver is an integral part of SAPs BPP [Business Process Platform] initiative. What does it mean to have Peter Zencke in control of that area of development?

Today NetWeaver is about 50 percent of BPP. Peter and I are inseparable twins inside BPP. Peter does the service enablement of the applications; I created the service platform infrastructure. BPP is the combination of the two. So both Peter and I are sharing in the ownership of the BPP platform.

A lot of companies are building software and infrastructures that do not have applications next to them, so applications cannot influence the infrastructure.

How does Oracle Corp.s Project Fusion compare with SAPs ESA [Enterprise Services Architecture]?

Its hard to compare something that is only a PowerPoint presentation, with no details—no technical details—with a platform that actually runs today.

But would you say Oracle, with Project Fusion, and SAP, with its ESA, have a common goal?

We have two very different approaches today. What is the platform? In the case of Oracle, the platform is the database, with a database-oriented architecture, compiled from the database up. That creates an interesting approach [and question]: "What is the center of the universe? Database or services?"

When you look at the technical implications of it, there is a business sense for SOA [service-oriented architecture], and the business driver is flexibility. So were trying to give organizations the ability to rapidly change, modify and fit their IT environment to the business processes—and [enable] business process innovation in the business. When youre looking at trying to tie everything from the database up, the goal is cutting cost on the number of database servers.

Where do you see Microsoft in this scenario, particularly with the shift in "Project Green"?

Their code base hasnt been built on the .Net platform. So historically we all heard you need to build Green on .Net. Now were hearing [something different]. Our model is really a model to give customers the right benefit as the result of the right architecture and business sense.

Do you see more development synergies with Microsoft in SAPs future?

At different levels. We hear from customers that they want strong synergies from our set of applications and Microsoft. Integration between the two platforms—.Net and NetWeaver—needs to happen so there is no friction between end-user applications on .Net and back-office builds on NetWeaver. To do that, we need to take away the friction, which is why weve worked closely [with Microsoft]. This is significantly different from Oracle, where there is no intention to interoperate with .Net.

In terms of innovation, whats coming down the pike?

Youll see innovation coming from us at Sapphire [SAPs user conference in May], showing the tangible value of ESA. Were going into three years of increased value and increased delivery at a very fast pace, into our products and customer base. At Sapphire, youll start seeing, "What is ESA? What is SOA? How does it feel to the end user?" Were setting up completely new ground for industry. Its very exciting.

Are users ready for BPP, given that the whole NetWeaver concept is still fairly new?

I think theyre ready for it. They havent articulated theyre ready for it. They say, "Id like to cement the bottom layer of applications and fix that in nonmoving parts—CRM, SCM [supply chain management], financials." Theyd like those to be in place and not touched too often. But at the same time, theyd like to innovate with mega-processes that cut across the whole organization.

Were telling them the solution is BPP. They dont say thats what they want. But high quality, high reliability, fast innovation—thats BPP.

Once SAP completes its ESA goal and componentizes its applications around 2007, will ERP as we know it go away?

ERP as we know it becomes a lot more flexible. With an ERP package, the smaller you [make applications], the bigger you ship.

The first car I had, had a car radio with three interfaces: power, antenna, speaker. Because it was very simple with three interfaces, you could always take the radio out and replace it. But there were no composite scenarios involved.

Today, when I drive in Germany and theres an accident, the car radio changes to the accident channel. When the phone rings, the radio shuts down. Its all composite scenarios. But I cant buy a radio off the shelf—its integrated into the dashboard. The configuration, the delivery unit, is the dashboard. [The same is true with ERP.] So youre not able to buy smaller pieces of ERP.

Do you see any fundamental shifts in the way SAP develops applications—in other words, any retirement plans for ABAP [SAPs proprietary programming language]?

If I am a customer and I never see ABAP, and underneath my code are robust, standard business processes that are proven in 30,000 customers around the world, do I care [about ABAP]? If my application is built in [Oracles] PL/SQL, is that more proprietary or less proprietary than ABAP?

If my business is already running and customized by ABAP and put in the market—there is a collective $1 billion in ABAP code in the market—the last thing I want is for SAP to walk away from ABAP.


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