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SAP pros working on information overload

SAP customers are hearing a lot about the fantastic big picture, but most of them are busy with today's tedious problems.

SAN DIEGO -– NetWeaver '04 might be filled with innovative technology -- new Java capabilities and faster, more...

flexible business intelligence tools. And it may mark the start of SAP's three-year plan to "service-enable" its entire technology stack, forming its Enterprise Services Architecture. But most of the nearly 4,000 TechEd '04 attendees have technical challenges that are waiting for them when they return to work Monday.

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Heather Holliday, a Nova Chemicals Corp. ABAP programmer in Canada, needs to solve WebDynpro and Java problems. Neil Mookerjee, a Raytheon Co. Basis manager, is installing Web App Server 6.4 and will face diagnostic and customization challenges. Gail Jusiewicz, a team leader at Pepco Holdings Inc. in Washington, is part of the first go-live for a partner-developed xApp. Intel's Eric Hamer is in charge of making sure NetWeaver's XI 3.0 is ready for prime time. And Andres Nieto is here from Venezuela, where his employer, Empresas Polar, is implementing SAP Enterprise Portal in the coming weeks and is headed down the mySAP ERP upgrade path.

"This is the challenge of being a SAP customer," Mookerjee said. "The keynotes are great for someone like me because you learn the landscape design SAP has in mind. But you have to stay focused on what's in front of you," he said, hurrying to a hands-on technical session yesterday.

With the introduction of new technologies that translate to new strategies, SAP customers are being asked to consider several new concepts and new, more concrete capabilities within the NetWeaver stack.

Still, some attendees said they felt in control. "I'm seeing a trend toward simplicity, Jusiewicz said. "There is a lot of stuff being presented, and I haven't been intimidated. I came up through the ABAP school -- and I haven't been overwhelmed," she said.

There is a lot of stuff being presented, and I haven't been intimidated. I came up through the ABAP school -- and I haven't been overwhelmed.
Gail Jusiewicz
Team leaderPepco Holdings Inc.

Trevor Connors, a manager of enterprise application integration at Ottawa's Innovapost and one of the many attendees who came hear about XI, SAP's exchange infrastructure, said he understood the information and training he got at TechEd, but he was leaving TechEd with serious concerns.

"SAP is really trying to push out XI as a XML solution," Connors said. "I understand where they are coming from. They want to format more globally, but they seem to be moving away from the original Basis kernel and IDOCs, and we've got 10 custom IDOCs. It sounds great for new SAP customers, but for existing SAP customers, it seems like it could cost us more to go down the SAP path."

However, Connors said he was inspired by the partner connectivity kits. "They allow you to enable your partners to communicate with XI. That's something I'm really excited about because a lot of smaller companies aren't able to do it for themselves."

Naeem Hashmi, chief technology officer of Information Frameworks, a N.H. consulting firm, said SAP customers will be asked to do more strategic thinking, and map out smarter business processes, in order to use the company's newest technology to its full potential.

"If someone is expecting a silver bullet for integration, then they probably don't understand integration,'' said Hashmi, who attended TechEd and was on the team of designers who worked on building SAP's event management feature within its XI offering. "The true value of NetWeaver is basically XI. It's the glue between the rest of the components within the NetWeaver stack." But everything from hardware configurations to data quality must be taken into account by customers planning to use XI, he said.

Likewise, Sunil Gupta, SAP's director of business development for Master Data Management said one of the best new features in MDM –- user-defined object modeling –- requires SAP customers to answer questions such as, "Which type of users should be in a position to create master data? "

"These are the sorts of questions our customers are asking themselves," Gupta said.

"They've got their work cut out for them, SAP customers," Hashmi said. "There are companies like Texas Instruments using XI and doing NetWeaver work -- the right way. Companies need to look at these early adopters and ask, 'What can I do today to get where I want to be next year -- and the year after.' "

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