SAP report card: NetWeaver, xApps slowly sink in

Two years after NetWeaver and xApps were first spotted on the horizon, the fog is slowly lifting among customers.

SAP recently concluded a 12-month, 75-city NetWeaver educational tour to teach customers about its vision for NetWeaver.

So far, though, it looks like plenty of SAP customers will need a NetWeaver refresher course this fall.

SAP has made some progress, for sure. The company said it has 1,000 reference customers who have installed components of NetWeaver. And a recent SearchSAP.com survey of 300 site subscribers shows that 15% of respondents understand NetWeaver "very well." In 2003, less than a year after SAP first introduced the technology stack, only 3% of survey participants said they understood the technology that well.

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The number of survey participants who said they didn't understand NetWeaver at all dropped by nearly half in 2004. Still, 43% of respondents were unsure whether NetWeaver would ever become part of their systems.

"We're very confused about what NetWeaver really is," said Tim Relis, Sargento Foods Inc. manager of shared technologies and one of the SAP decision makers who attended last week's SearchSAP.com Conference in Chicago. Relis echoed a sentiment that can be heard among many SAP users: "On the technical side, I don't have a good idea of what it can do for us. [But] I do have more of an understanding than I did last year."

At its recent Tech Ed San Diego 2004 conference, SAP said it planned to service-enable the entire NetWeaver technology stack by 2007. Several analysts, including Gartner Inc. research vice president Yvonne Genovese, are predicting that more than half of SAP's global install base will not have upgraded to SAP systems that run NetWeaver by 2007. Joshua Greenbaum, market research analyst and consultant with Berkeley, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting, said SAP's goal is to make it so that "everything in the NetWeaver stack, and by extension, will be accessible via a Web service."

"They have been relatively upfront about the fact that not every NetWeaver interface has a Web service yet," Greenbaum said. "That's an ongoing effort which involves a certain amount of re-engineering of the APIs [application programming interfaces]. It's a pretty ambitious goal and I do think it's absolutely essential to the whole vision of NetWeaver."

The integrated technology stack is the foundation for SAP's core offerings after 4.6C, and is central to SAP's Enterprise Services Architecture -- SAP's answer to the demand for Web services and service-oriented architecture.

SAP customers understand NetWeaver more than xApps technology, which SAP introduced to customers along with NetWeaver.

The SearchSAP.com survey showed that 50% had no plans to use xApp technology, which is being developed for vertical industries with SAP partners. There are currently 150 xApps on the market, according to SAP.

An SAP spokesman said that number was not surprising. "I think that's exactly what we would expect, really, from a new breed of composite apps, that bolt on to solve specific problems," said SAP spokesman Bill Wohl. "If you aren't a company, for example, engaging in mergers and acquisitions, then you aren't likely to be paying attention to the xApps technology around that challenge."

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