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Sapphire 2009: SAP will focus on making software easier to use and deploy

Touting its 'clear enterprise' initiative, SAP opens its user conference telling customers how it will help them weather the economic storm.

ORLANDO -- Without much in the way of theatrics, Leo Apotheker christened his term as SAP's new CEO with the phrase...

"clear enterprise."

Instead of focusing on fancy new products, new sole-CEO Apotheker stressed ways that SAP's software -- the Business Suite and SAP BusinessObjects -- can work together to enable better clarity and decision-making in these tough economic times. Service-oriented architecture will continue to be a critical element in enabling this vision, and in SAP's product roadmap.

Apotheker stressed that the company would focus on making the software easier to deploy and use, in order, ultimately, to lower the total cost of ownership of running it. This included a promise that customers would soon be able to deploy human capital management (HCM) and expense management on-demand. But Apotheker didn't say when the vendor's SaaS ERP software, Business ByDesign, would be generally available.

"The users have changed," Apotheker said. "The digital generation … are joining the workforce, and they expect enterprise software to be easy to use, to be rich, and to be collaborative. They even want enterprise software to be fun."

Perhaps emphasizing that point is that this year's conference attracted 10,000 attendees -- a lower than usual attendance that SAP blamed on the economy. Yet 8,000 people will also attend parts of the conference "virtually."

Some of those 10,000 attendees heard Apotheker's message that SAP wanted to help them through this economy.

Tom Lowell, a technical manager with Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon, said he likes to attend Sapphire to get a sense of what the vendor's strategy is from year to year. He didn't think Apotheker's intention this year was to lay out a product roadmap or introduce new technology, but to reassure customers that SAP is thinking about them in this economy. But asked whether SAP can help them weather the economic storm, he said, "I think it's really going to be up to us," Lowell said. "It's a partnership but, ultimately, it's up to us."

Hartmut Heesen, who is responsible for ERP operations at Novartis in Switzerland, said that he enjoyed the keynote but wanted to think about it some more and dig into how some of the tools presented could lower his company's total cost of ownership.

On the theme of making its software easier to use, SAP debuted the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. The product brings together search and navigation capabilities from SAP BusinessObjects with the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator to help customers mine large data sets in a matter of seconds. The product will be available this summer.

Billed as "so easy, a CEO can use it," the product, in the context of the auto insurance industry, was demonstrated by Apotheker himself, much to the delight of the crowd. He found the statistics he was looking for in a matter of seconds.

"In order to break out of the high priests of analysis and allow everyone in the organization to use the software … that software needs to be much more 'Google-like,'" said John Schwarz, CEO of SAP BusinessObjects.

The first wave of the product release handles data in SAP BW. But the second wave, due sometime next year, will handle data in any data warehouse, according to Marge Breya, executive vice president and general manager of the SAP BusinessObjects intelligence platform and NetWeaver.

Beta users of the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer said their companies found the product extremely powerful and useful for making more educated decisions.

"[Their] first response is, 'Please don't take it away. When can I get this for real?'" said Vincent Vloemans, director of global information management at Sara Lee.

The "clear enterprise" initiative also rests on sustainable business practices by companies, SAP said. To that end, it introduced its sustainability roadmap, which includes -- among other things -- software for carbon and energy management, product safety and stewardship and sustainable workforce.

The vendor also announced the acquisition of Clear Standards, on-demand carbon management software.

SAP's goal, Apotheker said, is to "make every relevant business process sustainable."

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