SAP's competitive advantages

SearchSAP.com conference analyst Joshua Greenbaum sees big potential in SAP's newest technology, xApps and CMDM.

CHICAGO -- SAP's two newest initiatives, xApps and Collaborative Master Data Management (CMDM), may not yet be understood, but they should not be underestimated, according to one of the SearchSAP.com Conference speakers, industry analyst Joshua Greenbaum.

Principal at Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting, Greenbaum told a crowd of SAP decision-makers that his recent discussions with SAP executives, and an analysis of the company's latest offerings, left him optimistic, albeit cautiously, that SAP's xApps and CMDM technology will have significant and positive effects in companies that use them.

"I honestly believe it's where software is going," said Greenbaum, referring to SAP's xApps. Some analysts, including another speaker at the conference, AMR Research Inc. senior vice president Jim Shepherd, have said in recent weeks that it was unclear to them whether xApps could translate from the boardroom to the real world, and non-SAP users. Greenbaum, though, sees a brighter view.

"In my opinion, xApps are the ultimate leverage investment project," Greenbaum said. His opinion was neither a guarantee nor an endorsement of xApps, he added. Still, he believes that SAP users will benefit greatly from xApps technology and that other software makers will attempt to follow suit.

SAP says xApps will snap into place on top of whatever existing applications a user may have, regardless of platform or vendor. Then xApps will open up application data so that a user can pull together all relevant "pieces" of information on demand, rather than having to waste time searching each application manually. This enhanced access to key data can be used to streamline business processes, especially in heterogeneous environments.

That caught the attention of Marjorie Green, SAP manager at Omaha, Neb.-based Avaya Inc., and one of the 450 SAP professionals who attended the first annual SearchSAP.com Conference, a three-day event. "It opened my eyes to a few new things," said Green, who came to the conference concerned mostly with tapping the most she could from her existing systems. "I like to be on the leading edge," Green said, "but not the bleeding edge."

Greenbaum's presentation on CMDM was the first many conference attendees had heard on the single data repository that SAP introduced earlier this year.

SAP describes CMDM as a revolutionary product designed to solve the widespread challenges of data integration from multiple systems, physical locations and diverse vendors. CMDM then utilizes the harmonized data to support collaborative e-business scenarios in heterogeneous IT system landscapes.

"I almost can't find a company that couldn't use it," Greenbaum said. CMDM technology is more evidence that SAP is interested in supporting heterogeneous environments, Greenbaum said. "OK, it's happening five years later than it should have," but SAP's commitment to openness, he said, seems genuine to him. Referring to SAP's willingness to open its architectural outlines to include the names of other companies, Greenbaum said. "I hope you appreciate the radical change in the SAP mindset that this represents."

Like xApps, CMDM will go a long way toward supporting heterogeneity, Greenbaum said. "It's the one version of the truth, from the data standpoint," he said, referring to the universal data objects CMDM architecture supports.

CMDM technology will run on SAP's Web Application Server (WAS) and will offer a big advantage in the way of de-duping, Greenbaum said. "De-duping is one of those horrible things you have to do," said Greenbaum, who cited an SAP case study that showed $4 million in savings for a company with 5 million records, 10% of them duplicate records, requiring 10,000 changes per year.

So, Greenbaum asked, what's the catch? "You actually have to understand how you're going to use the data," he said. "You're going to have to think about this as a business process."

"Then you really can continue to have a competitive advantage from your IT environment. It doesn't have to be just cost containment," he said.

Greenbaum did issue warnings, pointing to what he called SAP's not-so-great history of managing partners, a big part of the xApps strategy. He predicted the technology would not be available until the third quarter of 2003.

Sen Pulakesh, an Infosys Technologies Ltd. project manager based in Fremont, Calif., said he appreciated Greenbaum's enthusiasm. "I came here for two things," Pulakesh said. "To find out what is happening in the SAP market and what the upcoming opportunities are for SAP customers."

Still, Pulakesh said, he was more concerned that users were not getting the most out of their existing systems than he was with new technology. "Overall, it's a wonderful package. Nothing matches SAP in terms of integration," Pulakesh said. "There's nothing like it in the world."

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