ORLANDO, Fla. -- The man who 30 years ago helped start SAP believes that his company has stronger leadership than ever amid the changing industry landscape and that service-based enterprise architectures will drive the future of business applications.
Instead of delivering a traditional keynote address at the annual Sapphire conference, SAP's annual U.S. user event, Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP and chairman of the company's supervisory board, took the opportunity to answer questions from audience members who had submitted them beforehand.
Plattner said that his main technology-related goal will be to improve the user experience of the company's products. Overall, he acknowledged, the end-user experience has suffered since SAP redesigned its screens to work with the Windows operating system instead of Unix, because there is nearly 50% less space available on the screen. However, Platter said that is likely to change as the computing industry moves toward the 16x9 aspect ratio that is gaining popularity in the television market.
Plattner made a point of addressing SAP's new service-based architecture strategy. He said the database-centric application model employed by his company and other vendors for years is now being replaced by applications that rely on Web services.
That model, he said, will allow for the integration of SAP's application portfolio with those of other vendors, including Microsoft Corp.
"We can't ignore that the world's most successful software application is Microsoft Office," Plattner said. "I don't know how it happened, but it happened. So we need to build apps on top of other apps and do it without a database."
Plattner said the ideal way to pull data and interfaces together from all those applications is through a portal environment, which is why a number of vendors, including SAP, are fighting a portal war.
He said SAP is best positioned to win that war because of its strong portal technology and because of the strong ease of use and instant information access capabilities in mySAP CRM 4.0.
Wayne Tourdot, an implementation manager at Rockford, Ill.-based Greenlee Textron Inc., said he is not concerned about SAP's future, even though Plattner has reduced his role. "I'm not that familiar with his past or current role," Tourdot said.
Tourdot's company is in the process of implementing SAP R/3 Enterprise, along with HR and BW capabilities. Textron's go-live date is not until March 2004, and Tourdot said that he traveled to the show primarily to learn about the initiatives SAP is developing with IBM Corp.
Malcolm Goodman, an IT director with Baltimore-based Millennium Inorganic Chemicals, said he was pleased to hear that Plattner understands the user interface problems that many SAP customers face.
"When we try to implement new features for end users, dealing with the user interface is the hardest part," said Goodman. He said his company is several product release versions behind on most of its SAP products, and his users will "have to suffer with the interfaces" until it upgrades in two years.
Goodman said he also liked what Plattner had to say about service-centric architectures, because "it has to be the wave of the future" in order to make data more available and improve the experience for end users.
Known for his no-holds-barred speaking style, Plattner plainly expressed his disdain for Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison and for Oracle's attempt to acquire rival PeopleSoft Inc. "It's not a surprise how he behaves," said Plattner of Ellison.
Plattner said that Oracle will likely force PeopleSoft's board of directors to endorse Oracle's hostile takeover to its shareholders, but combining the two companies probably won't be good for the business applications industry.
"I hope and I think -- this is my take -- that the PeopleSoft community will be strong enough just to tell Larry that there's no way that he can slaughter the company, because there's no way he can buy a company, stop development and offer replacement with a weaker product," Plattner said.
He then suggested that Oracle replace its own customer relationship management (CRM) product with PeopleSoft's, which drew a round of laughter and applause from the audience.
Plattner also addressed his transition in recent months from co-CEO to his new role on SAP's supervisory board, saying that his "personal" mission will be to protect the investment that he and the company's shareholders have made in SAP, likening his role to the one Bill Gates now fills for Microsoft.
In March, after a long period of speculation regarding his future with the company, Plattner relinquished his title as co-CEO. Henning Kagermann, who shared CEO responsibilities with Plattner for five years, became the company's sole chief executive.
"I hired Henning 21 years ago, so we had a long ramp-up phase" to his succession as CEO, said Plattner, adding that it is a sign of strength that SAP was able to find its next chief executive within the company.
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