SAP users want to unravel NetWeaver mystery

SAP pros attending this week's SearchSAP.com user conference confess to knowing relatively little about NetWeaver.

CHICAGO -- Amid all the new products, strategies and upgrade options that SAP has been talking about during the last 12 months, there is one key question that SAP pros must be able to answer: What is NetWeaver?

"I have no idea," offered Jim Stevenson, manager of SAP business processes for Orland Park, Ill.,-based Andrew Corp. "Is it an application? An architecture? A box? I heard one guy say it was a bus, and that made sense to me."

In SAP's words, NetWeaver is a comprehensive integration and application platform that lowers total costs of ownership by leveraging existing systems and software. The company has also made clear that the future of its technology portfolio revolves around the platform, and many analysts agree that it should provide SAP with a distinct competitive advantage. Now SAP is faced with the task of defining NetWeaver for its customers. The challenge, analysts say, is that NetWeaver is both a strategy and a technology.

In a recent online SearchSAP.com survey, 80% of 275 respondents said they currently have little or no understanding of NetWeaver.

SAP America CEO Bill McDermott, who addressed 375 SAP decision makers at this week's SearchSAP.com conference in an hour-long question-and-answer session, said he believes the NetWeaver message needs to be "overcommunicated" until customers have a clear understanding of it.

In other words, it's crucial for SAP customers to understand the importance of NetWeaver. On that point, SAP, analysts and users are apparently in agreement.

"It's the technology future for SAP and its customers," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Application Consulting. Greenbaum described NetWeaver as the innovation infrastructure for composite applications, which are the future of enterprise software.

Conference attendee Steve Wrolstad, a Plano, Texas-based managing consultant for EDS, defined NetWeaver several ways. "It's going to Web-enable the whole application from the ground up, and that's a big deal," Wrolstad said.

Amit Purohit, a Kankakee, Ill.-based programmer for Micro Inks Corp., knows what NetWeaver is, but it makes him nervous. "Currently, it's a little frightening for ABAP programmers," Purohit said. He was referring to the fact that NetWeaver is J2EE compatible, he said. "SAP keeps saying that ABAP programmers aren't going anywhere, but there are many more Java developers in SAP now."

Key technologies in NetWeaver were highlighted by Greenbaum during a session at the conference titled "NetWeaver from A-Z." He defined NetWeaver as a development, deployment and management platform.

NetWeaver technologies include the enterprise portal; business intelligence and master data management; exchange infrastructure; Web application server; and a composite applications framework.

"If you are a pure SAP shop [and] you have a big SAP skill base, then NetWeaver is definitely for you," Greenbaum said. Mixed and legacy shops can also gain "high value" from NetWeaver, he said.

Pieces of NetWeaver can be leveraged without upgrading to a mySAP ERP license, and many customers may choose to test some of its capabilities by heading to Enterprise first, Greenbaum said. Greenbaum encouraged users to get at least to Enterprise, so they can better integrate Java technologies and take advantage of the Web application server.

Key to understanding NetWeaver is understanding how composite applications can improve total cost of ownership and revenue streams, Greenbaum said.

"They add value out of functionality," he said. "This is important, in my mind, because we see a lot of reporting tools, reporting functions and business analytics go into applications and get data and throw it up on the screen. That's not really an application service; it's a piece of analytics."

One of Greenbaum's favorite NetWeaver features is called master data management (MDM). "This is really their attempt at a single version of the truth, a single course of all data, SAP data and non-SAP data. It allows you to synchronize data in [an] SAP environment," Greenbaum said.

"There is a common problem for SAP users -- synchronizing data across the board," he added. If SAP can pull it off, and pull it off successfully, Greenbaum said, "it's going to make a huge difference to users."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Coverage of SearchSAP.com conference -- Chicago 2003

SearchSAP.com news exclusive: " SAP pros rate support, seek upgrade advice"

SAP: Skip Enterprise, jump to mySAP ERP"

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