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SAP bolsters developer community to prep for SOA

SAP is taking steps to open its architecture to developers and independent software makers to get feedback on its products and create a fast system to develop Web services.

LAS VEGAS -- SAP has identified opportunities in the retail, banking and financial services industries to increase its bottom line, but one area it believes could help foster faster growth is its community of software developers.

What once was a tight group of developers dedicated to ABAP code, now needs to be a network of developers dedicated to Java, .NET and other programming languages, said George Paolini, senior vice president for platform ecosystem development at SAP. As SAP software is services enabled, opening up the hood to reveal the code base could help independent software developers and individual customers develop their own set of services and composite applications, Paolini said.

Paolini, who spoke to analysts at SAP's summit that laid out SAP strategy into 2006, said SAP's bolstered developer Web site, SDN, is seeing an increase in members.

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SDN is an SAP-controlled environment for developers, which offers free software downloads, sample code, forums, blogs and documentation for SAP software. SAP is trying to get more independent software vendors (ISVs) to launch products on NetWeaver and to enable customers to lobby for new features directly to the developer community.

Paolini, who is credited with building support for Java development for Sun Microsystems Inc., was brought in to foster a community around NetWeaver development. SAP has been cultivating the Web site for nearly two years to answer questions about specific technologies and offer in-depth technical specifications for different products.

Today, the site has more than 260,000 members and the active discussion boards help back SAP's belief that an active and close-knit community helps improve customer satisfaction and speed development of new products, Paolini said.

"We're building out and abstracting an operating system for enterprise services," he said. "We also need to bring products around those services to market."

As companies begin projects to Web enable parts of their business, the trend toward a service-oriented architecture (SOA) is going to take collaboration between developer communities, according to analysts. Bill Richardson, senior vice president of research at Boston-based AMR Research Inc., has written that an online network that fosters sharing between developers building composite applications and Web services will thrive.

Microsoft's MSDN, which was formed in 1991, and Oracle's Technology Network, which launched in 1998, have been important contributors in the effort to build support and raise the level of communication between software vendors and their customers.

Building a relationship with partners to serve the customer base is also important to SAP, Paolini said. He highlighted how SAP is licensing its enterprise services architecture plan and releasing a series of development kits to open up the code base to partners, create new products on the NetWeaver platform, and identify the services and products being considered by ISVs in their niche market.

Donald Rippert, chief technology officer of Accenture, called SOA an external force that makes an organization change for the greater good.

"SAP opened up its platform and created an environment that allows ISVs to work collaboratively with the customer to create a set of services and mix together software from different companies to suit their needs," Rippert said.

Accenture has been a strong SAP customer with more than 1,750 SAP projects. Nearly 100 of its services areas are built on SAP, he said.

"Our job isn't to invent the base technology, our job is to take technology and develop it into a business benefit," Rippert said.

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