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SAP slips in integration-centric BPM market

SAP is no longer a leader in integration-centric BPM, according to a recent Forrester study. More stringent SOA requirements and exchange infrastructure issues caused SAP to lag.

Despite its heavy emphasis on business process management (BPM) recently, SAP has failed to keep pace with some of the competition in one area of the market, according to a recent study.

SAP slipped in the most recent evaluation of the integration-centric business process management suite (IC-BPMS) market by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, Inc.

Forrester renamed its integration suites category IC-BPMS before the current study to reflect product enhancements made by vendors. IC-BPMS products developed primarily out of the enterprise application integration space. Its vendors represent about half of the BPM market, with human-centric BPMS (HC-BPMS) vendors making up the rest.

The HC-BPMS market consists of many smaller vendors whose products are more suited for processes involving "extensive interaction between human beings," according to the report.

No longer in the leader category, SAP now rates as a strong performer, according to the report. SAP's applications themselves did not necessarily get weaker -- rather others', such as Oracle's, IBM's, Sun Microsystems' and BEA Systems', got stronger, said Mike Gilpin, research director for Forrester.

Forrester also instituted more stringent requirements in the areas of BPM and service-oriented architecture (SOA) in this version of the study, which hurt SAP's rating as well, Gilpin said.

There were two particular areas where SAP was seen lagging, according to the report.

In the area of business-to-business, SAP still requires customers to obtain support for electronic data interchange (EDI) from a third-party provider. Despite the growth of other approaches, EDI is still the primary way business gets conducted electronically today, according to Gilpin.

"Even Microsoft has seen the light on supporting EDI natively," said Ken Vollmer, principal analyst for Forrester.

High-volume exchange infrastructure (XI) is another area of weakness. While SAP's XI component has demonstrated its capabilities in low- and mid-volume cases, customer references for high-volume uses were nonexistent.

"We suspect the reason we haven't been able to get any high-volume user references is because SAP doesn't have any," Gilpin said. "As soon as SAP has customer references that prove XI in high-volume uses, then its ranking could improve."

NetWeaver does remain a good option for customers already running many SAP applications and looking for integration and BPM features, according to Forrester.

On the flip side, for organizations that do not consider NetWeaver their application platform, offerings from other vendors can potentially trump SAP. For example, Redwood City, Calif.-based Oracle's hot-pluggable architecture is well suited for integrating products from many different vendors.

SAP has placed an increased focus on BPM in the past year, including the creation of a BPM Expert Community. Gilpin does not necessarily think that SAP's slip in the ratings is a concern for the company.

"SAP wants to be on the short list of potential vendors for every account where they represent a majority of the applications," Gilpin said. "The company has a good enough solution to do that today."

One way SAP is protecting this position is with its SOA strategy. Gilpin likes the direction SAP is going, but does see a potential speed bump.

A lot of the new SOA capabilities that SAP provides are only available to those that upgrade to NetWeaver from older software versions. Users that don't want to upgrade on SAP's schedule may have to turn to other options.

Infrastructure vendors, such as IBM, are generally willing to provide SOA to those with older SAP software versions and can step in as an alternative.

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For its part, Oracle has remained in the leader category, and Gilpin views the company as having a different market position than SAP. It can sell into accounts in two ways -- as an application vendor and as an infrastructure vendor.

Oracle's investment in middleware has resulted in a credible platform, and Gilpin also cites the company's hot-pluggable architecture as having potential market impact.

"Hot-pluggable can be a unifying infrastructure in a heterogeneous shop. Whether a company uses IBM, Microsoft, et cetera, Oracle can be the one to tie everything together," Gilpin said.

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