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Sapphire 2007: The state of NetWeaver

NetWeaver continues to be a point of emphasis for SAP. Sapphire attendees have mixed thoughts on the obstacles and benefits of NetWeaver upgrades.

ATLANTA -- In the years since SAP announced its NetWeaver platform strategy, the company's development framework has been a particularly hot topic at Sapphire conferences, with debate raging as to how quickly or slowly customers should upgrade. Now, at Sapphire 2007, what is the state of NetWeaver?

An ASUG (Americas' SAP Users' Group) survey found that 57% of U.S. customers are planning to make NetWeaver their "strategic platform" in 2008.

That leaves 43% of companies still not on NetWeaver within a year. According to the same ASUG survey, however, 75% of U.S. customers will be in the process of upgrading by mid-2008.

NetWeaver Statistics:

13,000 live NetWeaver platform customers

500 customers go live on NetWeaver platform per month

75% of US SAP customers will at least be in the upgrade process by mid-2008

57% of US SAP customers planning to make NetWeaver their "strategic platform" by 2008

4% of US customers have no plans to upgrade to NetWeaver

Source: SAP and ASUG

Joshua Greenbaum, principal and founder of Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting, said that the volume of customers already on the NetWeaver platform -- now 13,000 worldwide, according to Peter Graf, executive vice president of SAP Solution Marketing at SAP -- and the 500 accounts going live per month, are evidence of solid momentum. The question is: Why are companies upgrading, and what is holding them back?

Modular software deployment is a vital step in the "next generation of enterprise software," SAP founder Hasso Plattner said in his keynote address Monday. Many attendees have taken advantage of parts of what NetWeaver can offer but aren't yet making full use of the platform.

Paul Gross, senior vice president and CIO of Brown Forman Corporation, a wine and spirits producer based in Louisville, Ky., reports that his company is still on version 4.6c but has upgraded some of its SAP components, like BW (business information warehouse), to the NetWeaver platform. The resource requirements of a complete upgrade are holding the company back.

"Because [NetWeaver] is so integrated and has such a broad footprint, we need to put a lot of other initiatives on hold for a time while we do the upgrade," Gross said. "We just haven't found that opportunity yet."

Not having the time and/or resources to do a full-scale upgrade seemed to be a theme on the show floor.

Karl Stroud, ERP operations manager at St. Louis-based Monsanto, an agricultural company, indicated that pulling resources away from other projects was a major reason the company hasn't upgraded yet.

Philips Electronics, a high-tech manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in New York, faced slightly different obstacles. The company has NetWeaver in place and is currently using it only in limited scenarios, such as demand planning. Mark Appelhaus, the company's chief architect for information technology, also cites user issues as a reason for not making more use of the platform.

"[Philips' obstacles] are mostly people management -- getting people up to speed on what the technology offers, how to use the technology and how to implement the technology," Applehaus said.

Which echoes another point Plattner made in his keynote -- useful software is, almost by definition, complicated.

One thing that is not expected to affect NetWeaver adoption is Shai Agassi's exit.

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"Shai Agassi's departure came at a point where the offering had matured to where it was really an execution question in the field and not a strategy question," Greenbaum explained. "Maybe if he left two years ago it would've been different."

No matter what the obstacles, the consensus seems to be that moving to the NetWeaver platform is just a matter of time.

"The truth is, nobody has a choice to stay on a 20th-century platform; you have to pick your poison," Greenbaum said. "It's the equivalent of buying a car for a teenager: My advice would be to buy a modern car with anti-lock breaks and airbags. Don't give them your '68 Chevy that still drives well, but if they got in an accident you'd be going to their funeral."

Attendees agreed with the analogy, with everyone interviewed for this story indicating that their companies intend to rely more on NetWeaver in the future.

"We will upgrade," Monsanto's Stroud said. "We recognize the value of the newer platform and all the things it can offer, and there are many things the business wants to accomplish with the new platform."

In fact, according to Greenbaum, the ASUG survey indicated that only 4% of SAP customers have no intention of making NetWeaver their strategic platform at some point. Greenbaum believes that, by and large, it's worth the investment.

"Unfortunately, you're going to have to go spend some money," he said, "but you're going to get a lot more capabilities."

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