In this two-part series, SearchSAP.com careers expert Jon Reed examines some popular and not so popular terms in the SAP world -- including NetWeaver, Duet and Enterprise SOA -- to help determine where SAP's technology is headed.
Since I began my career in SAP in 1995, I've had many a chuckle trying to keep track of SAP's constantly changing terminology. But SAP's buzzwords are very serious business, because when SAP stops using one phrase in favor of another, there is always a reason. And if you don't take the time to understand that reason, you can find yourself out of a job.
For example, for a time in the mid-1990s, ALE-EDI-IDoc was the hottest technical skill set going. When I noticed the slowdown in ALE jobs, I thought something was up. One ALE consultant I knew agreed with me. He started pursuing hot EAI technologies like WebMethods, which eventually led him into XML and then NetWeaver XI. By paying attention to what terminology SAP was emphasizing, he stayed marketable. Other ALE folks weren't so lucky.
There are numerous other examples, perhaps none more prominent than the so-called "New Dimensions" products that were once thought of as the future of SAP. When SAP stopped using the "New Dimensions" term, it was a high-level indication that the post-Y2K strategy of focusing on branding add-on components was not working. SAP has reclaimed its market position by refocusing on innovating, with the core ERP release first and foremost. Sure, SAP's terminology choices can be a little wacky sometimes -- "New Dimensions" always seemed like a better name for a religious cult than a product line -- but the usage is always intentional.
This year's Sapphire conference demonstrated which terms SAP is emphasizing and which it is downplaying. Some of the results may surprise you.
While this is fun and useful, there is speculation involved. We can't always be certain of SAP's exact motivation, but the frequency of usage is almost always a good indicator. Even a subtle shift, like the one from "Enterprise Portal" to "NetWeaver Portal," has a purpose. In this case, we can probably attribute the change to SAP's focus on the NetWeaver brand, but SAP's efforts to distance itself from the 4.7 "Enterprise Edition" of R/3 may also have something to do with it.
With that in mind, let's look at some buzzwords and rate them on a scale from "boiling hot" to "ice cold." One note about methodology: In addition to interviews with SAP product managers, I compiled all the press releases and did searches on certain phrases to determine their relative popularity. I also considered the underlying market conditions influencing these changes.
Take this press release analysis with a grain of salt, because SAP always tries to tone down the use of proprietary terms when they issue big press releases. But we can be safe in concluding that the buzzwords emphasized in these releases are the key terms SAP is branding at this time.
Ice Cold: "Basis"
Why? Almost any terms linked to the "R/3 era" are being phased out. "Basis" is high on the list of terms that no SAP executive will use in public. The only problem is that many companies still need Basis specialists, and a similar term to describe NetWeaver skills has not yet taken hold. I'm not sure that there can be a "NetWeaver specialist" because NetWeaver encompasses so many tools and technologies, and includes development environments. The term "NetWeaver Administrator" might be the logical transition from "Basis Administrator," but we haven't seen it used much. Nevertheless, "Basis" is out, and all Basis folks are on notice that NetWeaver is the future.
Since you can brand only so many terms on a massive level, the heavy branding of "NetWeaver" means some other term has to take the back seat. That term is "mySAP."
Why? Rewind to the year 2000. ERP suites were being mocked as monolithic dinosaurs, unable to keep up with the speed of the Internet. ERP vendors were getting hammered for their awkward "user-unfriendly" interfaces. Best-of-breed darlings like Siebel, Ariba and Commerce One were the industry darlings. Even the term "SAP" suddenly had "legacy" connotations.
The solution? The "New Dimension" product line and slapping "mySAP" on virtually every SAP product name. At the time, the use of the prefix "my" implied an Internet-readiness, an ability to customize an application or Web site for the individual user.
Any consultant looking to stay on the cutting edge was trying to get some type of "mySAP" experience. Now, "mySAP" is on the way to semi-retired status. Yes, it is still prominently used as part of the name for SAP's main releases, "mySAP ERP" and "mySAP Business Suite," but now you'll often see these applications referred to simply as SAP ERP. And instead of mySAP CRM, it's now usually just SAP CRM.
The term "NetWeaver" was used 57 times in the press releases, the term "mySAP" only once. Why does this matter? This terminology change points to the rejuvenation of the core SAP release. In the age of service-oriented architecture (SOA), ERP is cool again -- as long as it can talk to the outside world and doesn't require a team of coders to make something work. It's no coincidence that most of the jobs we see these days involve core SAP release and upgrade work -- classic financials and human resources projects with some Internet-based bells and whistles thrown in. "MySAP" is still a welcome term, but like a great racehorse, it's run the hard laps and now it's heading out to pasture.v
Really Hot: "Duet"
Hot but Cooling: "Portals"
Why? While NetWeaver Portals is still a big part of SAP's product line, the company is not emphasizing Portals in its literature as much as it once did. Meanwhile, the visibility of Duet, SAP's "user friendly" partnership with Microsoft, continues to increase, with a couple of high-profile Duet announcements. The numbers tell the story: Sapphire press releases used the term "Duet" 44 times. NetWeaver Portals was used four times.
When Portals was first released, SAP envisioned that corporate users would work primarily through their SAP Portal. Basically, SAP wanted to control the corporate user's desktop the way Microsoft controls the desktop of the individual consumer (you can never fault SAP for lack of ambition). The Duet emphasis is SAP's partial surrender to Microsoft on this matter. Yes, SAP is still pushing Portals as the interface of choice whenever possible, but if users prefer to work through Microsoft Office and access their SAP data through Office applications, SAP will make it happen.
The lesson is: Don't try to impose something on the market that it will not accept. Fight battles you can win. SAP has a chance to be the leading "Enterprise SOA" innovator. It has no chance to beat Microsoft Office on the user's desktop. The only real surprise is how cozy this partnership has become. Microsoft is not going after SAP's Fortune 100 ERP clients, but it's going to be a formidable SMB competitor.
How this will affect the Duet partnership remains to be seen. For now, though, the image of one set of hands shaking and another set in a thumb war is an odd but accurate way to describe this "partnership." It's hard to say how the Duet emphasis will affect SAP consulting opportunities. Portals consultants will still get a lot of work, and most SAP pros will want to have Portals in their toolkit. But it's good to understand that SAP users will access SAP data from a variety of applications and platforms -- it won't be "all or nothing" either way. Many users will rely on Portals and Duet working in concert.
Check Part 2 of this series, which examines the terms "NetWeaver BI," "Enterprise SOA" and more.
Jon Reed is an independent SAP analyst who writes on SAP consulting trends. Most recently, he served as the vice president and founding editor of SAPtips. He is the author of the SAP Consultant Handbook. Jon has been publishing SAP career and market analysis for more than a decade. He is the career expert for SearchSAP.com's Ask The Expert panel.