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SAP CEOs preach networks, collaboration and BPM

Business networks and collaboration are the new competitive differentiators, SAP's co-CEOs said. Newly planned BPM tools will help users get there.

ORLANDO -- CIOs riding onto the stage on Harleys and pallet trucks are not usually part of your typical Sapphire event, but Jim Haney of Harley Davidson and Esat Sezar of Coca-Cola enterprises rolled onto the stage here yesterday to illustrate the central theme of keynote addresses by SAP's co-CEOs Henning Kagermann and Leo Apothekar.

Collaboration and business networks are the future of innovation, they said.

"John Chambers [CEO of Cisco] said collaboration is the most important change happening in business, and I agree with him," Kagermann said, explaining that there are two different types of networks -- coordinated and collaborative. "You need to manage both and you need to manage them on one platform. What is the connector? It's SOA, but I think it's not enough. It's just the necessary first step."

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Apothekar, who is expected to take over full-time CEO duties when Kagermann's contract expires in 2009, echoed the sentiment in an afternoon session. Amidst greater connectivity, hyper-competition, the emergence of new markets, and current economic uncertainty, organizations should look to networks as a key competitive differentiator.

Harley Davidson, for example, was able to orchestrate its processes, and network of dealers and customers before and after the purchase, by promoting a community around its motorcycle, which has bolstered the bottom line.

Predictably, Apothekar suggested that SAP was the answer.

"The SAP suite and NetWeaver are an effective backbone," he said. "Let the suite be the platform upon which you can differentiate and manage your network."

The next three years at SAP

Kagermann, who will soon be leaving SAP and suggested to reporters that part of his legacy would be changing the underlying architecture at SAP, laid out the company's priorities moving forward. In the next three years, he said, SAP will focus on three things in its product suite: lowering the total cost of ownership through initiatives like enhancement packs that eliminate the need for painful, costly upgrades; innovation around its products, focused not on individual modules like CRM and SCM but on end-to-end business processes; and empowering the end user through an improved user interface and embedded analytics.

SAP said yesterday that -- as part of that vision -- it will release a new set of Business Process Management (BPM) tools based on NetWeaver that will help users customize their applications and business processes. Business process experts will be able to execute or adapt processes without having to develop code.

SAP NetWeaver Business Process Manager, developed under the codename "Project Galaxy," will feature three capabilities: a process composer to model business processes based on the BPM modeling notation (BPMN) standard and integrated into the Eclipse development framework; a process server, based on Java EE, to directly execute those process models without requiring translation steps between model and code; and a process desk that processes participants' interface to their assigned tasks by means of forms, interactive screens and collaboration tasks.

The NetWeaver BPM tools are targeted for general availability in early 2009 in the SAP NetWeaver Composition Environment Enhancement Pack 1 and will be available to ramp up customers in the third quarter of this year.

While the announcement today was a step, SAP has a long way to go with its BPM initiative, according to Joshua Greenbaum, principal and founder of Daly City, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting.

"BPM is a journey, not a destination, and they've shown some solid steps on that journey," Greenbaum said. "One tough thing they have to do is to temper people's enthusiasm with some reality; but it's a great start. They're taking the right steps, but there's a long way to go to fully reach the vision of BPM."

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