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SAP's xApps potential untested

SAP's xApps are a way of SAP showing they are inclusive, not exclusive. The new cross-application initiative has way to go, though, before it's success is cemented.

SAP's new cross-application initiative, xApps, has been at the top of SAP's agenda since it was announced at the company's annual user conferences in Orlando, Fla., earlier this year. Considered by SAP to be a good example of how it is moving toward a more inclusive IT role, xApps work with applications other than SAP's.

Some analysts, though, aren't so sure that non-SAP users benefit from xApps.

The plan is for xApps to snap into place on top of whatever existing applications a user may have, regardless of platform or vendor. The xApp can then open up the application data so that a user can pull together all relevant "pieces" of information on demand, rather than having to waste time searching each application manually. This enhanced access to key data can be used to streamline business processes, especially in heterogeneous environments.

SAP xApps supports all standards, and every standard is supported by these systems, according to SAP. But that does not automatically mean that everyone should use xApps, said Tom Harwick, research director at Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass.

While it is technically feasible to implement xApps in environments other than SAP, Harwick does not expect many non-SAP users to do so. You don't want to just buy tiny bits and pieces of SAP, he said. The big value of SAP comes when you run all the different parts together, and this applies to xApps as well, according to Harwick.

"xApps are worth it if you're trying to integrate something with SAP, but not otherwise." He said. "Non-SAP shops are not going to want this product."

SAP has few application suites in the works at this point. SAP xRPM (Resource & Program Management) is due for a December release. Looking toward 2003, products in development include a new Enterprise Mergers and Acquisitions application and employee-productivity xApps.

This comes at a time when PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards are making similar moves in the market, offering products designed to integrate multi-vendor applications. PeopleSoft's AppConnect, announced in August, comes with a pre-integrated portal and promises to take full advantage of modern Web services technology. J.D. Edwards will upgrade its Extended Process Integration middleware software to support Web services and work with diverse applications through an extensive set of preset business processes.

SAP executive Shai Agassi, speaking at the InfoWorld Next Generation Web Services conference in Santa Clara, Calif., last month, urged developers to identify xApp opportunities and pursue them. This kind of simple value-add can help streamline business processes and save millions in maintenance costs per year, Agassi said.

"We're not looking to replace anything that works, whether it's SAP, Oracle or Peoplesoft," said Kaj van de Loo, director of product strategy at SAP Global Business Unit Commerce Applications. "The goal is to simply add the ability to share information across all parts of the company."

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