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Sapphire bestseller: NetWeaver for Dummies

Copies of "NetWeaver for Dummies'' flew off the shelves at Sapphire yesterday, a sign that SAP is getting across its message regarding the importance of NetWeaver. But has some work to do when it comes to a deeper understanding.

NEW ORLEANS --Hewlett-Packard Company's Jim Loving is no dummy.

But that didn't prevent the product data manager from rushing to get SAP NetWeaver for Dummies, a 414-page book with a companion CD-ROM that was moving off the shelves Wednesday at a best-seller pace.

It was not clear whether the popularity of the SAP textbook is evidence of customer enthusiasm for NetWeaver or the confusion that surrounds it. But the bright yellow book was a coveted item on the Sapphire showroom floor yesterday, as customers crowded around a SAP booth for their copies.

They may not be ready to sign contracts to leverage the new technology, but many SAP users said they are warming to the company's long-range strategy, which rests on the NetWeaver platform.

Loving, who works in Marlborough, Mass., traveled from New England to New Orleans for SAP's annual Sapphire event this week. Loving came to Sapphire to find out how to get better .NET connectivity for HP's R/3 systems.

"NetWeaver is going to be a big part of that," Loving said. "That's why I got the book."

Loving was lucky this week, and not because he spent any time on the riverboat casino. Turns out SAP made .NET connectivity a centerpiece to its three-day user event here.

Yesterday's opening keynote, delivered by SAP CEO Henning Kagermann, included a videotaped appearance by Microsoft chairman and CEO Bill Gates. The two companies announced an enhanced partnership to provide tools and training for better connectivity between the two platforms.

"My job is to develop front-end applications to capture the data in SAP's back-office system," Loving said. "There's not a lot of good connectivity out there. So I was very glad to hear them talking about it."

Lynn Werther, vice president of SAP systems for VNU Inc., skipped the keynote, as many experienced conference-goers do. But she took time to pick up a copy of the new NetWeaver textbook.

Werther's shop currently runs R/3 4.6C and is weighing upgrade options. Asked whether she planned to leverage the entire NetWeaver technology stack, Werther replied, "I'll know after I read the book."

Murray Hill, N.J.-based Chris Dowd, director of IT strategy and planning for Lucent Technologies Inc., didn't get a copy of the book, but his boss did.

Dowd, like many SAP customers, said his shop is already leveraging pieces of the NetWeaver stack.

"We're not using the suite as they have defined it," Dowd said. "My team definitely understands what it is. The question is, 'How do you deploy it?' ''

Dowd's IT team is currently researching the business case for NetWeaver, and discovering that the piece most valuable to them -- Master Data Management (MDM) --- "isn't quite there yet."

MDM is available, but Joshua Greenbaum, principal consultant at Enterprise Applications Consulting of Berkeley, Calif., said SAP needs to "build out data models" to help customers deploy MDM.

"MDM is one of the best and most influential pieces of NetWeaver," Greenbaum said. "But it has multiple deployment scenarios, and SAP will have to help customers decide how to deploy it."

SAP is "flogging" customers with NetWeaver education," Greenbaum said, and the strategy seems to be working. "Understanding is step No. 1. That you should upgrade in order to leverage NetWeaver, that's another step for SAP."

The problem, Greenbaum said, is that NetWeaver isn't for dummies at all.

"That's fundamentally the problem," Greenbaum said. "It's a complex technology. It's actually for really smart people."

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