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SAP pushes xApps out front

Now that its NetWeaver strategy is better understood by customers, SAP is on a mission to have its xApp message heard loud and clear.

SAP says xApps will just "snap in place," but some analysts say SAP still needs to prove that its xApps technology -- composite applications that draw data from several sources to solve a specific business problem -- is easy to deploy and worth the investment.

SAP's Cross Applications, also known as xApps sit on top of existing applications, regardless of platform or vendor. Simply put, the xApp can pull application data from multiple sources so that a user can combine all relevant information to solve a problem, without searching each application manually.

SAP describes xApps as a crucial part of its NetWeaver platform, and is focused now on explaining the potential benefits of xApps to its global customers.

With just 100 xApp installations since the technology was released in 2002, SAP is trying to strengthen the xApps market by certifying xApps developed by independent software vendors (ISVs). SAP plans to roll out additional xApps later this year, and recently announced the Emissions Management xApp for the oil and gas industry.

xApps are solving a fairly distinct and clear pain point for an enterprise, so it's not like installing a complete ERP system.
Sanjeev Agrawal
xApp product managerSAP

"The real challenge for SAP is to show that xApps provide enough vertical functionality to be interesting for a customer,'' and also be configured, "so that the implementation is very quick and easy," said Joshua Greenbaum, principal consultant at Berkeley, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting.

Many xApps are built by customers, rather than introduced by SAP. Markdorf, Germany-based TechniData created the Emissions Management xApp, which became available last week.

"xApps are solving a fairly distinct and clear pain point for an enterprise, so it's not like installing a complete ERP system," said Sanjeev Agrawal, xApp product manager with SAP. "They're designed to snap on and sit on top of the underlying system."

SAP is stepping into new territory by developing applications for processes that are so highly customized, said Michael Dominy, a senior analyst on business applications and commerce with Boston-based Yankee Group.

"SAP wants to be able to offer their customers the ability to buy and xApps, or to buy the tools that are within NetWeaver, and customize existing SAP functions and capabilities to meet their requirements," Dominy said. "This is why NetWeaver continues to be a big addition for SAP."

With Emissions Management, an administrator at a manufacturing plant can use a dashboard to get a single view of the plant's emissions compared to the environmental standards that must be met.

With the Cost and Quotation Management xApp, a supplier of parts in the automotive industry, for example, can get a more accurate demand forecast by pulling data from a variety of applications.

"This gives them a much more rigorous model to identify the cost and then be able to construct a quote based on a much better understanding of their costs," said SAP's Agrawal.

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Agile Solutions, an IT consultancy based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, advises companies on customer resource management software. It was one of the first companies to install SAP's Resource and Portfolio Management xApp.

The application pulls data together for managers to get a single view of project budgets, schedules and financial risk.

SAP said that Agile's SAP xRPM implementation started in July of 2003 and lasted 10 weeks. No underlying infrastructure changes were required. Two SAP consultants were on-site full time during the implementation.

"Companies like Agile need data, processes and functionality from siloed applications to come together to solve a specific need," Agrawal said. "To use the whole value of NetWeaver, companies will need to create xApps or use the tools within NetWeaver to build their own composite apps."

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