I am attending SAP’s “Industry Influencer” conference this week. It is clearly an interesting time for SAP. The company’s platform is evolving both in scope, architecture, and markets. SAP is a company that likes control and likes to control its own world and the world of its customers. The message was clear. The customer is best served by adopting a homogeneous platform based on a business process layer and a repository based on SAP’s Netweaver. This is true whether you are a large enterprise or a mid-market customer.
SAP’s view of the world is quite interesting. It has appeal in many ways. If a customer buys in, they buy into a neat and clean view of the world where they can link into their accounting, CRM, multi-channel applications, logistical, shipping, etc. and have a process centric comprehensive view of the world. If the customer buys into the platform it does help the training and management of a very complicated world. I can see how a customer that buys into an SAP centric world could find the strategy compelling.
What is impressive about what I am hearing this morning is that SAP has a well thought out architectural plan that integrates a business process platform with the application platform, with a repository and a meta data and master data layer. The idea is that the customer interacts with an underlying platform that they never touch. Rather, the customer composes work flows at the upper layers of the platform to create composite applications.
So, why does this bother me? I think that because that the strategy and platform assumes that customers will be willing to adopt a single vendor platform that everything in their enterprise will flow through. To its credit, SAP does expect that third party applications and environments can be integrated through well defined interfaces. These outside resources would be integrated through the repository. However, will a customer want to give a single vendor that much power? Perhaps? Will most customers overcome the internal political issues to have everyone agree on a single platform across departments, subsidiaries, and even partners? I would say that I am skeptical.
If this is indeed a pure service oriented architecture platform as SAP claims, where is the loose coupling of services that offers the customer the flexibility and modularity that encompasses a heterogeneous environment?
So, how would SAP react to a situation where the customer doesn’t buy into the grand vision? What if a customer wants two or three SAP ERP applications but relies on some Oracle applications, some IBM middleware and services, and a bunch of home grown solutions? Can that customer make use of the end to end process platform? Or is it all or nothing? Right now it feels like if you don’t buy into NetWeaver you can’t play in an SAP SOA world.
I will write some other entries over the next day or so as I get more insight into what I am hearing.