Already the world's largest vendor of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, SAP will seek to further bolster its core R/3 suite while trying to expand its reach even further up the supply chain and deliver packages tailored to nearly every major industry.
In addition, many third-party vendors, including Netscape, will pay homage to SAP during this week's SAPphire user conference in Los Angeles. Netscape will extend its Application Server to support R/3. The company will follow up late this year with an SAP-specific version of its Application Server that will include development tools, according to John Paul, Netscape's senior vice president of server products.
For its part, SAP will be showcasing R/3 Release 4.5, an upgrade that introduces improved management, an enhanced user interface, and better integration with non-R/3 applications. The spotlight will also be on three new products SAP sketched out six months ago.
Now being described in detail and due to ship at year's end, the products are Supply Chain Optimization, Planning and Resources (SCOPE), SAP's Internet-enabled supply-chain initiative; Advanced Planning and Optimizer, or APO; and SAP Sales-Force Automation package.
The APO function will draw on SAP's Business Information Warehouse, shipping next week, which analyses data stored in SAP modules. APO points out the most efficient production methods.
Opinions are mixed on whether SAP's presence in the supply chain will displace specialised vendors.
"Supply chain is one of the fastest changing, most dynamic areas. And smaller vendors can evolve to keep up more quickly," said Tom Gormley, an analyst at Forrester Research.
However, Ed Black, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group in Boston, said SAP may not be the most nimble applications vendor, but it has huge resources. Its billion-dollar research and development budget allows it to expand its offerings as it did with its new Sales Configuration Engine, which Black described as a "Trilogy-killer," referring to the sales-force automation vendor.
Automation for retail stores will also get a boost with a midmarket merchandise analytical module, developed by SAP and Siemens-Nixdorf, that will be able to crunch sales data to determine what items sell best at each store. That application will tie into manufacturing data for each item, letting each store customise its own mix of items, Siemens officials said.
R/3 Release 4.5 will ease user management within the Business Framework; add ActiveX controls to make the graphic interface easier to use; add the ability to archive and view SAP documents via the Web; and better support the Microsoft Outlook calendar. The next release of SAP Human Resources will add more international functions.