SAP changes tack on product strategy

At SAP's SAPphire '98 user conference here recently, the spotlight was, as expected, on new applications that go beyond corporate back offices. For example, SAP released data warehousing software, began limited shipments of a supply-chain planning package and announced plans for stand-alone marketing, sales and field service applications.

Independent applications

The new applications can be used separate from R/3, and SAP CEO Hasso Plattner said they have to sink or swim on their own technical merits. SAP's developers were told that products that aren't deemed to be among the top three in their categories in three years will be dropped.

Given SAP's clout, there isn't much reason to doubt it can be successful in each of the new businesses, users and analysts at SAPphire said. But most of the interest is expected to come from companies devoted to R/3, they added. And the new products still need time to evolve.

And arresting concerns that SAP has in the past put too much emphasis on technology and not enough on customer input, Plattner said the company is redesigning its applications. They will look more colourful and flow more dynamically, and reduce the need to drill down by presenting more information on the starting screen, Plattner claims.

Meanwhile, three major hardware vendors recently announced partnerships with SAP, the largest vendor of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, and other companies offered new ways to keep SAP's flagship R/3 suite running efficiently.

Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard are both offering pre-configured and installed server/network/database bundles with SAP R/3 for small and midsize companies that need faster, cheaper, no-frills implementations.

And Dell has announced that it is joining SAP's TeamSAP program to help partners implement R/3 more quickly and smoothly.