SAP inks MS, RIM deals

SAP used an annual gathering of customers to announce new alliances: a joint, detailed road map with Microsoft for better integration between Microsoft .Net and SAP NetWeaver, and the combination of SAP's customer relationship management (CRM) and mobile business solutions with Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry wireless handheld platform.

In his morning keynote at this year's Sapphire user conference, Henning Kagermann, chairman of the SAP executive board and the firm's CEO, told his audience that through the improved interoperability between the platform offerings of Microsoft and SAP, which have been partners for over a decade, customers will be able to "better leverage their investments ... . Those developers trained in .Net ... will be able to extend our solution offering."

In a statement, SAP said more than 40,000 of its installations run on Windows and almost two-thirds of all new SAP installations are deployed on Windows.

According to SAP, the details of the joint road map includes the introduction of the SAP Enterprise Portal software development kit (SDK) for .Net. SAP will begin a beta program this summer. It will enable developers who use the ASP.Net programming model to customize and extend SAP solutions using Visual Studio .Net as a development environment.

Version 2.0 of SAP .Net Connector will be released in August; it will include enhanced language support for Visual Basic .Net and better integration with Visual Studio .Net, as well as enhancements to support development of more secure applications and controls. SAP also plans to join the Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program.

The next version of NetWeaver will provide native support for advanced Web services protocols, enabling interoperability with core .Net technologies, as well as additional products from Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft and other companies.

SAP is also delivering sample applications for developers to implement smart clients to access its system capabilities from Microsoft Office System applications and Visual Studio 2005, a smart client user interface, and an SDK. Microsoft will deliver repository managers, expected to be available in early 2005, which will integrate NetWeaver knowledge management functionality, Windows SharePoint Services and Exchange Server.

The two vendors will jointly staff a Collaboration Technology Support Center (CTSC) in Walldorf to help them identify and showcase integration scenarios.

Paul Kurchina, program director for Transalta Corp., a Calgary-based power generator and wholesale marketer of electricity, said the enhanced NetWeaver/.Net interoperability will "help minimize the training impact" for smaller- and medium-sized businesses that have developers trained in .Net, who will now also be able to work on SAP solutions.

Meanwhile, Kurchina said SAP and Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM's integrated mobile sales solution is in line with the direction in which Transalta is heading.

To meet the information requirements of mobile sales forces, SAP said the application will enable sales reps to access and update information from mySAP CRM via BlackBerry handhelds. The solution will enable users to manage their customer accounts, including activity and opportunity management, SAP said. Sales reps will be able to view sales orders and CRM analytics reporting remotely.

Kurchina said this concept can also be applied to a utility plant environment. In November 2003 the firm started its rollout of BlackBerries, and currently one out of 20 Transalta employees carry them. With the new RIM capabilities, "we'll be able to get an alert on an incident in the plant (on the BlackBerry) and quickly collaborate and act on it," he said. "The person might be in a pit, in a mining operation, and if they see a problem, they can log it right away and the information goes right back to the database. Or they can do it while in transit -- they don't have to go back to the office."

SAP said it is also building RFID functionality into its mySAP Business Suite solutions and offering RFID packages that target particular industry demands. Kurchina said Transalta is looking at applying RFID capabilities in its plants. "When a piece of equipment is tagged, it can give guided advice (to the technician)" related to things like shutdown and startup procedures, depending on the readings, he said. "This saves time and prevents plants from going down."

SAP's focus on mobile and RFID is an indication of "a move from the application side," Kurchina said, adding that SAP is "taking (its) applications and making them available to a whole new crowd."

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