SAP planning to open up on-demand development platform

Executive: But developers won't be forced into a single programming method

SAP is hoping to build a platform of third-party SaaS (software-as-a-service) applications to complement its own emerging wave of offerings.

The vendor has been building a series of on-demand products with a Java-based platform it acquired through the 2006 purchase of Frictionless Commerce, maker of e-sourcing applications.

At some point, SAP plans to allow others access to the Frictionless platform, according to John Wookey, the SAP executive vice president heading up the company's on-demand software strategy for large enterprises.

But SAP has no desire to force those developers into a proprietary box, Wookey said in an interview this week during SAP's Influencer Summit in Boston.

"Our intent is not to go out and be a tools provider. We want to build good tools to build great applications and we want to open those up to third parties to use," he said. "But we're not going to actually prescribe that you have to use those tools."

"One of the biggest things people want to be able to do is to connect to our data sources or to connect to [SAP] Business Suite data sources," Wookey added. Therefore, SAP is developing the platform as a set of on-demand services, he said.

"So you want to go connect to a certain customer's implementation of the Business Suite ... you can use these on-demand services to connect to it, get access to master data, and so on."

"People may choose to build on [Frictionless] which would be great," he continued. "But they may also decide they want to use Python or Ruby or anything else. We still want them to connect to our system in a standard way. So packaging up those services to get access to Business Suite, our data and our services is really what we're focused on in terms of when we talk about a platform."

SAP won't open up access to the platform right away. "We want to focus on getting our own applications out before supporting other people," he said.

The company's large enterprise on-demand strategy initially targets SAP's own customers, with applications positioned as extensions to an on-premise installation of Business Suite. An initial wave focuses on areas such as expense management and HCM (human capital management).

But down the road, SAP plans to also market its on-demand applications as stand-alone offerings, Wookey said.

"The first thing we have to do is win over our installed base and then use that as the right launching pad to go more aggressively into the open marketplace," he said.

Meanwhile, the periodic but high-profile service outages suffered by some SaaS vendors over the past couple of years have not been lost on SAP. The company has developed a "ramp plan" for scaling up its technology and support infrastructure as SAP adds more on-demand customers, according to Wookey.

"I worry about [reliability] all the time, but I get good answers to all my hard questions so I think we're in a good position to serve our customers," he said.

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