What the future holds for SAP's NetWeaver

A Forrester analyst says SAP will likely rely on partners for middleware than attempt to compete with Oracle and IBM

SAP customers shouldn't rely on the vendor's NetWeaver technology stack for all of their middleware needs in the future, according to Forrester Research.

"The fact is for the last several years SAP has been falling behind in creating a comprehensive platform and maintaining [it]. This has caused a lot of heartburn among clients," said Forrester analyst John Rymer during a teleconference Monday.

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SAP used to have a desire to compete head-on in middleware with rivals Oracle and IBM, but not anymore, Rymer added.

While there's a chance SAP will try to "resuscitate" NetWeaver development in an effort to catch up to those rivals, "the likelihood of this happening is very low," Rymer added.

It's more the case that SAP will follow one of two scenarios, he said. The first would see it align itself strategically with a Java-centric middleware partner, such as IBM, as well as with Microsoft and its .Net technology. There's little chance the Java partner would be SAP's longtime nemesis Oracle, he added.

But SAP will most likely "adopt a vendor-agnostic stance in Java," continue working with Microsoft, and also embrace open-source middleware options, according to Rymer.

SAP customers should still use NetWeaver to extend their SAP business applications, but avoid using it for complex, enterprisewide middleware projects, he added. "We think you ought to look at other providers," Rymer said. "We don't think SAP is going to step up to those requirements over the long haul."

But SAP, in fact, has full confidence in NetWeaver and big plans for it, spokeswoman Shabana Khan said via e-mail.

NetWeaver is "the foundational technology to our solutions," she said. "And as the foundation for orchestration in three areas: 1. lifecycle management, 2. master data management, 3. business process management. These are the markets we will go after as standalone but also in support of SAP applications."

"NetWeaver is our platform and will be our platform going forward -- and there is an incredible amount of innovation we intend to continue to bring into it," she added.

SAP plans to provide additional detail on its plans for NetWeaver at its Sapphire conference in May, according to Khan.

Meanwhile, SAP is attempting to win projects like 12Sprints, a group collaboration and problem-solving tool that lets users pull in data from a wide range of systems and sources. "This sort of software, this set of ideas, is wide open," Rymer said. "Oracle and IBM aren't yet dominant in this category."

Monday's event was one in a series Forrester is holding this week for clients following a tumultuous period at SAP marked by customer discontent over support costs, flagging software sales and a rash of high-level executive changes, including the recent appointment of co-CEOs Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe.

SAP is regrouping as the weeks tick down to its annual Sapphire conference, and final preparations are made for the long-awaited broader rollout of Business ByDesign, its SaaS (software-as-a-service) product for the midmarket.

The company is trying to innovate through means such as agile software development practices, embracing in-memory computing and building out a range of SaaS extensions to its on-premises ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications.

SAP is also trying to build stronger connections between its software modules, as part of a "long-term focus on end-to-end processes," said Forrester analyst Roy Wildeman, who also participated in the teleconference.

Tighter integration will provide SAP with cross-selling opportunities, but also presents an emerging challenge for customers, Wildeman said. "What it means for folks is that code is going to get even harder to customize. As software becomes more integrated, charting all the dependencies ... can be a project every time a system change is required."

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