In search of new markets and customers, SAP is developing a new breed of hosted, on-demand products and looking at ways to make its complex business software easier to use.
Vishal Sikka, SAP's chief software architect, talked about one of the company's first on-demand offerings, its software-as-a-service philosophy and search functionalities in enterprise software.
The revealing interview comes ahead of next week's Cebit trade show where customers will see a brief 15-minute demonstration of SAP's planned new suite of hosted, on-demand midmarket applications, known internally as A1S.
IDGNS: What is so different about designing an on-demand product, such as your new CRM offering?
Sikka: There are a few things that are fundamentally interesting. One is the better economics you can offer by hosting. This is more a function of how much you can leverage the underlying stack technologies -- the different hardware -- below the application layer. Another aspect is the time to get up and running. This a matter of how closely you can get the software to reflect the way customers do their business. A CRM on-demand solution for an insurance company in the US is very different from a CRM on-demand solution for a company in Thailand.
IDGNS: What specifically is so different in the design of an on-demand product? The level of prefiguration, number of functions, ease of use?
Sikka: Exactly. What you see in our CRM on-demand offering is a significantly easier product to use through ways such as preconfiguration, fewer functions and taking massive advantage of underlying infrastructure.
IDGNS: What role will the software-as-service model play in SAP software across the board?
Sikka: We look at it as another deployment option. When you look at SAP, the breadth of functionalities that we offer across our customers, industries and nationalities is very vast. One size doesn't fit all. We're using a wide variety of deployment options. For a certain class of processes, it is advantageous to offer that software as a service. For other processes, it may be better to offer our software as an on-premise model.
IDGNS: Are there any limitations in designing software-as-a-service products?
Sikka: You have to look at the trade-off between the ability to customise and share data.
IDGNS: Will your vertical applications disappear as you move toward intelligent xApps?
Sikka: No. Our xApps augment vertical applications. They give companies the ability to build the last mile; they're more narrowly defined applications that tend to leverage existing applications.
IDGNS: What about your proprietary programming language ABAP? Will it fade away soon?
Sikka: I want to take this opportunity to demystify something. In the age of the enterprise service-oriented architecture, the whole programming-language debate is a very big red herring. Programming languages are an area of constant innovation. Interestingly, what we find in our world is that applications live a lot longer than programming languages do.
IDGNS: So ABAP is here to stay?
Sikka: You won't see ABAP going away anytime soon. Why? Because a lot of the application code that our customers use is in ABAP. It has a very, very reliable, high-performance underlying platform that is far better than anything we have seen in the market. You'll see ABAP for a long time, but you'll also see more Java because certain applications are best written in Java. And you'll see us using other languages. We do a lot of work in Microsoft programming models.