SAP's NetWeaver plan fails to reassure users

Several users expressed uncertainty about SAP's NetWeaver software suite at the Sapphire user conference in Orlando last week, even as the vendor heavily promoted the technology during the event.

NetWeaver is a Web-based integration and application platform that includes portal, data warehouse and other software components. It will be a key technology in most future SAP products, including the new mySAP ERP 2005 software that started shipping last week.

Some SAP users interviewed last week complained that the requirements and costs of upgrading to mySAP ERP 2005 from SAP products that don't use NetWeaver remain unclear.

Stanley Ezzell, vice president of strategic initiatives at Wellborn Cabinet, a furniture maker, said he fears that his company will lose internal changes made to its SAP R/3-based applications if it upgrades to the next-generation tools.

"What NetWeaver really means to the R/3 customer, I don't know," he said. Ezzell was also unclear about just what migration path Wellborn will have to take to if it chooses to upgrade to mySAP ERP 2005.

"For me to go and say to my company, 'We've spent millions on this, and guess what, we'll spend more millions for that,' I might be calling looking for another job," he said. For now, Ezzell plans to hold off making any moves until SAP's plans become clearer.

Such an upgrade could be quite expensive for users of older SAP products like R/3, said David Dobrin, an analyst at B2B Analysts.

Because mySAP ERP 2005 requires NetWeaver to function, many customers will have to pay a premium to upgrade from older SAP applications, he said.

SAP executives have said that they won't force any customers to use NetWeaver and noted that it's an open, standards-based architecture.

Aaron Nichols, a general manager of IT at Canada Post, said he's concerned that NetWeaver brings SAP into new businesses, such as Web services and enterprise application integration. Canada Post has used middleware from BEA Systems to support its R/3 ERP software for five years.

Nichols is considering an upgrade to mySAP but fears that such a move will require the use of both the BEA middleware and NetWeaver. "I worry that when we upgrade, [Canada Post will] have to contend with both tools and my support costs will rise. I don't want to support two [products] that offer the same functionality," he said.

Clothing retailer Chico's FAS will retain Microsoft .Net and other infrastructure technologies after it upgrades to SAP for Retail, which will also require NetWeaver, from a variety of older business applications, said CIO Gary King.

The company plans to roll out SAP for Retail by year's end, but it expects to use the NetWeaver technology only to support that application -- a costlier but more functional solution than using its other capabilities, King said.

At the conference, SAP CEO Henning Kagermann acknowledged that some SAP customers will support multiple technologies. "We said you can develop in a .Net environment for cases where people invested in .Net and didn't want to retrain," Kagermann said in an interview. Though he argued that NetWeaver supports non-SAP technologies, for some users, "you can't solve everything in life," he said.

In the long run, said Matthew Rickard, a director of groups and chapters at the Americas' SAP Users' Group, NetWeaver will become a fact of life for SAP customers.

"All our members at some point in time are going to have go to the ESA" if they continue using SAP products, Rickard said, referring to SAP's Enter-prise Services Architecture, whose key component is NetWeaver. "I don't think there is anyone who doesn't believe they aren't going there."

Rickard, also special projects manager at New Brunswick Power Holding said that NetWeaver can deliver long-term benefits to users.

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