E-commerce is driving companies to connect their business applications, such as ERP, to the Internet to provide data sharing between companies. The combination of software tools that lets various programs within an organization communicate with other applications is called Web services. Whereas an application service provider (ASP) delivers software over the Web, Web services connect various software applications over the Web. Not surprisingly, ERP companies are trying to stake out their territory in this new and lucrative field. SAP has invested a lot of time, money, and energy into its Web services platform, NetWeaver. NetWeaver, like other Web services products, allows various vendor applications to share data.

Companies are warming to the idea of Web services, also known as SOA, or service-oriented architecture. Information Age’s Effective IT research report has found that 50 percent of enterprises have some sort of SOA strategy. One benefit of adopting SOA is the ability on open standards, allowing easier integration of software and offering the potential to reuse computer code, which would reduce the time and cost of implementing new systems. This aspect of SOA is certainly enticing, compared with traditional systems that are often cumbersome and time-consuming to implement. However, implementing SOA is not easy. The IT analyst group Ovum reports that one in five U.S companies implementing SOA have experienced “unexpected complexity”.

The return on an SOA investment is often difficult to determine. According to a study published by Nucleus Research, only 37 percent of 106 organizations polled claimed that their SOA projects had a positive ROI. Respondents indicated that the main benefit of SOA was the ability to reuse computer code.

Netweaver Tools and Capabilities

SAP’s NetWeaver is a collection of components that support business transactions over the Internet. Included are modules named Enterprise Portal, Mobile Infrastructure, Business Intelligence, Master Data Management, and Exchange Infrastructure.

The Enterprise Portal also goes by the name mySAP.com. It gives users complete access, or a portal, to all their work on a single screen, using links to all major aspects of their jobs. A portal is a customizable Web site that serves as a home base from which users navigate the Web. The Enterprise Portal acts as a central access point to a company’s intranet, operating through a secure link on a browser. For example, a user in the Finance department could set up Enterprise Portal with links to SAP ERP financial transactions, as well as links to financial metrics for the company, stock market indices, e-mail, a calendar, and other information important for that person’s job.

The advantage of having a personalized portal is its efficiency. A user only has to log on to one system to get all the information needed to perform a job. Without a portal, users often have to log on to multiple systems, such as an ERP system, industry exchanges, or suppliers’ Portal, all information is available through the Web services provided by NetWeaver. All the important links are presented in one screen and transferring data is simplified by the ability to “drag-and-relate” data from one area to another.

Mobile Infrastructure is another module of NetWeaver. It allows users to access and work with data through mobile devices such as PDAs, cell phones, and pagers. Mobile Infrastructure provides remote access to data within the SAP system and other data contained within a company’s information system. The benefits are obvious. A salesperson could use her PDA to see a customer’s historical order information system. The benefits are obvious. A salesperson could use her PDA to see a customer’s office. Connecting SAP and VoiceObjects AG systems can be done without middleware or any changes to the software.

Another fact of NetWeaver is Business Intelligence (BI), which incorporates a data warehouse and data mining tools. BI can be delivered in a personalized manner with Enterprise Portal. It integrates information from various sources and processes, both within and outside of the firm. BI works with any database management software and any operating system that is running NetWeaver. Datamonitor predicts that the market for business intelligence software will double by 2012, reaching $8 billion in revenue. In 2007, SAP acquired Business Objects, and Oracle acquired Hyperion; the bought-out firms are both providers of BI software.

Another NetWeaver feature, Master Data Management, provides data consistency within a company’s SAP system. For example, at Fitter Snacker, the two sales groups, Direct and Wholesale, might have had different numbering systems for common customers. Master Data Management would ensure that the customer numbers are the same. The grocery industry could save $25 billion to $50 billion if suppliers could synchronize their data, such as product numbers, with retail outlets. NetWeaver allows this seamless Web interface to ensure proper data synchronization.

NetWeaver’s Exchange Infrastructure allows different applications to share data. By adhering to the standard of the Exchange Infrastructure, companies don’t have to write code to enable different applications to transmit data. For example, using Exchange Infrastructure, a business can keep its current EDI system and seamlessly integrate that with its ERP system. SAP’s Web Application Server, the development environment that is the foundation of NetWeaver, gives Exchange Infrastructure its customizability.

Many nonusers of NetWeaver are confused as to what it is. SAP admits that the concept of tying applications together is not easy to explain in a few sentences in a marketing brochure. In response to this confusion, SAP has sponsored the SAP NetWeaver for Dummies publication and is also providing information sessions for its customers around the world.

NetWeaver at Work for Fitter Snacker

Now we will examine how NetWeaver could help Fitter Snacker. Assume that the two top salespeople, Amy Sanchez and Donald Brown, are busy selling NRG bars directly to customers and to distributors. Amy works from home. She logs on to the SAP system with her laptop computer, using the SAP GUI. She doesn’t know much about the SAP system, nor does she have to. She needs to know how to place customer orders and check on their status. When Amy goes on sales call, she brings her notepad and calculator with her to jot down orders and quotes. When she returns home, she plugs those numbers into the SAP system and confirms her quotes. Amy would like to have some additional information on how salespeople in other regions are doing and what mix of bars they are promoting, but she doesn’t know how to access any of that information. She also would like to see if there are new ways to market to her customers.

Donald Brown is also a salesperson, but he deals with distributors. He has been chosen to be a tester for the new NetWeaver SAP server. Every day, Donald comes into the office and logs on to his Enterprise Portal, which was tailored for his job. He sees figures from his top 10 customers, data on production and inventory of bars, the current stock quote for Fitter Snacker on the NASDAQ exchange, the current market price for oats, wheat germ, and honey, his e-mail, and the local weather report. Today, Donald will make an important sales call for a regional grocery chain. He grabs his wireless PDA and some extra business cards, and heads out the door. During lunch with the purchasing agent for the grocery chain, Donald is able to check up-to-the-minute details on current sales orders and can confirm promises to ship additional bars next week, thanks to SAP’s Mobile Infrastructure. Back at the office, Donald calls up the Business Intelligence module in NetWeaver. From there, he can run a few reports to find out which snack bars are currently selling better nationwide, grouped by region and time of year. He can also analyze snack bar sales using data mining, to find sales patterns that can help him plan future sales calls.