SAP Business ByDesign Graduates From App To Platform - InformationWeek

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2/7/2011
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Doug Henschen
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SAP Business ByDesign Graduates From App To Platform

Software development kit and extension-app vision mature a software-as-service suite into a customizable platform as a service.

SAP wants to make sure its reach doesn't exceed its grasp in the burgeoning field of cloud computing. So it's taking it one methodical step at a time with Business ByDesign.

A ByDesign Feature Pack 2.6 update unveiled on Monday is a big step in that it adds a software development kit (SDK) that turns the on-demand business suite into an application platform.

Without the SDK, customers could customize the suite's ERP, CRM, HR, supply chain, sales, marketing and services applications with things like role-specific interfaces, new reports, Web forms and business-specific processes. With the SDK, which was released February 1 along with the other 2.6 upgrades, SAP envisions a broad ecosystem of partners and customers developing specialized applications for specific horizontal processes and vertical industries.

To put it in a familiar cloud computing context, SAP's new SDK is to ByDesign what the Force.com platform-as-a-service is to Salesforce.com. Next up will be an AppExchange-like app store that SAP is expected to introduce at its Sapphire Conference in May.

The SDK is a Microsoft Visual Studio-based development environment that most developers can easily grasp, but it won't let you alter the core platform.

"Developers will take advantage of the publically-available data types and process definitions inside ByDesign; so you don't modify the core source code, you customize on top of the platform," said Chris Horak, global head of SAP Business ByDesign Marketing in an interview with InformationWeek.

Partners will power the coming app store, but SAP itself will also use ByDesign and the SDK as a platform by adding so-called extension applications. The company has already released SAP Carbon Impact OnDemand and SAP Sourcing OnDemand extension apps aimed at customers using conventional on-premise software. Next up are Sales OnDemand (sales force automation) and Travel OnDemand (travel-expense reporting) applications, set for release this year.

Also in the vein of supporting companies with conventional SAP deployments, Feature Pack 2.6 introduces a financial integration option for subsidiaries. Using the on-demand integration, larger companies running SAP Business Suite at headquarters can consolidate financial data from smaller subsidiaries running on ByDesign.

"As we go through a [ByDesign] release cycle every six months, we'll add a bit more capability," Horak said. Coming scenarios might include supporting drop shipments from headquarters for orders received by subsidiaries, he said.

ByDesign's shift in emphasis to platform capabilities matches a key trend detailed in "Accenture Technology Vision 2011," a report released on Monday by the consulting and technology services firm. The age of viewing IT through an application lens is coming to an end, the report finds. Instead, platform architectures will be selected based on their ability to handle soaring volumes of data and complex data management.

"IT and business leaders will begin to view application services as utilities that can be procured off the shelf," said Gavin Michael, managing director of R&D and alliances, Accenture, who supervised the research project that produced the report. "The roles of application and data will be reversed, with data becoming the platform that supports application services."

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