Plattner Talks Up SAP's 'New Idea'

Big companies can innovate, the chairman insists, but the key is not waiting too long. SAP's on-demand, hosted software will come with a choice of interfaces, including an office client, a more configurable smart client, a browser, and a mobile client.
SAP Chairman Hasso Plattner discussed what he calls the company's "new idea" in a keynote address at the Software 2007 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Tuesday, which includes innovations that will appear in its A1S software planned for next year. A1S is on-demand, enterprise-resource planning software SAP plans to introduce for small and midsize businesses next year.

The "new idea" will encapsulate a number of innovations SAP plans to build into its various ERP offerings in the next few years. Plattner discussed it with the aid of a chalk-and-blackboard style visual presentation. His goal, clearly, was to position SAP as an innovator, fitting it into the conference's central theme of innovation.

Conference organizer M.R. Rangaswami opened the conference with new research by McKinsey & Co. and Sand Hill Group that showed IT and business executives don't believe large software companies are as innovative as smaller software companies. Plattner pooh-poohed this idea. "Not only small companies can innovate; large companies can innovate as well," he insisted.

But in a Q&A session later with Rangaswami, Plattner said the work on the first iteration of SAP's new idea, A1S, started a year or two too late, and even hinted that it's created some strife within the company. SAP also has had to grapple with the challenge of putting time and money into innovating while trying to meet the bottom-line financial expectations of Wall Street, Plattner said. Change within a company can cause "internal controversy" and "people fighting each other," but innovation has to happen. "The only advice I can give is, don't wait too long," Plattner said.

The new idea, Plattner said, will include on-demand, hosted software that will come with a choice of interfaces, including an office client (which it's working with Microsoft to develop), a more configurable smart client, a browser, and a mobile client. The software will be "locked up," with no access to code. Instead, SAP sees developers creating composite applications that sit on top of A1S and other new idea software, and connect into the system using a service-oriented architecture. "There are service interfaces that can access the system, [so you can] put something on top to change the behavior of the system but not the code," Plattner said.

The new idea software also will support different portal configurations: company portal, department portal, user-specific department portals, and individual workplaces, Plattner said. The new idea will be targeted for uses in manufacturing, service and sales, customer service, finance, Internet sales, planning, marketing, employee services, payroll, business management, compliance, procurement, human resources, and more.

The new idea also will include content management and business-intelligence capabilities, Plattner said, and SAP envisions that software development for the platform will be more community based, using wikis, chat, and blogs, rather than the more traditional point-to-point software development. And because the software is hosted, SAP will be able to provide improvements to features potentially every three months, rather than every few years. "Here it's the operator's issue to upgrade the system, not the owners or the user," Plattner said. "This is the new idea."

This story was modified to clarify SAP's new idea plans.