19 October, 2010

SAP Project ‘Gateway’ and lightweight consumption

SAP has for quite some time been working on a new integration technology, codenamed Project ‘Gateway.’ They have kept their cards close but SAP TechEd has revealed a few details and one important point has become clear. It is not a replacement for existing integration technologies such as Enterprise Services. Project ‘Gateway’ provides an additional way of exposing SAP data to other platforms and it is specialised for lightweight consumption. Enterprise Services will remain the preferred option for heavier integration. Richard Hirsch has posted an excellent overview of the concepts of lightweight consumption versus heavyweight integration.

The ‘Gateway’ technology attaches to existing SAP systems, even older versions. Developers will then be able to build lightweight front-ends in various web technologies including ASP.NET, PHP and Ruby on Rails as well as targeting mobile platforms such as Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry and iPhone. In developing ‘Gateway,’ SAP has primarily been working with three partners: Microsoft, IBM and RIM. As such, it is the underlying technology of the latest iterations of both Microsoft’s Duet Enterprise and IBM’s Alloy. There is also a new product on its way built for BlackBerry.

From an interoperability perspective, it is potentially a disruptive technology as it opens up unprecedented opportunities for reaching new users with SAP. The idea of a lightweight consumption pattern will be well received by most customers who are looking for more agile ways of delivering business applications. Project ‘Gateway’ is definitely another sign of the changing tide at SAP where third-party platforms are increasingly seen as an opportunity for enlarging the footprint of SAP rather than a threat to their dominance of the technical landscape.

12 October, 2010

SharePoint leading Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for horizontal portals

Gartner has for quite some time positioned Microsoft as a leader when it comes to providing portal-type capabilities. Now Microsoft SharePoint is taking the absolute lead in the recently updated version of the Magic Quadrant for horizontal portals. Compared to the 2009 edition, Microsoft has just edged past IBM. There are few changes to the rest of the quadrant with the other major players having retained their existing positions relative to each other.

Improvements in SharePoint 2010 could well push SharePoint beyond being just a basic intranet and document collaboration tool. It is now a more capable platform for creating and delivering composite applications, which means we will start seeing more business data surfaced in SharePoint. It is also worth noting that Microsoft is the only significant portal vendor in the magic quadrant which has a multitenant, elastic cloud-based portal offering. SharePoint Online is already proving to be a huge success with a 300% growth this year alone and more than 40 million paid seats in total.

SAP has also retained a leadership position in the magic quadrant, but I dare say this is based on the success of SAP ERP rather than the portal and user experience capabilities of NetWeaver Portal itself. The vast majority of NetWeaver Portal deployments are vertically focused, enabling SAP applications in a web environment. NetWeaver Portal does have improved features for content management and collaboration with Web Page Composer and Enterprise Workspaces, but only time will tell whether more customers will start using the product for more than as a web enabler for SAP business applications. Even the latter is no longer a given considering that Enhancement Pack 5 has decoupled core business packages such as ESS and MSS from the NetWeaver Portal.

On the whole, this updated magic quadrant is a positive read for SAP/SharePoint interoperability enthusiasts. SharePoint is maturing and becoming a true enterprise-level platform with enhanced capabilities for composite business applications. NetWeaver Portal, despite being a solid product, has a hazier future in SAP’s growing array of UI technologies including Duet Enterprise for Microsoft SharePoint. More than ever, enterprise portals are being evaluated for their potential as complete usability platforms providing users with a unified experience across disparate applications. Considering SAP is rarely the only significant back-end system in a large enterprise, SharePoint is compelling because it is largely agnostic with respect to business applications.