Companies urged to link backend data to the Web

Middleware is going to provide critical as businesses start to web enable backend data says industry consultant

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By  Greg Wilson Published  January 30, 2001

IT managers are learning that basic enterprise resource planning (ERP) projects never really end. Once the core applications — finance, distribution, human resources or manufacturing — are deployed and tuned to the business need, there is growing competitive pressure to take that information and functionality to the Web. “Companies have got to enable information for the Internet,” says Reginald Clark, a director of Progress Consulting, working in the region.

According to Clark, more organisations are going to need to access data held in large ERP applications through the Web browser, be that on a handheld device, or through a notebook. For companies to access this information, middleware is going to be needed to do “much of the grunt work,” between the backend system and the Web interface. The region hasn’t had a lot of experience with middleware but it’s going to be increasingly important as more business look to deliver information anywhere, says Clark.

“There is going to be a real need to update and link to information through a middleware layer. The middleware will do much of the grunt work, alleviating pressure from the [backend] system,” explains Clark.

To fulfil what many predict is going to be a growing need for middleware, Progress Consulting has signed a distribution agreement with Impress, a German vendor. Progress, which specialises in SAP implementations aims to initially target Impress at the established SAP sites in the region. Clark stresses that Impress is capable of working with other ERP packages.

But with the awareness to middleware only really apparent amongst the banking sector in the region, there is going to be a shortage of local implementation expertise in the region.

Clark acknowledges the obvious problem, but says the consulting firm has tied up with Satyan, an Indian consultancy company, with “huge” consulting skills. “Satyan actually did the whole of the SAP installation for Palm,” adds Clark.

“They have the expertise and we’ll be able to leverage that… [Satyan] has the skills from the SAP ADAP standpoint — the SAP programming language — and from the middleware point of view.”
Before the region starts to embrace middleware, the higher business management has to be convinced of the benefits of ‘middleware’ projects. “A lot of the time [management] want to see the tangible benefits,” says Clark.

But “some time those benefits are intangible. Only when they are more efficient and have cut down the inventory levels or whatever, those are some of the tangible benefits, which they can see on a spreadsheet,” he adds.

Progress Consulting is targeting companies looking to leap into the next generation of E-ERP (extended-ERP), deploying customer relationship management or supply chain automation applications, particularly to the region’s SAP sites. However, over the last year it has been apparent that SAP has been slow to jump on the Internet bandwagon.

“SAP is always considered slow out of the blocks, but when they hit the [track] they feel that they catch up pretty quickly. But not yet with CRM… Siebel is still beating them,” says Clark.

“In general terms that has been the case. But in terms of hitting the [Web] and doing B2B and Internet sales even though they were late into the market SAP has done pretty well with marketplaces, they have got some of the biggest marketplaces useing their software.”

SAP’s Internet pedigree is enhanced through an agreement with Commerce One, which brings together the vendor’s ERP transaction engine and C1’s customer sales software. SAP’s marketplace subsidiary and the marketplace infrastructure player jointly developed the MarketSet and EnterpriseBuyer packages, unveiled in summer of last year.

According to Clark, the two vendors make a good match. “If you have a solution from two separate vendors, there is always finger pointing when it goes wrong. If there is a problem then the user only has to go to one place to find the solution.”

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