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Recently I visited 2 Fortune 500 customers, who told me independently from each other that they run about 6,000 and 12,000 different business applications in their companies, respectively.
When you look at the recent press statements from SAP’s CEO Henning Kagermann, he states that the big multi-million dollar deals are over. Software companies do not sell thousands of licenses per deal but only a couple of hundred.

For me, those two independent facts indicate the same trend: The era of monolithic and large applications is over. Like dinosaurs, they vanish from earth. Customers request small business applications, easily integrateable, easily customizable and, if so required, disposable. And they want the tools to build that kind of application.

Business applications are becoming more and more disposable, like disposable cameras. You shoot 30 pictures with them, develop the pictures and throw the camera in the garbage bin afterwards. You use the business application for a certain time and then its purpose is accomplished.

Similarly, many businesses experienced a change in how work is done. Projects are not done by one department with a fixed structure, but by project teams that are formed with members from different departments, often located in different regions of the world. After the end of the project, the team is dissolved and the team members head to new projects.

For application development this poses a challenge. Not the super-generic and all-in-one application suitable for every purpose is required, but the just-right-for-this-project application. A project duration can be very short, like, let’s say, 2 or 3 months. If you need a special application for this project and go the classical way of: meet with the IT-department, discuss, and specify it, then quickly half a year is over and you haven’t even started the implementation of the application. But your project is already over!

What is needed is the following:

  • A toolset that allows you to build business applications in a quick way.
  • Enable the project team members to develop their applications on their own.
  • Allow you to upgrade, customize or simply dispose of the business application.
  • Help to archive and reuse the data from such an application without the need to maintain the application.

With SAP NetWeaver and Composite Application Framework, SAP is enabling developers and non-developers also to do this. SAP NetWeaver offers the technologies and integration, CAF offers a rapid business application development toolset. Short-running applications can also be quickly developed, whereas of course long-running and scalable applications are in the main-focus (as expected).

The only challenge lays somewhere else: get this paradigm-change into the minds of the people…

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3 Comments

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  1. Stefan Klensch
    Hi Mario,
    reviewing my experiences of the last years with customers representing companies of different sizes the fact is, that business applications are “long runners”, they survive for at least 6-8 years in average.
    This is a logical consequence of the business apps being the virtual representation of some business processes or use cases in the real world, which again exist for a very long time, since changing them would cost lots of money.
    Having this in mind and remembering the announcement, that SAP NetWeaver(TM) is able to protect customer’s investments by letting even old(er) apps running under a new hood, i’m a little bit astonished, that you propagate applications developed for the trashcan here 😉

    Best regards,
    Stefan
    PS: It would be great to have a CAF designer Sneak Preview available on SDN some day.

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    1. Mario Herger Post author
      Good reply. And I agree with you and my believe is that NW & CAF are definitely very good tools for those long-running and scalable applications. And they do protect the investments: existing applications can be enhanced and integrated in new applications. So that’s also true.

      But the more you ask the companies about the “side-tracks” of their main-IT-world, you will notice quite short-living, yet usefull applications. The IT-folks from those companies that I mentioned were astonished themselves to find out about those several thousand business applications. That translated into something like “5 employees have one application”.
      So I have the gut feeling that we IT-folks haven’t even scratched the surface of what kind of applications project teams and companies need. Sure, all of them need those large HR, CO, FI, Projectmanagement-, etc. applications, but look back at some of your own projects in the past: where did you store the data? What was the kind of business application you would have liked to use at this time? I personally remember all the databases we created during the research projects at university and college. These little applications that we build SAP-internally to help us with some temporary task. They were often just for that purpose and were then archived. Many projects in companies have the same character and tools for enabling the project teams are needed.

      So I believe we have to take a closer look at that. And talking about it already helps to identify this challenge and opportunity.

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  2. Iyengar Karthik
    Great blog, good points.

    My experience does reiterate the views in this blog. Many a times, System Integrators walk in with the air of trashing old applications & replacing these with buggy/part solutions under the garb of cool technologies. The biggest benefit of CAF & NW, the way I see it, is helping the customers leverage their existing investments. Say, for example, having 10 “Non-sunset” applications (developed in other VB or even COBOL for that matter) might be the right way to go for the customer, despite the ERPs or other applications. But, with this framework, treat these old applications as clients & have a centralized “web-services web server”, have these older applications e-enabled, one can still achieve so much more. Definitely, a lot depends on the functionalities of these legacies you choose to expose (why just legacy?, even new-gen other apps functionalities/other ERPs) & create the Composite applications that you choose to build. Yes, its equally correct that this will bring in a wave of – one application for 5 people, but thats a decision that has to be well formulated in the beginning. Again, the big picture is the most important thing.

    Kartik Iyengar~

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