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Software development process is too slow, SAP CEO says

The chairman and CEO of the world's largest business software company says software development is too slow. Amen to that, SAP.

BOSTON -- Henning Kagermann, chairman and CEO of enterprise software company SAP AG, believes the pace of the software development process lags the exponential speed of progress in other areas of computing.

That must change if software aspires to be the engine of business innovation.

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"If you look to the efficiency in software development, we are still far behind Moore's Law, where productivity increases every 12 to 18 months, depending on the measure of the cycle. Someone gave the estimation that it takes six to seven years in software to double our productivity," Kagermann said. "That's not very good."

Cutting that production cycle in half can only be achieved by what Kagermann calls the "industrialization of software." This is a fundamental shift akin to the automation of the car industry, where a standard platform paved the way for custom design and innovation. Shortening the cycle of the software development process also depends on involving the end user "much earlier," he said, "so you can iterate faster."

Kargermann's remarks came Tuesday at an SAP conference where top executives at the software powerhouse "lifted the skirts," as one analyst put it, on its concerted effort to bring engineering discipline to the software development process, an area that has long been regarded as more art than science.

In a marathon of presentations, Kagermann; Klaus Kreplin, the SAP executive responsible for NetWeaver, the company's service-oriented architecture (SOA) and integration platform; and others made the case that SAP's move to an open business process platform will allow companies to adapt more quickly to new business models and use business software more creatively.

The open platform rests on a stable foundation of generic technologies -- components, business objects and processes such as billing. If a company wants to build new customized applications, it can access SAP functionalities such as customer relationship management and supply chain management through open interfaces.

Every piece of software, its own novel

"This is a recurring theme for SAP," said analyst Jim Shepherd, who follows SAP and other ERP providers closely for Boston-based AMR Research Inc.

While other companies talk about software engineering, not many have "really used the kind of rigorous engineering disciplines that you find in other kinds of mechanical or electrical or chemical engineering," he said. "The key point to remember is that SAP is very much an engineering company, and a German engineering company at that."

SAP's ability to show its model-based development approach and drill down to the links between process blocks in those "Visio-on-steroids flow charts," Shepherd said, represents another step toward applying the approaches that mechanical engineers take when using modern computer-aided design systems. Analysts got to see how SAP 6.0, the company's large enterprise product, and its midmarket Business ByDesign were constructed for flexibility, productivity and transparency.

The transparency means that an IT department that wants to understand how SAP products are constructed, or be able to analyze or audit the underlying process the software supports, can do so.

If you look to the efficiency
in software development, we are still
far behind Moore's Law.

Henning Kagermann
chairman and CEOSAP AG
"Those kinds of things, in the past, have been very difficult to do, not just with SAP but in the software business in general," Shepherd said. "Every piece of software was like a novel, often the creature of whoever developed it."

Gopal Varutharaju, director of IT at Jebsen & Jessen (SEA) Pte Ltd., an IT consulting firm specializing in ERP and supply chain planning, can attest to the business benefits of software that's transparent enough to connect a business network of disparate partners. One of his clients, a wholesale distributor in Thailand that repairs consumer products on warranty, was able to use portal technology from SAP to dramatically cut the amount of time it took to repair the defective product and get a new or repaired product back to the customer.

Delays had threatened to put the Thailand distributor out of business. Now, instead of waiting for the warranties and cameras to cross oceans, big retail customers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart can enter warranty information via a Web-based portal. Repair time was cut dramatically. The company is now working on using the system to text customers to alert them that their equipment is ready, Varutharaju said.

The stable, yet transparent platform is significant, in Shepherd's view. The hype about enterprise SOA has focused on the benefits of Web services. But in order to use it to build commercial software that will be robust, scalable and high-quality, companies need to build more than Web services.

"You have to build an entire environment to take advantage for how you're going to use those services, how they will interact with each other, the governance of them," Shepherd said. "All of that kind of not-very-sexy and extraordinarily detailed, complex work has been what SAP has been doing at the cost of billions of dollars over the last several years. It's the things they are best at -- taking a huge number of engineers, deploying them on a project like that and seeing it through to the end."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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