One of the smart people was Chris Hearn, Product Marketing Director. SAP are keen to emphasise their openness, and open source credentials. Their NetWeaver development platform embraces Java and .NET, as well as handling their ABAP proprietary language. More than once at the show I heard mention of the fact they were the first enterprise software company to achieve Java EE 5 Certification - I'm not sure what that means, but it's to do with keeping up with standards, which must be good.
We had a fascinating conversation with Chris where he used SAP's dialogue with the Venezuelan government to discuss Open Source. Apparently through a combination of revolutionary thought and anti-US feeling, there is a big, government mandated shift away from proprietary software from the likes of Microsoft and SAP. This has culminated in an open source law coming in to effect last January, which has decreed a two year transition to open source in all public agencies, although it also covers their oil industry (which accounts for 70% of the country's economy). With a little further research I now see the "software libre" movement is happening in Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Argentina too, all with the aim of saving government departments millions of dollars in licence fees. In Venezuela, if you want to install anything that isn't open source, you have to justify it to the Ministry of Science and Technology. Apparently this ministry is even going so far as to build their own computers using Chinese technology and Linux as the desktop operating system.
Of course SAP have something like 80% market share in enterprise systems in the country, and there really isn't much of an open source alternative, but it means they have to be working closely with the government to get dispensation for their implementations.
Chris was keen to point out that, whereas 10 years ago SAP development was limited to their own ABAP and APIs in which you needed significant expertise, with NetWeaver you can use pretty much any scripting language you like. For example he talked about Lufthansa's website which is written in PHP, but is driven at the back-end by their SAP system. He also highlighted the source code for ABAP itself has been available since 1992. SAP have to support 26 different implementations of Linux, and of course they have provided their own Max DB to MySQL so that it is available for public download.
Elsewhere at the show we saw Duet, their product which brings SAP information and activities directly in to Outlook, or their business browser. However, I do wonder about the scale of development required. Sig Rinde and I were shown an interesting demo of Enterprise SOA by Uwe Pyka, Manager Operations EMEA, Enterprise Services Community. This showed a mySAP system connecting to web services from major banks to pull together a portfolio of financial services product options to be presented to a client. Obviously the important thing here was the definition of the services from the banks, which could then be easily integrated in to the application. However, when we asked how much development to pull the demo application together, one of Uwe's colleagues said 3 days. I can't help feeling that pulling together the half a dozen screens in a product like Thingamy would be somewhere between 30 minutes and a few hours, and that similar development environments I saw at the Office 2.0 Conference would also get that sort of job done in a few hours at worst.
I mentioned before that I talked to Eric Wood of SAP Labs. He is full of good ideas on enterprise widgets, or the fact that "drill down sucks" and everything should be about tags and associations rather than hierarchies - something the Irregulars have been discussing only this week. He was discussing different widget approaches, liking the Yahoo approach, and commenting that their users and the SAP Developer Network are pushing us in:
"Bringing the consumer experience to the enterprise, and holding us accountable."
This is a good maxim for any enterprise software author, and I hope the more "legacy" elements of the SAP company can respond.