SAP AG is using Java on several levels--the desktop, servers and the Internet--to help chisel its monolithic R/3 client/server business applications suite into more flexible components.
Although SAP officials were initially reluctant to embrace Java, it's clear the young programming language will play a significant role in R/3 4.0, due by the end of 1997.
"Conceptually, there are a lot of similarities between Java and ABAP4," said SAP America CEO Paul Wahl in an interview at SAP's U.S. headquarters in Wayne, Pa. ABAP4 is the proprietary language in which R/3 applications are written.
It should not be difficult to take advantage of "conceptual" similarities between Java and ABAP4, like processor and OS neutrality and the ability to compile data in real time, said Wahl.
To get the ball rolling, SAP is developing its first component completely written with Java--a product configurator that lets companies access and build orders and view shipment dates and the availability of parts through an intranet or the Internet. The component is expected to ship next year before Release 4.0.
SAP, which has already built a user interface to R/3 with Java, will also enable the object repository of R/3 4.0--which will be completely component-based--to store Java applets.
SAP developers, however, are by no means throwing all their eggs into the Java basket.
At next week's Technical Education Conference for Developers in Los Angeles, co-sponsored by SAP and Microsoft Corp., discussions will range from Java to ActiveX and how Common Object Model, Distributed Common Object Model and Common Object Request Broker Architecture will fit in the R/3 environment. SAP is looking at ways to incorporate both Java and ActiveX into its applications. Microsoft's BackOffice server applications, including Exchange, are considered crucial to a more distributed R/3 system.
The Los Angeles conference will also mark the official release of R/3 Version 3.1. This version, which includes Business APIs, Business Objects and more than 30 Internet components, is the first to extend R/3 to the Internet.
Some customers are peering ahead to Version 4.0. With that release, SAP is planning to offer prepackaged sets of components for vertical markets.
One of the first will be a process manufacturing set, dubbed Plant-centric, which includes components culled from the areas of human resources, plant maintenance, quality assurance, and environmental health and safety.
"They are moving toward a more object-oriented model, and that fits us perfectly," said Gary Banks, director of the center for technical expertise at Monsanto Chemical Co., in St. Louis. "We will go right with them. Their development and our business needs seem to match."