SAP is clearly placing more and more emphasis on Java. Is SAP abandoning
ABAP? Do you envision an ABAP-free SAP environment down the road? If so,
when? If not, what role will ABAP play in future SAP landscapes?
SAP is not abandoning ABAP, and I can't envision an ABAP-free SAP environment
anywhere in the near- or long-term. The singular stronghold that ABAP
has commanded over the SAP development arena for the past decade, however,
is going away. ABAP will not have a monopoly on application development
options. Java is indeed
a technology in which we are making significant investments.
We are funding and staffing development efforts in both camps. It will
be up to developers to choose, on an application-by-application basis,
which development language and infrastructure - ABAP or Java - is preferable.
SAP intends to support both.
Look, nine years ago when ABAP was still
in its infancy, SAP made the decision to keep it "close to the vest,"
so to speak. For its time, and even now, ABAP was - and is - a business
application language of unrivaled functionality. Not giving it away as
a standalone development platform was a decision made for competitive
reasons. We regarded ABAP as a decisive competitive advantage, and indeed
it still is. The downside of this decision? ABAP can't be found outside
the bounds of the SAP ecosystem.
Java, on the other hand, has real momentum
in an expansive community. The recent university graduates who come to
work for us here at SAP all know this language. Bookshelves are lined
with Java reference manuals and magazines. Clearly, this is not the case
with ABAP. So in my estimation, it would be shortsighted for SAP to stick
only to ABAP, and absolutely audacious to presume that if we hail ABAP
as the best business application platform ever, that the rest of the world
will follow. It's not realistic. What is realistic, and of profound benefit
to our customers, is to embrace a "multicultural" development
environment and to open up our technology platforms. What better choice
than Java to do this?
I've watched Java from its humble beginnings.
I've watched it evolve into a mature and robust platform as other companies
invested hundreds of millions of dollars into this technology. And now
I'm happy to follow their lead. It would be foolish to think that SAP
can always be the technical lead on all fronts. This is one clear case
where it makes sense to leverage, invest, and promote what's already out
there. It is obvious to us that we still have to invest a lot into existing
Java technology to bring it to a level of productivity and convenience
comparable to our ABAP platform, and that we will need some time to accomplish
this. But this is the way to go.
So SAP will support both development languages
and infrastructures side by side. The new SAP Web Application Server is
a prime example of this. Here is a development
platform that supports both ABAP and Java in parallel. It offers developers
a "best of both" approach and seamless interoperability between
Q. Open source is another key development initiative for SAP. Can
you please talk about how this will impact customers, developers, and
the industry as a whole?
SAP's core business revolves around e-business and enterprise applications.
We have no intention of making mySAP Financials, CRM, BI, HR, or the like
available as open source. But our underlying technology is another matter.
That baseline technology provides a sort
of infrastructure to build applications in a better or more productive
way. Customer value is not created by that baseline technology.
Customer value is created by applications. So I have no reservations
whatsoever about using and supporting open-source commodities like operating
systems or database systems. That's why you see SAP supporting open source
endeavors like Linux and SAP DB. Other, hotter technology areas like Integrated
Development Environments (IDEs) and Application Servers are not yet in
that commodity stage. As I see it, all technologies will eventually either
end up as niche technologies or become mainstream. Mainstream technologies
inevitably lead to commodity markets with low margins. Whether you service
these markets via low-price products or via open source products and a
fee-for-service business model is just a matter of taste. My prediction
is that fee-for-service pricing models will become more appealing for
commodity technologies and will eventually replace the license-based pricing
Q. How should development managers prepare their teams for these important
As for projects that are squarely within the SAP applications realm,
I would suggest development managers look at the ABAP expertise they have
in-house today and assess that team's ability to carry out web programming
is an area that is still new for many SAP customers, but universally recognized
as one of paramount importance. Web programming can be done with ABAP
and Java. The choice is yours. Just be sure to cultivate this expertise.
There's ample need for all these skill sets on your team - existing ABAP
programs need to be maintained, modified, and web-enabled by developers
with ABAP skills. Java-based applications similarly require the attention
of Java programmers. It may also be advantageous to create new web-enabled
Java frontends for existing ABAP applications, thus leveraging the investments
in ABAP-based coding.
With regard to new hires, I think development
managers will find it relatively easy to recruit Java programmers. If
you, as managers, don't know Java, perhaps it's time to start learning
about it yourself. Moving forward, I think the ability to understand the
similarities and differences of the languages, infrastructures, and developer
skill sets in the ABAP versus the Java realms will be vital to your success.
For those of you who have been around long
I liken this dynamic to the early days of R/3, when the
mainframe guys ruled the shop, but the C, UNIX, and SQL programmers, fresh
out of school, were changing the rules
of the game (and for the better, I might add). Java technology is poised
to do the same. It is the next wave.