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Q&A: SAP's Plattner on software, hosted CRM and staying honest

He also talked about improving the software design process

By Marc L. Songini
May 14, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - NEW ORLEANS -- Last May, Hasso Plattner stepped down as SAP's co-CEO and chairman of its executive board. Plattner now chairs SAP's supervisory board, the German equivalent of a U.S. company's board of directors. But Plattner is still active within SAP, and at Sapphire '04 he spoke with Computerworld about his current role and other issues involving the vendor.

What have you been up to since you changed your position?
I'm chairman of the supervisory board, with some formal responsibilities to watch over the execution of the company's [operations]. I run several councils involved with technology, human resources and a general one where we discuss investments and acquisitions and so on. The technology committee handles all aspects of development. The task I feel most comfortable with is software design and finding ways to improve it.

What milestones have you achieved in that area? We have reached some solid ground with [changing] the behavioral patterns [of coding] and how we should engage with customers and with other people. We have to be much more complex: We build our applications on top of Microsoft Office and multimedia applications and embedded systems and RFID and Global Positioning Systems, and then there is our ERP and CRM and SCM applications. In these new areas of applications, we have to connect with all these other applications, and we need different design styles and techniques and different people.

There has been some talk about a "Project Vienna." Can you explain what it is? It's a development project -- not a product, like Longhorn -- to develop a consistent piece of functionality and move it a piece at a time into the mySAP [suite]. Project Vienna involves finding engines [software-enabled processes], and if we have multiple ones, we can build one to serve multiple purposes. Vienna is a big project.

What are you doing in that area?
I have small teams to make prototypes of prototypes. I have always wanted to do something like they do in car manufacturing. They do dozens of versions of prototypes, and then management goes for "2-B" and they decide that makes sense and then they spend the real money. We give [our teams] tasks to fulfill, and the designers come up with completely different ideas.

As the market leader, what keeps SAP honest? Extreme alignment with the customer. With large companies, you can't convince them to act against their own will and desires. There is still enough competition -- our applications are far from being like Microsoft Office.

Are you pleased with your penetration rates around R/3 and mySAP? Till

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