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SAP Portals Partners with IBM - So What

The Financial Times reported yesterday that SAP and IBM were on the verge of announcing an exclusive partnership for e-commerce applications. For IBM, SAP would be the preferred provider, and IBM would resell SAP software, taking part of the revenue.

Well, this was a shocker. The reputable Financial Times announcing something as likely as the sun rising in the West.

We don’t want to speculate on motives, but neither SAP nor IBM were in any hurry to deny or to clarify, even though a simple clarification was available. It is not SAP as a whole; it is not all e-commerce applications. It is SAP Portals (formerly known as TopTier), and it is the SAP Portal application (aka TopTier, mySAP.com Workplace, or Baan Navigator) that will be resold.

Now this is about as shocking as the sun rising on time. The SAP plan was always to make TopTier an independent subsidiary, with founder Shai Agassi at the head. Shai’s job is to spearhead negotiations with TopTier partners. TopTier needs partners, after all.

Remember, TopTier is essentially a desktop integration tool—a portal that allows integrated access to multiple corporate applications. It is in TopTier’s interest to negotiate as many partnerships with integrators and with application vendors as possible, just as it is in WebMethods’ interest or Tibco’s or any other EAI vendors’. An announcement that TopTier is doing exactly what’s clearly in its interest shouldn’t shake anybody up.

What’s in it for IBM? There seem to be two broad possibilities.

  • Installation of TopTier can require a lot of integration services, plus more than a little software. IBM is well-positioned to provide these. With sales of TopTier—excuse me, mySAP.com Workplace—far exceeding even the rosiest estimates, there is no reason for IBM to avoid scooping up a good share of the dough.
  • If IBM sees the same market opportunities that I described in Private Portals, they will act as a VAR and sell customized versions of TopTier designed to manage specific kinds of B2B relationships.

The announcement reminds me of the IBM-Ariba-i2 deal, for two reasons. First, Ariba and i2 had products that didn’t go in without serious services/integration work, so they needed integration services partners who could market. So does TopTier. Second, people thought the i2-Ariba deal was much more important than it really was.

If I’m right, expect other, similar announcements of partnerships between SAP Portals and other vendors—hardware or services or both. SAP Portals is a good product in a market (the portal market) that is shifting its way. It needs partnerships and it will find them.

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