Sun Microsystems Inc and IBM Corp have signed technical and marketing agreements with SAP AG to add to the number of environments supporting its R/2 and R/3 business application software in an effort to further implementation expertise and support for users. Competence centres are being established with both companies at SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf, Germany for co-operation on future product development. The agreement with Sun is intended to optimise R/3 for the Sparc processor and provide pre-sales support in client-server computing. The IBM agreement means IBM will sell R/2 and R/3 for its hardware environments and the two will fund joint marketing activity. SAP has also set up the Early Watch support programme, a monitoring system to link R/3 users electronically with SAP experts 24 hours a day from various locations across the world, which will alert customers to potential trouble spots such as a systems overload, and offer improvement suggestions, set up to deal with the teething problems that may be faced when introducing client-server technology. Early Watch has recently been implemented at Brooke Bond Foods in the UK. These new partnership announcements are intended to fit with SAP’s target of integrating the smooth runnning of all business activities, from accounting and sales right through to plant maintenance. Its strategy of working closely with its partners to add value through expertise in business analysis and understanding of large-scale implementataion has been formalised in the last two months with the establishment of a division to manage these relations with other companies under the UK managing director Petra Frenzel. The company’s strategy of investing in its future stability leads it to spend 25% of its revenue on research and development. It has spent UKP150m so far developing R/3 and anticipates R/2 will be entirely compatible with R/3 in around 15 months for direct migration. A Windows NT version of R/3 is expected by late first quarter next year. SAP’s main customer base is in oil and gas, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, but the UK branch of SAP, based in Feltham, Middlesex, is currently target the UK finance and banking sector, since the company as a whole has six of the top 30 continental banks as customers – but none of the top UK banks.