SAP’s recent announcement of its intent to acquire MES vendor Visiprise is both unsurprising and at the same time eyebrow raising. On the one hand, it’s no surprise given the tight history between the two companies — forming their first partnership way back in 2005 with a collaborative development and marketing effort centered around the Netweaver platform and cumulating in last year’s agreement for SAP to resell Visisprise’s software on its price list. Also, SAP has been grabbing other manufacturing shop floor applications like Lighthammer in 2005 (now manufacturing intelligence product MII) and Factory Logic in 2006 (now lean scheduling product LPO) to complement its “Perfect Plant” initiative to link plant operations to enterprise-level production planning and management. So where’s the surprise?

Unlike SAP’s previous acquisitions, Visiprise’s software is distinctly geared towards specific discrete manufacturing verticals; the company’s core customer base falls squarely within the aerospace and defense and electronics markets, with the adjacent automotive, industrial equipment, and semiconductor sectors representing future growth verticals. Previously, SAP had voiced strategic support for bolstering its partner ecosystem of complementary vendors and systems integrators to help deploy such industry-centric solutions. With the acquisition of Visiprise, SAP is deviating from this plan and deliberately expanding market share into a specific ‘manufacturing style’ — a move which is sure to stir up other longtime MES partners in the ecosystem from both discrete-based and process-based manufacturing orientations, because the move not only positions SAP as a formal competitor with many of its other MES partners, but it also signals more potential MES buys in the future. Will SAP seek to acquire Wonderware should it decide to strategically grow into MES for consumer products? Or perhaps Werum Software for MES in pharmaceuticals?

One thing is clear; the acquisition will help joint SAP-Visiprise customers looking for the benefits from multi-site MES. This recent trend to deploy a common MES blueprint across sites is grounded in both business benefits from process standardization (e.g. better capacity management, replication of shop-floor improvements, compliance control, etc.) as well as IT benefits from the consolidation of disparate, often heavily-customized MES apps. In fact, this is the same demand that has fueled interest in SAP’s MII tool to provide a relatively low-cost method of aggregating dashboard views on manufacturing performance across multiple plants and data sources. Look for the combined SAP-Visiprise roadmap to emphasize deeper ERP-MES linkages as well as other critical areas for multi-site deployments (e.g. version control of multiple MES instances, decentralized architecture across plant-specific servers, etc.) to further help customers pursing the value from multi-site MES.

Roy C. Wildeman, Senior Analyst
Business Process & Applications
Forrester Research