Duet promises to pair Outlook with ERP

Microsoft and SAP will start selling the software that bridges their key applications next month, promising customers and partners a new era of accessibility to enterprise data.

However, while the companies are about to work together jointly selling and marketing the software, they won’t say yet what the price will be.

Called Duet (known until now under the code-name Mendocino), it will allow Microsoft Outlook to be used as a front end to peer into mySAP, the complex enterprise resource management (ERP) application that large companies and governments use to run their operations.

“There are a lot of business processes that anybody in an organization needs to participate in on a day-to-day basis,” said Elizabeth Caley, a senior product manager for Microsoft Canada. “We’re trying to take those that are accomplished in SAP and make it so that an end user can do them without a lot of training and support.

“The ability to do things like set up your vacations through Outlook and have it do all the required tasks in SAP without an end user having to learn those steps is where the benefit lies.”

Anuj Batra, SAP Canada’s national lead for emerging solutions, said the advantages for users will be “superior decision-making because of better synchronization” between mySAP and Office.

“Due to the legal regulations, we’re asking customers to obtain pricing either from SAP or Microsoft,” he also said.

Toronto-area SAP customers will be able to get a look at the software in action June 15 as part of a North American roadshow the two vendors are putting on. Other Canadian cities will be visited in the fall.

The first release of the software will include four “scenarios” for general users linking to SAP covering budget managment, time management, leave management and organization management functions.

Later in the year two value packs will be available for purchase aimed at business managers covering recruitment management, travel management, analytics, purchasing management and sales activity management.

Initially, Duet will work only with Microsoft Office 2003 and up, and with mySAP ERP. Later this year that will be extended to mySAP CRM. Both companies will offer first, second and third-line support.

Industry analysts say most SAP users are senior executives or back office experts, but it hopes that by giving front office employees the chance to access SAP data through Office the number of users will leap dramatically. Microsoft would gain by extending the value of its lucrative Office suite.

At a press conference Tuesday, executives of both companies spoke expansively of Duet’s potential sales. Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft’s Business Division, said he’s looking at “massive market adoption, while Shai Agassi, president of SAP’s product and technology group, said the potential market is “huge. 

“We have the potential to grow four-fold the number of (SAP) end-users,” Agassi said.

However, in an interview before the press conference Gartner analyst Yvonne Genovese cautioned that what many users will want more industry-specific scenarios than the two companies had already announced.

“It think it (Duet) will have a slow start because of that,” she said. “It will primarily be used where finance runs IT, where it’s interested in making sure a lot of users have access to expense management and you don’t have to trade between the business system and the Office system to complete a process.”

“Both SAP and Microsoft are putting a toe in the water,” with the first release of Duet, said Chris Alliegro, an analyst with Directions of Microsoft. “The demand they see will dictate how much more effort they put into the project.”

mySAP customers have a choice of buying Duet — which comes on a single disk with software for a server and Office clients — either through their SAP account representative or as packaged software through a Microsoft channel, either a software reseller or a systems integrator.

However, both partners insist installation won’t be hard. “The software has been made to be very easy to install and configure,” said Batra. “It will be able to go live and up and running very quickly.

“It requires very little configuration,” agreed Caley. “The opportunities for our system integrators come from being able to extend the solution. So if one of the scenarios a customer is looking for isn’t in the current version or the upcoming value packs there’s a framework in place that they can expose the business processes through Office that SAP offers.”

Microsoft has already started working with a select number of system integrators who sell both SAP and Office to push the partnership. “Obviously we have a lot of LARs (large account resellers) and VARs in common,” said Caley, “but we’re looking to expand that ecosystem over the next 12 months.”

To help spur adoption of Duet, a software development kit will be released to select partners who will be able to hone the scenarios that have been released for niche markets. Response to this experiment will determine if the tools will be released to a wider number of partners and independent software vendors.

While the two software giants are co-operating on Duet, they’re still dueling elsewhere. In the past few months Microsoft has been touting its Office integration with the latest releases of Dynamics GP (formerly called Great Plains) and plans to do the same with upcoming releases of its other enterprise applications, Dynamics NAV (formerly Navision) and Dynamics AX (formerly Axapta).

SAP continues to push its NetWeaver portal for accessing mySAP, as well as through mobile clients.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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