NEW ORLEANS — Ian Robinson wondered aloud whether he should have worn a suit of armor when he came to SAPPHIRE.

He had reason to feel vulnerable. Although the vice-president of information systems for Toronto-based Ricoh Canada is

technically an SAP customer, he was speaking about a portal project based on another vendor’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) product. It was several slides into his presentation before he even admitted that vendor was Baan.

“”See, they even let me say who it was,”” he said. “”I wasn’t even going to mention the name.””

SAP is encouraging users like Ricoh to speak out because it wants to demonstrate how its NetWeaver middleware technology can help enterprises integrate third-party applications with its Enterprise Portal product. Ricoh Canada, a sales and distribution arm of the Japanese printer and copier maker, plans later this month to unveil a customer and employee portal that makes extensive use of SAP’s iViews.

Robinson said the customer portal, for example, will include 40 unique iViews showing information from the Baan ERP system as well as information from DB2, Oracle and SQL databases. The iViews will give Ricoh customers real-time access to the firm’s fleet management data concerning their orders, and will offer the ability to download that information into an Excel spreadsheet.

“”They don’t even have to ask us for a report anymore,”” Robinson said, “”and we don’t have to send them anything.””

The portal also makes use of SAP’s drag-and-relate technology, Robinson said. Users could find a list of machines in use at a customer site, drag the serial number of a specific machine to a button on the left-hand side of the page and see a pop-up of that machine’s service history. The technology will also work with other Web sites: customers will be able to drag waybill numbers from the Ricoh portal onto the FedEx site and see tracking information on a specific order.

“”This is what we can offer customers, but we need to hear from them what else we should include,”” he said. “”We only have a vague idea of what customers want (from the portal).””

In his keynote presentation Wednesday afternoon, Shai Agassi, a member of the SAP executive board, said last year’s launch of NetWeaver represented a huge culture shift within SAP. The commitment to Web services tools built on non-proprietary standards did not happen overnight, he said.

“”We forced you to go outside and look for another (middleware) solution,”” he said. “”We treated it like our secret sauce . . . but we have to be open.””

Robinson said Ricoh would also be using NetWeaver extensively for its employee site, which will include almost 70 iViews. This portal has primarily been designed to help Ricoh staff manage the approximately 1,500 service calls they receive a day by pulling together service reports from the Baan ERP system and the original customer contracts from the firm’s content management system. Other iViews will show information on all the printers or copiers on a customer’s site, their service history and their location at the customer’s premises.

Despite the functionality, Robinson said the portal was a harder sell internally than it was for Ricoh’s customer base.

“”Until we start giving away prizes for logging onto the portal, that’s always going to be the case,”” he said. “”But once they try it, they love it.””

Once the two sites have been launched, Ricoh Canada wants to create a sub-portal with finance information and HR Web pages for its employees as well.

SAPPHIRE wraps up Thursday.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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