Connections on Many Levels

Even in an industry that’s grown famous for its ability to magnify and exaggerate, Henning Kagermann’s claim from SAPPHIRE ’05, Copenhagen may be closer to fact than fiction: “This is one of the breakthroughs in our industry.” Mendocino may or may not be the industry’s next “killer app,” but it does share some characteristics in common with the original killer app, the spreadsheet, and with the killer-app form in general.
For one thing, it’s simple to grasp: SAP enterprise software is now seamlessly connected with Microsoft Office. Thus it gives users extraordinary leverage over enterprise information resources. For another, it promises benefits to the vendors themselves, and to future third-party developers, that could scale to massive proportions, thanks to the millions of Microsoft Office users. It does something else, too. It shows the value of what SAP calls collective innovation; and in particular, it shows what two cooperating competitors can do to advance their business prospects, without weakening either competitor’s growth potential.

From SAP software right into the user’s email in-basket

Most readers are probably familiar with the April 26 Mendocino announcement, but for those who are not, here’s a quick summary. Mendocino is the code name for a joint development project and product that grew out of a longstanding co-development partnership between Microsoft and SAP.
Mendocino places commands, menu extensions and SAP-specific smart panes in Microsoft Office applications that can connect office workers to SAP enterprise applications – and vice versa. Underlying these tools is powerful software that can perform an array of functions on the user’s behalf.
For example, Mendocino automatically tracks user time or a program budget, and deliver end-of-week, end-of-month, or as-needed reports on most any aspect of time or budget management – right to the user’s email in-basket.
In the process, Mendocino may be activating a number of SAP processes and analytic resources to get the results, but this is transparent to the user. Because the resulting information is based on the underlying SAP infrastructure, it is consistent and accurate from an enterprise-wide viewpoint.

How the magic happens

The magic that makes this happen involves a growing set of enterprise services from SAP, as well as the fact that Mendocino developers were able to leverage SAP Enterprise Service Architecture and Microsoft.Net. To see how all this comes together, think about what Mendocino is like in action. When an user creates a leave request in Outlook, a message is sent to the underlying SAP human resources software system. This software then displays relevant contextual information, such as vacation balance and HR policies, in the SAP smart pane. The smart pane is used for other things, as well. For instance, it typically includes a number of action options, allowing the user for the user to set “Out of Office’ messages or create or modify report schedules.
In Microsoft.NET parlance, the SAP smart pane is treated as a “smart client,” an entity that contains a high degree of innate intelligence, but that also operates like a Web application for navigation and transaction processing. With Mendocino, it triggers the configured process in the SAP solution in order to validate the leave request. The SAP software in turn sends a message to the Mendocino server, via Microsoft Exchange, to create an approval request and email it to the respective manager.
Upon the manager’s approval, a message is sent back to the SAP HR solution, which then validates the approval and confirms the leave request. Simultaneously, the SAP software sends a notification to the Mendocino server to send an ‘approved’ email to the end user. Throughout the entire process, the inputting of data and other underlying actions are transparent to the user. Following the .NET “smart client” rules, the smart pane is clearly an important vehicle for SAP’s added value in Mendocino.
The other magic of Mendocino is the fact that the developers designed open interfaces – based on SAP Enterprise Service Architecture (SAP ESA) – to the logic that runs the applications. This way, other developers can create their own value, in terms of new applications, in the future.
“Because of these open interfaces, the potential for Mendocino applications is virtually unlimited,” says Kevin Fliess, Vice President for Solution Marketing for Emerging Solutions at SAP. “SAP and Microsoft will continue to extend Mendocino to expose additional enterprise applications, and third-party developers will be motivated to innovate because of the large potential market.”

Benefits for companies and users

Mendocino underscores another important connection, that between Microsoft and SAP. According to Geoffrey Moore, best-selling author of Crossing the Chasm and other books, and an SAP consultant, “The relationship between Microsoft and SAP is an example of how collaboration is displacing competition at the leading edge of innovation.”
The two companies are serving as an example for the rest of the industry that competitors can indeed cooperate on key products or markets. Even though Microsoft and SAP can, and do, compete at a number of levels, in this particular area they stand to gain substantially because of the potential of a united product set. So it’s no wonder that their relationship extends into joint marketing, as well, with Microsoft committed to reselling SAP’s Business Process Platform SAP NetWeaver, and SAP reselling Microsoft Office.
Of course, Mendocino’s greatest value is in connecting users, or, more accurately, in connecting information workers to enterprise applications, processes, and data. For instance, when a user employs Outlook to set up a meeting, the SAP smart pane automatically opens so that the user charge time to the appropriate cost center. The panel also shows other time-management data, so the user can see if reporting is on track. Additionally, the panel might contain a button that opens the relevant company-policy guidelines for this transaction.

Mendocino task pane
Mendocino task pane

Here, Mendocino might let a user “click through” an alert, delivered from an SAP analytic application to the email inbox, in order to resolve an issue by viewing the relevant business processes. Before Mendocino, SAP delivered alerts to Outlook inboxes, but users were not able to follow the alerts back to their sources.
Importantly, throughout its operations, Mendocino employs metadata-based intelligence, so it understands the user’s context – including access permissions, interface choices, and so on – for every transaction.

The roadmap

For now, Mendocino will help users automate and access some of the most-frequently-used business process scenarios:

  • Time management: From Outlook, this will enable SAP time reporting, streamlining time entry while ensuring time reporting compliance.
  • Budget monitoring: Users can receive SAP reports in their Outlook Inboxes and work with them offline, allowing managers to effectively monitor the budget by being proactively alerted to time-critical information.
  • Leave management: Users can add leave requests as calendar items integrated with SAP approval guidelines and business defined processes.
  • Organization management: This will deliver up-to-date information about employees, open positions, organizational structures integrated from SAP HR in Outlook contacts and easily accessible in other Microsoft Office Professional 2003 documents.

Mendocino is scheduled for a limited, preview release in 2005, with general availability in mid 2006. In the meantime, SAP is looking at ways to add value, particularly by extending the list of business process scenarios. And demand is already strong for the product – both from SAP and Microsoft customers, and people inside SAP. “People at SAPPHIRE in Copenhagen were asking to be put onto the preview release list,” says Kevin Fliess. “And when we presented Mendocino to our employees, many of them asked when they would be able to get a hold of the product for their own use.”

Jim Buchanan