Is it possible to declare software “a success” within just a few weeks of its debut? In the case of Duet, the joint product from SAP and Microsoft, success came fast, with proof.
One company installed Duet in just two weeks. “That is a strong indicator that customers can install this new product quickly,” says Waibel, senior vice president, Emerging Solutions, SAP Labs. There are customers from several different geographic regions and several different industries who have begun implementing Duet.”
The debut version of Duet offers budget monitoring, time management, leave management and organization management. More functionality is planned for the rest of the year. New Duet value packs include travel planning and approvals, customer meeting scheduling, activity management, reporting capabilities on top of SAP Business Information Warehouse (SAP BW), shopping cart approvals and other new and useful functionality.
And Waibel says that’s just the beginning of Duet’s innovative features. Because it uses the best technologies from SAP and Microsoft along with flexible Web services interfaces, its functionality can keep increasing along with the numbers of satisfied customers using it. Even though SAP applications are primarily written in ABAP and Microsoft applications are primarily written in .Net technologies, Web services allow them to “talk” and work together.
“We created Duet as a standard application, but with a set of platform features,” Waibel says. That means that Duet offers Microsoft Office functionality in Outlook and Excel, for instance, which can be extended using business data from SAP. With just a bit of development, Duet can be adapted to a company’s ever-changing needs. Because of this flexibility Duet is more than an application; it’s a platform that can grow as a company grows.
Since its May launch, the joint SAP-Microsoft Duet team has been collecting data from users. And they’re adding features to respond to the feedback.
For example the team created an implementation checklist. The checklist helps customers quickly determine if IT systems are properly configured and ready for Duet. If the checklist shows systems aren’t ready, configuration can be automated, saving the customer time and resources.
“Once a customer runs the checklist report, the report identifies what needs to be done to prepare for Duet. The customer can then choose to have some of those steps executed automatically, avoiding the difficulty of working from a 500-page manual, for instance,” Waibel says. “The checklist dramatically reduces the effort customers must go through.”
The checklist report tells the Duet customer:
- if support packages and patches are at the right level within the underlying mySAP ERP system.
- if all necessary pointers to access points (Web services connectors, remote function call connectors and so on) are configured correctly within individual scenarios.
- if authorizations are set up and maintained properly for given users and scenarios.
- if pre-configuration for the reporting functionality within Duet is maintained properly and if not, suggests additional pre-configuration.
- if user management and single sign-on works properly and helps to automatically configure single sing-on during installation.
Waibel says that SAP and Microsoft plan to offer a Duet development toolkit so customers and partners can easily add features as needed. While the Duet team aims to incorporate as much functionality as possible, some processes are specific to certain companies. Enabling companies to develop Duet scenarios on their own allows for business process-specific customization.
“Customers are asking us for development tools. They want to develop applications based on their own processes,” Waibel says. “Take a scenario that is not yet on the Duet roadmap, performance management in human resources. Some customers are already requesting it. The development toolkit can enable them to build and customize their own Duet scenarios.”
SAP and Microsoft could provide a list of subclass and interface choices in the toolkit. Customers could then pick and choose what they need. Even though the underlying applications from SAP and Microsoft are based on different technologies, such simple customization is made possible by Web services.
“When we designed the architecture, we identified components that should be developed by Microsoft and components that should be developed by SAP. And then we ensured that all of the interfaces between those components are fully based on Web services technology,” Waibel says. “It doesn’t make a difference which programming language someone is using, because the interface between those components is standardized Web services.”
For the many companies of all sizes that use both SAP and Microsoft applications, Duet is a productivity and decision-making boon. It links SAP business information with the familiar Office desktop. And Waibel says that the friendly user interface will be boosted even more by usability enhancements that are on the horizon.
“The teams spend a lot of time in quality assurance testing to make sure that Duet functions with the different configurations on the backend. We make sure that all the business processes are properly mapped out. And we make sure the user experience is fully blended into the Office environment,” Waibel says.
During ongoing Duet development efforts, the size of the combined SAP and Microsoft team has fluctuated from a few dozen to several hundred people. Since SAP and Microsoft are project-based companies, the effort began with a small core team who designed overall architecture and interfaces. Then developers joined the team. Over time, testing and Q&A engineers were added to the team.
“We’ve put in significant effort on both sides,” Waibel says. That includes effort to ensure that all team members speak the same “language.” In some cases terminology differs from SAP to Microsoft. For example, “development close,” is a phrase both companies use but with different meanings. For SAP the development close is deadline for application development. For Microsoft, it means the application is feature complete, but still needs testing. Waibel says the team solved language problems via positive and open communication.
And it’s the customers who stand to benefit most from the strong partnership between SAP-Microsoft. According to SAP partner Resource Informatik AG, customer interest is growing. “Customers of large as well as small- and medium-size businesses are interested in Duet. Clearly Duet meets a broad customer demand”, says Bruno Schmid, CEO, the Wollerau, Switzerland-based company.
Ongoing innovation, top-notch technology and strong partnership. Duet is shaping up to be an excellent example of how SAP and Microsoft work together solve business problems for customers.