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5/6/2011
08:01 AM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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SAP Takes Tepid Step On Collaboration

Vendor says StreamWork will be "core to business apps," but it hasn't exactly stacked the deck for success.

SAP announced Wednesday that it is "bringing collaborative capabilities to every application and facet of work" with its StreamWork collaboration service. It feels more like it's leaving that task up to customers.

StreamWork is SAP's year-old, Web-based collaboration platform. This week's news is that the service's Enterprise Edition is now "available to integrate" with SAP applications. Trouble is, the list of pre-integrated apps is short, limited to CRM, Product Lifecycle Management and BusinessObjects Strategy Management.

The list of apps yet to be integrated is long, and SAP offered no specifics on when it will check them off. Until then, uniting StreamWork with business apps (other than CRM, PLM and Strategy Management) requires work with consultants, or partner or internal developers. That's not an appealing invitation, particularly considering all the low-cost forms of collaboration already available.

To review, StreamWork was introduced last March. The collaboration and decision-support interface is designed to help individuals and teams launch and track activities, like meetings and planning sessions, or review and approve documents or projects. Participants can upload content and apply tools such as time lines, responsibility matrices, tables, polls, and rankings. They can also apply decision-support tools, such as cost-benefit analyses.

StreamWork launched with a free basic service and a $9-per-user, per-month Professional Edition with group administration capabilities. A $16 per-user, per-month Enterprise Edition followed in December .

Aimed at the corporate market, the Enterprise Edition gives IT control over provisioning and access through a behind-the-firewall Enterprise Agent that automatically installs as a virtual appliance on a data-center server, pretty much as easily as software downloads and installs on a PC.

This agent delivers a management console that lets administrators extend single-sign-on access to employees, partners, and customers. The StreamWork services are still delivered through SAPStreamWork.com, but if an employee leaves or a partner gets too cozy with a competitor, individual user accounts can be suspended by a customer administrator.

The agent also lets customers tap into on-premises and third-party apps, though as stated earlier, only three SAP apps are pre-integrated such that StreamWork services can be invoked directly within the application. The plan is to integrate 16 major applications, but SAP won't say when that might happen. Until that time, you'll have to use SAP consultants, partners, or internal-IT to embed SteamWork into any other app. That could be as simple as adding a button to launch StreamWork in a separate browser instance, but that's not exactly contextual collaboration.

In an interview with Information Week, Jack Miller, an SAP vice president, described would-be merger-and-acquisition and sales-planning scenarios in which collaborators would access data or reports right inside SAP systems. Pre-integration with an app lets you seamlessly collaborate around on-premises data using the Web-delivered StreamWork decision-support tools. This is also where Enterprise Edition security come into play, but administrators set up StreamWork accounts using a combination of LDAP (network directories) and SAP user and access roles. Bottom line: It's yet another system to administer.

I'm not the only skeptic wondering if the world really needs another collaboration environment. There are plenty of well-established options out there. Microsoft, for instance, has added social networking features in Exchange/Outlook 2010 and in SharePoint 2010. IBM has its multi-tool Lotus Social Business Platform. Then there are the independent enterprise social platforms, like Jive and SocialText, and the online platforms, like Google Groups, Success Factor's CubeTree, and Yammer.

StreamWork is most often compared to Salesforce.com's Chatter. StreamWork is actually a very different type of tool in that it's designed for decision-support whereas Chatter provides a Facebook-like activity stream. The comparison is still appropriate in the sense that it reflects the relative importance each vendor has assigned to collaboration.

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