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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. put a full-court press on Chatter last year, with top-level executives including CEO Mark Benioff talking it up before, during and after the launch. StreamWork, by comparison, has been a low-key affair. The project was originally spearheaded by BusinessObjects veterans Marge Breya and David Meyer, and it was handled outside the usual SAP development channels and featured Enterprise 2.0, non-traditional SAP customers. Breya and Meyer both left SAP late last year (Breya to join HP), which certainly raised questions about StreamWork's future.

With this week's announcement, SAP reaffirmed its commitment to StreamWork, but it still feels like a bolt-on product. Top SAP executives mention StreamWork from time to time, but it seems like they're checking the collaboration box, not making bold statements about becoming a leader in this area.

From a customer perspective, StreamWork is not something that will just show up within all SAP applications, the way Chatter was embedded across all sales and service applications and the development platform (granting free basic Chatter services to all customers). Granted, the scope of Salesforce apps is limited compared to SAP's portfolio. But there's a night-and-day difference between the corporate investments (monetary and otherwise) these firms put into collaboration.

The results speak for themselves. claims some 80,000 out of 92,000-plus customers are using Chatter. I don't doubt that many customers are using the free service and that many more of those aren't using Chatter very actively. But Salesforce took the right approach by getting Chatter out there to build a critical mass of collaborators. From there it can try to sell companies on Chatter Plus, a $15 per-user, per-month upgrade that adds dashboards, workflows, reports and other service enhancements.

By contrast, SAP cites only vague claims such as "StreamWork is being used in thousands of cities." The customer references aren't very, well, SAP-like. For example, a press release quoted the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. I have nothing against Canadian speakers, but that reference won't make SAP's prized best-run companies take notice.

StreamWork has great potential to support exception management in various business processes, but it needs be exposed much more pervasively to really catch on. Meanwhile, SAP has much more important initiatives to focus on than collaboration; mobile apps and in-memory computing are the categories SAP is counting on to woo customers and drive revenue. SAP also isn't the only company with a low-key collaboration effort. Oracle, for example, rarely highlights its Beehive platform.

There's only so much SAP can focus on at once, and with all eyes on profits, I can't blame the company for focusing on bigger bets. But in collaboration, as in the on-demand arena, SAP is moving slowly. Business ByDesign has been a work in progress for at least three years, yet the company has capped subscriptions at 1,000 customers in 2011. Collaboration is a 14-month old initiative, yet it's pre-integrated with only three applications. There is a free, non-integrated edition available to all, but why not make a basic, app-embedded Enterprise Edition available for free to get momentum rolling?

This current approach isn't the way to make waves. That leads me to conclude that SAP's bigger concern than penetrating the collaboration and on-demand markets is making money. The path to profits clearly isn't throwing money at fledgling, low-margin subscription businesses. But from another perspective, SAP can't reach profit-driving economies of scale in these businesses if it makes it impossible to grow.

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