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3/31/2010
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SAP Launches Collaboration Cloud

StreamWork announcement highlights agile development and innovation. But is it a platform customers want from SAP?

"This is the brand new SAP."

That's the subtext the German software vendor took pains to telegraph at Tuesday's general release of SAP StreamWork, a new cloud-based collaboration environment that brings social-networking, decision-support and tracking to virtual teams.

A slick video shown during the launch Webinar described StreamWork as "brining order to the chaos" and "method to the madness" of collaboration.

The service aims to do so by letting individuals and teams launch and track activities like meetings, planning sessions, prioritization, and decision-making. The platform lets users upload content, insert action-items, add participants and apply tools such as time lines, responsibility matrices, tables, polls and rankings. Users can also apply decision-support tools, such as SWOT analyses and cost-benefit analyses. The tools and capabilities are all delivered at SAPStreamWorks.com, which offers a free basic service and a $9 per-user, per month professional edition with advanced administration features.

Beyond the particulars, the presentation was largely about what StreamWork represents. Executives underscored the project's fast (sub-two-year) timeline, the agile REST development methods used, and new technologies and computing paradigms embraced.

"Innovative products that come to market fast and that are beautiful to the end user are core tenants of SAP's road forward," said SAP senior VP David Meyer. "We'd like to think of SAP StreamWork as a great example of a step down that road."

The partners highlighted in yesterday's launch wereatypical for SAP, Meyer noted. They're all comparatively small companies embracing the latest in open development standards and progressive computing methods. The Web-oriented document viewing technology is provided by Scribd. Two-year-old Evernote has integrated its personal capture system for storing, indexing and retrieving everything from text notes and screen shots to document scans and voice messages. Box.net is the source of StreamWork's Web-based content management capabilities, a platform typically used by small and midsize companies.

Judging by the questions asked during yesterday's Q&A session, journalists were more puzzled by the substance of the offering than the style of development or delivery. Will StreamWork compete with the likes of Google Groups or SharePoint? And do customers expect or want a collaboration product from SAP?

Meyer admitted that many customers and beta users of the service (formerly called 12Sprints) have been surprised to see SAP delving into the collaborative domain. "We're not asking people to drop what they're using today and replace it with SAPStreamWork, but there are things missing in some of those products that this product uniquely provides," Meyer said.

Meyer predicted StreamWork will stand out in terms of tracking and auditing features (backed by SAP process-control and auditing experience), and in decision-support capabilities (tapping the BusinessObjects heritage).

Customer Geoff Bartakovics, CEO of TastingTable.com, a food-and-wine review site, said the service is very different than other collaborative environments.

"To really understand it, you have to create an account and add some of the tools to a test activity," said Bartakovics, who uses the service for virtual meetings and decision-making with his 14 employees in five cities across the U.S. "When you see the level of complexity that StreamWork can handle, then you'll understand how this is particular to SAP."

Meyer said enterprise pricing as well as additional partnerships and deeper integrations with SAP applications will be announced in the second half of 2010. Public details were few, but insiders say BI data and application decision processes will be accessible through the platform.

Bottom line? It remains to be seen whether SAP StreamWork will go down as innovation- and cloud-computing window dressing or an initiative with a big payoff for core SAP customers.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report based on its 2010 IT Salary Survey. Download the report here (registration required).

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