SAP and Microsoft hope to sing a Duet

SAP AG and Microsoft Corp. announced the official name for Project Mendocino on Tuesday and said they plan to ship the jointly developed software on schedule in June.

Mendocino will officially be called Duet, the companies said. The name is meant to suggest harmony between the two software makers, although some analysts are already posing the obvious question: Will they be able to sing in tune?

Duet will allow workers to access data and processes from SAP’s business applications through Microsoft’s familiar Office software. In a services company, for example, a worker will be able to record billable hours in the Microsoft Outlook calendar, and have that information sucked into an SAP application for processing.

SAP hopes the tighter links to Office will help bring its software to a broader range of users, who should not need extensive retraining because they will already be familiar with the Office applications.

Duet should also help to strengthen SAP against its main rival, Oracle Corp., said David Bradshaw, a principal analyst with Ovum Ltd.

For Microsoft, Duet helps to solidify its leadership in desktop productivity applications by making its software a more integral part of a company’s daily operations, he said.

The partnership between SAP and Microsoft isn’t an exclusive one. SAP has also said it is working with Macromedia Inc. to develop better interfaces for SAP’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) software.

Microsoft and SAP were quick to note that Duet is being released on schedule. That’s not surprising, Bradshaw noted, since many of Microsoft’s bigger products, like Windows Vista and its SQL Server 2005 database, have been delayed by months or even years.

Indeed, even the next version of Microsoft Office, called Office 2007, has been delayed. Microsoft and SAP are “committed to providing support for Microsoft Office 2007 as soon as possible following its release,” they said Tuesday.

Still, before Duet is even available the companies are talking about enhancements to come later this year. They’ll include support for additional business processes, such as purchasing management and sales activity management, and additional local-language support.

The companies also kicked off a worldwide advertising campaign Tuesday, and launched a Web site for the product. The software will be jointly marketed, sold and supported by Microsoft, which is based in Redmond, Washington, and SAP, of Walldorf, Germany.

Pricing information has not yet been released. The companies will probably have to come up with a new type of licensing, particularly if SAP’s applications will be accessed by a wider range of more “casual” users who don’t typically use SAP’s business applications, Bradshaw said.

To use Duet, users will need a license for Exchange Server 2003 and Office 2003 Professional, and a “relevant employee user license” for SAP ERP 2004, according to the Duet Web site.

Around 100 customers and partners have been testing Duet since early versions were released late last year, the companies said.

The initial release addresses four types of business activity — time management, leave management, budget monitoring and organization management. These “self service” type applications were probably chosen to show how Duet can be useful for workers who don’t typically interface directly with SAP’s software, Bradshaw said.

The Leave Management component, for example, lets workers submit personal leave requests and get approvals through Microsoft Outlook, and have the information synchronized with SAP’s back-end ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications.

In the second half of the year the companies will release two “value packs” that add additional business scenarios. These move beyond self-service capabilities and into “line of business” scenarios such as recruitment management, travel management, analytics, purchasing management and sales activity management, the companies said.

The value packs will also expand language support to include French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Japanese, the companies said. The initial version of the product will be available in English only, according to the Duet Web site.

The value packs will also be compatible with the next release of mySAP ERP and the 2007 release of Microsoft Office System, the companies said.

Executives including Shai Agassi, president of SAP’s products and technology group, will discuss Duet in a conference call for press and analysts later on Tuesday, an SAP spokesman said.