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

Mendocino will officially be called Duet. 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. in London.

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 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.

The initial release addresses four types of business activity — time management, leave management, budget monitoring and organization management.

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 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.

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

Anuj Batra, national lead, emerging solutions with SAP Canada, said discussions are currently underway with a number of Canadian companies looking to join the preview program.

“The feedback in general has been overwhelming from both our partner and customer communities,” said Batra. “The level of interest has been extremely high.”

Information workers spend the majority of their day inside Microsoft Office and Outloook applications but need sporadic access to SAP business processes and data, and Batra said Duet will be an easy way for them to access and leverage their SAP data without having to leave that familiar Office environment.

“We believe this will appeal to both existing SAP users that spend a lot of time in the Microsoft Office environment and to users that haven’t traditionally worked with SAP processes but need to in order to run their business,” said Batra.

Pricing info has not yet been released.

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