SAP TECH ED - SAP looks to Microsoft, Adobe for friendlier UI

SAP gave an update on its projects with Adobe AIR and Duet at Tech Ed this week.

SAP is pushing ahead with two partnerships that aim to provide customers with better user interface options for its ERP (enterprise resource planning) applications.

SAP and Microsoft plan to announce an upgrade in the coming weeks to their Duet software, version 1.5, which will be generally available early next year, officials at SAP's Tech Ed conference said.

At the same time, SAP is stepping up its efforts with Adobe Systems to let developers liven up SAP interfaces using Adobe's new AIR(Adobe Integrated Runtime) technology, for building rich Web applications that run outside of a browser.

Both projects, on show at TechEd in Germany, aim to expand the number of employees who access SAP applications and data. The partnerships are also part of an industry-wide trend to bring enterprise software to a wider range of business users.

SAP's standard interfaces are often seen as functional, but not very imaginative or easy to use.

"Anything that improves SAP's interfaces, which are hideous and hard to use, is a good thing," said James Governor, an industry analyst with RedMonk.

Duet allows workers to view "contextual" SAP data that might help them make business decisions from within Microsoft applications such as Outlook and Excel. In the current version, that contextual data is limited to what SAP and Microsoft chose to provide for a given task.

"It's really the information we think people want, based on our experience and best practices," said Yifat Ferber-Harel, a Duet product manager with SAP.

Version 1.5 of the product will include tools that allow developers to choose the contextual data they want to present to end users.

For example, a big company might set up a process for approving promotions using Microsoft Outlook. When a senior manager receives an e-mail from a department head suggesting a promotion, a developer will be able to provide related information from SAP's human-resources software, such as the employee's sales figures, absentee record or current pay scale.

The capability should help to deliver on the original promise of Duet, Ferber-Harel said. "Part of our original vision was to give you the information you need to make decisions, and you can't make decisions without the right information," she said.

The update will also add more user scenarios, the business cases in which Duet can be used. Today they include areas such as leave management and budget planning.

At the same time, SAP is working with Adobe on its AIR technology, a recent addition to Adobe's Flex development environment. AIR is seen as a rival to Microsoft's Internet Explorer because developers can use it to build applications with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and Flash that can on a the desktop instead of in a Web browser.

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