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SAP previews business software

A sneak preview of SAP's Human Resources 4.0 business application shows off front-end tools for accessing and analyzing data within the system.

    SAP gave a sneak preview yesterday at its German headquarters of new features planned for version 4.0 of its human resources business application, including front-end tools for accessing and analyzing data within the system.

    Now in beta testing and due to ship by the second half of the year, SAP HR 4.0--a component of the company's R/3 package--lets companies handle organizational management, personnel cost planning, recruitment, benefits administration, time management, shift planning, incentive wages compensation, payroll, training, and event and travel management, the company said.

    The new product is a direct assault on PeopleSoft, the leader in the U.S. human resources market, said Michael Gioja, executive vice president of HR development at SAP. "This is also our first HR standalone," he added, meaning it can be sold as a single system separate from other applications in R/3.

    HR 4.0 also supports language, currency, regulatory, payroll and time-management requirements for 31 different countries. This allows customers to manage a single worldwide human resources system while decentralizing functions that support local requirements for each country's operations.

    The Manager's Desktop analysis tool allows users to make strategic inquiries and provide workforce management to managers throughout the organization. For example, managers can perform HR transactions at their desks and forward them for processing. In addition, the front-end tool gives managers desktop access to employee information that facilitates workforce analysis, management, and planning, and allows for standard or ad hoc reporting.

    Analysts said the tool is part of a general trend within the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market space, as vendors realize they need to not only house and process huge stores of information in their systems but also provide ways for users to take that data and make business decisions.

    "What they're trying to do with this specific product is extend the human resources data outside the department to other managers," said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst with the Hurwitz Group. "That's part of a general trend with SAP, to extend the footprint of R/3 throughout the enterprise."

    Gioja said Manager Desktop someday will become the interface for managers outside of HR doing tasks that are common across different applications. "For your day-to-day tasks like financials or asset management that are common across all industries," this will act as the tool to access that information.

    R/3 4.0 is due in an early release version by year's end and is slated to be generally available by the second quarter of 1998. The new version of the product will be broken into components and will support a various amount of PC-like development features including JavaBeans components and ActiveX Controls.

    SAP competes with Baan, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and, to a lesser extent, J.D. Edwards in the global ERP systems market. These companies provide software to automate and integrate corporate functions such as sales forecasting, inventory control, procurement, manufacturing planning, distribution, finance, and project management.

    ERP applications have become fixtures at a large majority of multinational corporations in recent years, but sales have begun to stagnate with market saturation, observers say. Major ERP vendors have devoted large resources to extend their core product to the front office in an attempt to make it attractive to a more diverse market.

    Part of that strategy includes breaking core products into component models, like SAP's Business Framework and Baan's recently announced Baan ERP. Also, companies are adding additional analytical tools to make their packages more valuable to customers.