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SAP's Denis Browne on the merits of Mickey

SAP, borrowing a term from Walt Disney's Imagineering, is cooking up widgets for social networking in its kitchen.

Denis Browne has his mouse ears on, and Mickey ain't even in da house.

Browne, who joined enterprise applications software giant SAP a little over a year ago, is senior vice president of its Imagineering unit. Yes, that's right. Imagineering.

That term may be familiar to all the baby boomer Mouseketeers. The Walt Disney Co. initially coined the term "Imagineering" years ago.

But the concept apparently works in enterprise software too.

Browne, who has been making the media rounds leading up to SAP's TechEd in Las Vegas in October, recently gave an update of what his Imagineering team is working on. The unit is part of SAP Labs and is responsible for developing long-term visionary projects on resolving pain points for customers, testing out the feasibility of those projects and evaluating whether they can move forward in the next 18 to 24 months.

The Imagineering team continues to toil away on Harmony, its internal social-networking site. The effort is designed to allow employees of SAP to share information about their work and interests with each other, when accessing all of SAP's applications, rather than having them turn to a standalone silo site.

So far, 1,000 out of 1,700 North America SAP Lab employees are experimenting with Harmony, since the internal social network went live in April. Of this group, roughly 10 percent to 13 percent of the members are active on a daily basis with any of the 136 groups in Harmony. A yoga group formed, which was able to persuade management to allocate a quiet room for their sessions. Meanwhile, a ping-pong group formed, scoring three ping-pong tables along the way. If this project ever makes it into commercial production, SAP may need to find other benefits it can tout to prospective customers besides that it will increase the recreational abilities of their workers. The software giant is also testing Harmony out on its CRM sales team.

Other things in the works include enterprise widgets. These SAP and third-party mash-ups are designed to take aim at the wave of information and data that washes ashore employees' computers. The widgets tend to focus on finding ways to personalize which data gets to users, acting as a tool to wade through the slush pile of information.

Mr. Imagineering said SAP is vetting out the security issues, as well as other concerns, such as how to deal with potential customer complaints when the widgets don't work or impede users' systems.

The software giant obviously learned a lesson back in 1999, in dealing with partners when customers complain.

Hershey's blamed SAP's order fulfillment software on a hit to its earnings back in 1999, when software glitches created trouble with its order fulfillment during the busy Halloween candy season. According to a report in Baseline magazine, the "project's complexity was in the integration of the SAP and Manugistics software, which had to work together to manage orders and schedule shipments to customers."

Virtual worlds and its massive partnership with Microsoft on Duet are just some of the other areas that keep Browne's mouse ears perked up.