Business software companies are looking to the consumer Web for product inspiration--and potentially profit.
Business applications giant SAP this year will be rolling out enhancements meant to make end users more productive through easier collaboration, according to company executives.
These additions are being designed around so-called Web 2.0 technologies, such as shared Web pages called wikis, as well as online forums and mini applications called widgets. The goal is to make it easier for knowledge workers who use SAP products to collaborate.
"Building community-oriented tools is just a natural side effect of serving the information worker who works in teams, said Dennis Moore, general manager of emerging solutions and SAP Labs. "Customers are demanding it. They have been collecting all this data--now they need to do something with it."
These personal productivity tools will be rolled out over the course of this year to customers of SAP's suite of business applications, he said.
SAP is far from alone in getting the end-user collaboration bug. IBM on Monday debuted its own Web 2.0 strategy, introducing two new tools that bring social-networking instruments such as blogs and wikis to its Lotus suite and portal software.
For these entrenched business software companies, the idea is to invest in end-user productivity to entice customers to upgrade. SAP earlier this month said it expects to miss its 2006 sales target.
More workers are expecting the same "user experience" at work that they get on the Web, noted Joshua Greenbaum, principal analyst at Enterprise Applications Consulting. Introducing Web-based collaboration can help sway a customer decision to upgrade.
"The user upgrade decision is very complex, and every factor you can throw in the pile in favor of it is positive," Greenbaum said. "Maybe a customer had a side project with Web 2.0, but if SAP's doing and it's part of an upgrade, why not?"
Moore noted that SAP isn't entirely clear on how to monetize its end-user enhancements, because people expect many Web 2.0 tools for free. But improving customer satisfaction is important, he said.
For example, SAP is building widgets--typically small applications that focus on one task--and adding them to its core applications.
These widgets can make SAP applications easier to work with, he said. A salesperson could create a widget that pops up when a customer's account information is updated, or a widget to search corporate systems can sit on a person's desktop.
"In the past, with any enterprise application you had to load the application, start the application, and know where to find the search function," Moore said.
Moore pointed out that using Web 2.0 technologies in businesses--a practice sometimes referred to as Enterprise 2.0--introduces a different set of requirements.
Specifically, corporations demand more fine-grained security and access controls for data and the ability to get information from business applications such as sales orders or financial data.
SAP is enhancing its NetWeaver infrastructure to make SAP data accessible in different formats, including its traditional client software, a Web-based client, portal, mobile devices and widgets, said Andrew Cabanski-Dunning, director of solutions marketing for user productivity enablement at SAP.