German software giant SAP this week announced the general availability of StreamWork, a cloud-based, collaborative decision-making application described by analysts as the vendor's most compelling gambit yet in the market often referred to as Enterprise 2.0. According to company executives, the application - known as "12sprints" during its beta-testing period - can help teams both inside and outside an organization's walls reach meaningful decisions and real outcomes.
The product's release comes less than two months after the enterprise software company decided not to renew the contract of Chief Executive Officer Léo Apotheker. Under the direction of Co-CEO's Bill McDermott and Jim Hagemann Snabe, the company claims to have begun a process of diversification to offer "a prime example of the leaner, faster, more agile approach to product development, with integrated input and feedback from our customers and partners," according to a company statement.
[Editors' Note: Coverage of Apotheker's departure can be found here, and the company's own February 7, 2010, press release regarding Apotheker's ouster can be found here.]
Despite a market saturated with cloud-based collaboration tools, SAP is promoting StreamWork as a "unique" product, one that "solves a problem that shares characteristics with other existing offerings but provides a net new value," said David Meyer, SAP's senior vice president, during a teleconference with media and analysts to announce StreamWork's general availability.
"There was some confusion about how [StreamWork] related to the many [collaboration] tools out there," Meyer continued, alluding to competitors such as Salesforce.com and Google Wave. "[StreamWork] does bear resemblance to those tools, but its purpose is very different. While there are a lot of horizontal-collaboration systems, you generally do work outside of them and share your work in them. They don't give you the high-value decision-making tools and analysis tools that SAP is known for."
Among the launch partners announced for StreamWork's public debut was Box.net, which has as its published mission statement the goal of enabling its four million users the ability to access and share content from anywhere. During the StreamWork teleconference, Aaron Levie, Box.net's CEO, made the case for why his company's integration with SAP's new offering outpaces traditional systems for enterprise content management and collaboration, which Levie called "notoriously hard to use and difficult to implement." Levie went so far as to suggest that his company's integration with StreamWork represents the future of cloud-computing technology.
Echoing Levie's comments was Geoff Bartakovics, CEO of Tasting Table, a free daily email newsletter that offers its subscribers city-specific food and drink recommendations. The company has 14 full-time employees, Bartakovics said, each of whom lives and works in a different location. There is no official Tasting Table office, which makes a Web-based tool such as StreamWork important for companywide activities.
"With StreamWork I can add any number of tools or documents to an activity for us to discuss as a team," Bartakovics said, "so when I'm launching a product I [can] get everyone involved in the launch together on a conference call and [we] can brainstorm all that needs to happen to make the product live. Literally, as we're talking, I will create new items within the launch time frame and assign them to users."
For the past 20 years, companies have been investing in business intelligence (BI) to improve the quality of operational and strategic decisions, according to Gartner Research Director Rita Sallam. BI may do a great job of delivering insight, says Sallam, who has been writing about collaborative decision-making for the past year, but companies also need to see the links involved: between the information and the decisions, within the collaboration that led to those decisions, and among the analysis, support tools, processes, and practices involved.
"Solutions like StreamWork will begin to provide more transparency and improve the quality of collaborative decisions," Sallam predicts. "Typically, that collaboration is siloed in emails and erased from the whiteboard. There's no way to [conveniently] link who, what, when, how, and where that decision was made."
During the teleconference, Meyer drove home the collaboration theme by noting how the StreamWork platform was built in conjunction with the company's partners and customers. Even as it emerges from its beta stage, he said, StreamWork will continue to allow users to submit recommendations directly to SAP's developers with the click of a feedback button. In the spirit of transparency, he noted, user-submitted ideas and suggestions will be visible to all.
"[SAP] loves to see feedback coming in from [its] customers," Meyer said during his closing remarks. "That is how we'll go forward. This is the beginning of a journey. We want everybody to teach SAP how to be nimble and fast."
[Editors' Note: The original version of this story included assertions attributed to an executive at Box.net that have since been clarified. The editors regret any related confusion.]
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