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In a sign of progress for data hunter-gatherers, Microsoft, SAP, IBM and Google are taking steps toward higher order personal productivity environments that will let you interact with enterprise data.
Events of the past month in the world of desktop software have underscored predictions that the long-term industry trend is toward Web-services-powered desktops. Behind the headlines around vendor alliances and product announcements by Google, IBM, Microsoft and SAP, the back story is that business professionals are in for a big win in terms of easy access to business intelligence and enterprise application data.
In fact, it looks like Microsoft and IBM are counting on enterprise data and report access (particularly to SAP applications) to drive excitement and adoption for their next-generation desktop products. But can BI become the killer application in the information workspace?
Delivering to the Desktop
In early May, Microsoft and SAP announced June availability for their joint project, Duet for Microsoft Office and SAP (formerly known as Project Mendocino). The initial Duet release is limited to four common self-service process scenarios: time management, leave management, organization management and budget monitoring. Microsoft and SAP have announced two additional "value packs" for Duet that will add five more scenarios and bring analytics and report interaction to the Duet desktop later this year.
Within the week, IBM announced two offerings: IBM Lotus Notes access for SAP solutions (formerly known as Project Tatara) and IBM Workplace for SAP Software. These products bring SAP information to IBM's customer base of Lotus Notes messaging and application users and IBM customers who are adopting SOA (service-oriented architecture) infrastructures and moving to the new IBM Workplace browser-based client environment. The Notes product offers direct access to SAP reports as well as functionality and scenario support that is similar to what Duet provides for Outlook. The Workplace product provides service-level access to any information source of the customer's choosing, and employee and manager self-service scenarios are promised in a future release. However, neither IBM product offers anything that parallels Duet's interface to the Microsoft Office productivity tools, particularly Excel. Hold on to that fact.
Offering yet another route to the desktop, Google released a new version of its Enterprise Search Appliance in mid-April that provides support for direct links to BI information and reports. The access is gained though a new "OneBox" interface, and several major BI players have offered their support (see "Google OneBox Cuts to the Chase" below). [Editor's note: At press time, IBM announced it would enable its Omni Find engine to search formal BI reports from vendors such as Cognos. It will also enable direct, ad hoc data query using the natural-language search technology it acquired in last year's purchase of iPhrase. The idea is to let business users untrained in formal data query and filtering approaches ask questions through a search interface to get at important information that might not be available in established reports.]
The aim of all these recent announcements is to alleviate business user frustration with the limitations of what IT has been able to provide at the desktop. To date, desktop software providers, enterprise data and application suppliers and the Internet and enterprise search specialists haven't come close to addressing the work requirements of individual professionals, particularly their information integration needs (see "The Next-Generation Personal Workspace").
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