The project, which combines several SAP functions with Microsoft Office tools, allows end users to conduct work in the familiar Microsoft Outlook environment. Analysts here got an in-depth preview of the latest release during a two-day forum held by SAP.
SAP said the initial release would be aimed at some of its largest customers. The first version provides budget monitoring, time and leave management, report distribution and organization functionality.
For example, the product allows an end user to submit vacation requests and update and access employee HR files by pulling SAP data into Excel. Meanwhile, the data on the desktop is in synch with the data on the server.
While the first version will ship to 40 customers and 10 partners Dec. 23, analysts said there are still some unanswered questions about the new product.
"Other than the requirements, the price is still not clear and they weren't prepared to give any more details," said Judy Sweeney, vice president of ERP and infrastructure at Boston-based AMR Research Inc. "It's a good tool and on the right path, but it's still not clear what it takes to implement it."
Under the partnership agreement, both Microsoft and SAP will be able to set their own price points for the product. At a minimum, users need to be licensed for SAP, with enterprise-level software on the desktop to use Mendocino, Sweeney said.
The product also gives SAP a strong demo tool against Oracle's E-Business Suite or PeopleSoft Enterprise Human Resources applications, which have had more intuitive user interfaces, Sweeney said.
"From a wow factor, this product is offering up nice appealing things," she said. "If you are particularly used to the SAP screens, Mendocino is much more easily used."
While the first version of Mendocino supports Office 2003, the second version will offer much more functionality as more SAP transactions will be melded with Microsoft Office 12, according to Shai Agassi, a member of SAP's executive board, who serves as president of SAP's product and technology group.
Agassi said another 50 customers will add Mendocino in April, and the product will be made generally available in the second quarter of 2006.
Both SAP and Microsoft have been touting the project as an example of the types of products that will be made available using Web services and a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The product gives end users new functionality with little need for additional training, since most functionality will be built into the familiar Microsoft Outlook e-mail client and Excel accounting software products.
Speaking to SearchSAP.com in June, Dennis Moore, general manager of emerging solutions at SAP in Palo Alto, Calif., said integration complexity depends largely on the degree of software customization currently in place at an enterprise.
Most installations should take a period of hours to install, Moore said. SAP and Microsoft also plan to have a joint support structure in place, to answer installation and other support questions.