SAP Duet Enterprise has the potential to make SAP’s complicated ERP systems easier for business users, a goal that Duet, its predecessor, failed to reach, according to a new Gartner report that outlines best practices for the application.
Duet Enterprise is the most recent attempt by Microsoft and SAP to allow users to access SAP applications through an interface they’re more comfortable using. Whereas Duet provided that access through Microsoft Office, Duet Enterprise lets users access SAP through Microsoft SharePoint.
“Our research shows that core power users of ERP are not unhappy. In fact, they’re very happy,” said Jeff Woods, a Gartner Inc. analyst and co-author of the report. “The issue is we force casual users and business executives into a system designed for power users. It seems like a losing proposition.”
What’s different with SAP ERP this time?
Duet was a set of “prebuilt scenarios” that provided access to very specific elements of the SAP system through Microsoft Office.
Those scenarios were “virtually worthless,” Woods said. “No one was excited about them. They didn’t create that much value. Like timesheet entry, vacation time requests.”
Duet Enterprise takes a completely different tack, Woods said.
“The far better way to do this is to take ERP to the people and to make the ERP more user-centric,” Woods said. “Duet Enterprise helps to create a more user-centric ERP.”
Duet Enterprise is a toolkit that allows companies to create their own scenarios based on specific needs they’ve identified.
For example, a company might remove the requirement to individually approve human-resources requisition requests and create a new screen that allows users to approve multiple requisitions at the same time, Woods said. “Those are the types of user frustration areas where [companies] need to go out and survey the users and fix those problems [using Duet Enterprise].”
While it is possible to deploy Duet Enterprise with traditional, centralized SAP management, Gartner recommends that users create an additional system “pace” layer that can support faster, more agile development cycles. Pace layers allow users to change different parts of the system at different speeds, Woods said.
“Duet Enterprise should be that extra layer,” he said. “If you engineer this correctly, Duet Enterprise can serve as one of the systems of innovation layers that reside above ECC, uses data from ECC, uses processes from ECC, but then also has a very lightweight environment that you can change very quickly.”
The agile Duet Enterprise development team should sit with business, according to the report, so that it can “understand and iterate with the constantly changing priorities of the business.”
Duet Enterprise development cycles should last from two to four weeks or less, according to Gartner. “You do not want long [Duet Enterprise] cycles. These aren’t full implementations; they are ways to respond to rapidly changing business needs.”
Companies should also steer clear of making changes to the SAP workflows when creating new scenarios. “If the team is not able to stay outside of SAP, they will likely forfeit their development cycle speed,” Woods said.
Standing on the sidelines
Clients who are interested in Duet Enterprise all have the same question, Woods said.
“They’re asking if this is anything different, or if this is a replay from prior versions," he said. "And of course, the answer is no. This is a totally different product.”
That’s good news for Mike O’Dell, chief information officer for Pacific Coast Cos., a building materials company based in the Sacramento, Calif., area.
“We tried the old Duet and we didn’t have a lot of luck getting it to work," O'Dell said. "
He’s willing to give it another try, O’Dell said, but he’d like to speak with a company that’s using Duet Enterprise in its current environment before he makes any decision.
“Unlike the first Duet, where we jumped on the bandwagon and gave it a good try, I’d like to talk to another CIO who actually got it to work and has it in production doing something more than just trivial tasks,” O’Dell said. “Or at least go and see it myself. If I can see it working, and I know that it will work, then I’m OK with giving it another shot.”