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Despite direct competition, Microsoft, SAP to solve integration ills

SAP and Microsoft are collaborating on data integration software despite selling competitive products. But customers say integration headaches continue.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Kevin Zeng, an IT manager at Procter & Gamble Co., is used to having initial integration problems when trying to add data from SAP applications onto Microsoft systems.

Initially, there are always integration bumps in the road when you're dealing with the kind and amount of data we deal with.
Kevin Zeng,
 IT managerProcter & Gamble Co.

Zeng, who is on Procter & Gamble's supply chain team, is attending Microsoft's TechEd 2005 user conference this week, seeking ways to better integrate data from various systems used at his company. Microsoft and SAP are collaborating to develop various products, including business connectors, portals and Web wrappers to attempt to ease integration woes.

"Initially, there are always integration bumps in the road when you're dealing with the kind and amount of data we deal with," Zeng said.

With about 46,000 installations on Microsoft Windows and two-thirds of all new SAP installs on the operating system, the two companies see integration between their products as a top priority.

Last month, the two companies announced Project Mendocino, which would connect data from some SAP systems into Microsoft Office products. But that product won't be available until 2006.

Microsoft executives at TechEd told SAP customers that combining Web services and the features found in many Microsoft products will help bridge the divide between SAP and Microsoft systems.

The path to smooth integration begins with adopting a service-oriented architecture, said Justin Chandoo, a Microsoft senior product manager working on portal technologies.

"You do not want to be recoding hard-coded applications to back-end systems," Chandoo said, during a session on integrating SAP into various Microsoft technologies.

Determining whether to use SAP or Microsoft integration products or both, depends on the number of SAP transactions at a company. The larger the number of SAP transactions, the more likely that SAP products make more sense, Chandoo said.

The companies leave the choice to customers, as various integration products compete head to head.

SAP launched Enterprise Portal, the portal component of SAP's NetWeaver integration platform, and plans an updated version next year that will ramp up competition with Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server. Both products come with built-in support of Java, Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition, and Microsoft .NET technology. They both allow integration with third-party applications, legacy systems and databases.

SAP also produces several other integration products. SAP .NET Connecter 2.0, currently in beta, enables developers to expose business application programming interfaces to any .NET application. A portal development kit for .NET, called PDK for .NET, allows developers to build, test and deploy applications to Enterprise Portal.

Related information:

Microsoft-SAP Mendocino project has opportunities, drawbacks

Learn about xApps

Microsoft SharePoint services, found in Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, can also implement XML-based data integration. Microsoft BizTalk Server and BizTalk adapters help integrate data from various programs, Chandoo said.

The integrated products are enabling users to view structured and unstructured documents and other data through a .NET pane in Microsoft Outlook, using Web services to pull data from various sources. Software taps data from various back-end systems to make the end user's job more efficient.

"All of this is bio-directional," Chandoo said. "You're not just viewing data, you're able to update various systems as well."

Enterprise applications such as supply chain management, customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning have delivered standardization of processes, according to Philip Fersht, director of the business applications and commerce group at the Yankee Group. Web services are being deployed because the integration can reinvigorate technologies at the edge of the enterprise, Fersht said.

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