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SAP cooks up partner, customer integration at co-innovation lab

SAP is setting itself apart from its competitors by collaborating on development with customers and partners at a special lab in California.

SAP recently revealed some of the first projects and free blueprints to come out of its Co-Innovation Lab, an effort that analysts say is a major point of differentiation from other ERP vendors.

SAP works with customers and other partner vendors in the Palo Alto, Calif.-based lab to integrate its own products, as well as the products of its partners, and ultimately produce free blueprints on how they can work together.

As vertical functionality becomes paramount for ERP vendors, the work represents SAP's realization that it can't alone develop everything its customers need, according to Joshua Greenbaum, principal of Berkeley, Calif.-based Enterprise Applications Consulting.

"I think the Co-Innovation Lab is a strategic differentiator for SAP," Greenbaum said. "The overall model is very important. It's less dictatorial, and much more collaborative. [SAP is realizing] they can't do everything."

The result is that the work coming out of the lab is really good, he said.

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Projects are in such high demand that SAP is finding it difficult to schedule every request from customers and partners, according to Richard Probst, vice president of solution co-innovation. The lab is at capacity right now, he said.

"It's helping our clients solve their toughest problems," said Lee Dittmar, principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP, which is participating in the project. "When you actually build a practical, real-world demonstration, it becomes real."

The Co-innovation Lab, established with support from Cisco, HP, Intel and NetApp, opened last year with the goal of churning out free blueprints that will show SAP customers how to integrate SAP products with one another, or with partners' products, to do what they want them to do -- or, as Probst puts it, "to turn invention into co-innovation."

"We weren't seeing as many customers as we wanted who saw how all these parts could fit together," Probst said. "It's not about product development. It's getting the product integrated in interesting ways."

For instance, SAP teamed up with VMWare and NetApp to produce a lower-cost, faster and more reliable disaster recovery plan. The result was a plan that improved recovery time from days to hours, Probst said.

They're also working on linking SAP Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence (SAP MII) with Service Oriented Network Architecture (SONA) from Cisco to provide manufacturers with real-time reporting, to enable better borderless manufacturing, he said.

One of the first projects to come out of the lab is the collaboration workspace, a collection of blogs, wikis and online forums in which SAP customers can talk to one another and get advice from experts selected by SAP. According to Probst, a total of 3,000 people are currently using it.

Being a part of projects like this is so important to Deloitte that Dittmar has two full-time IT people working on them at the lab.

His goal is to come out with one new case scenario or demonstration every six weeks that will address problems in "a really cool way," he said.

Currently, Deloitte Consulting is working on using SAP and Business Objects to create industry-specific offerings to better manage corporate performance across the entire business.

The goal is to combine SAP solutions for governance, risk and compliance, enterprise performance management and the Business Objects BI platform to demonstrate how companies can improve business performance.

"I can say, 'Here's what we mean when we say we have an integrated solution to performance and risk management,' " Dittmar said. "I'm just very excited about it. It provides another level of structure and a framework to get this stuff out."

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