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Duet makes employees sing for SAP at one government agency

No one liked working in SAP at the Auckland Regional Council in New Zealand, its IT director said. Duet changed all that.

The Auckland Regional Council had a problem many companies have with SAP – many employees didn't like working in it.

Employees at the council, a New Zealand governmental agency in charge of managing growth and development for a region of 1.3 million people, had to use three different screens to manage their time, according to John Holley, group manager of information services for the agency.

What was happening was that in just trying to manage time, they were wasting a lot of it. Duet changed all that.

"Duet offered a potential panacea to our problems. It just made life simple and easy," Holley said. "The hackles don't go up when we talk about doing stuff with SAP."

The Auckland Regional Council (ARC), which has about 800 employees, is one of 15 customers using Duet 1.5, the newest release of the joint Microsoft and SAP product that marries back-end SAP power and familiar Microsoft applications -- Word, Outlook and Excel. It is scheduled to be generally available by the end of this year, according to SAP and Microsoft. Currently, 200 ARC employees are using Duet, and more rollouts are coming. The ARC started using Duet in December 2007.

The ARC uses Duet to manage time -- including scheduling, recording and reviewing project work and billable hours -- and to manage vacation requests through Microsoft Outlook. Before Duet, employees had to log in and out of separate systems to access their calendar, time commitments, and workload. They also use Duet to handle purchasing orders through Excel and invoicing through Word.

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What impressed Holley was that Duet's implementation was user-led. People wanted Duet right away. One employee, when told he would have to wait for the ARC to purchase enough RAM to run Duet on his computer, purchased it himself. It took less than half an hour to train employees on it, because everyone already knew how to use the Microsoft tools. Some employees needed no training at all.

"It's not a question of if Duet, it's a question of when," said Thomas Grassl, SAP's director of Duet solution marketing. "That's what we continuously see from customers -- a lot of demand around the product, and a lot of interest."

Since they unveiled Duet 1.0 in the summer of 2006, the tool has been sold to more than 400 customers. About 100 customers have implemented Duet.

Grassl attributes this time lag to the upgrades needed to run Duet. Implementing Duet itself takes between one and two months, but creating the right applications environment for Duet can take a long time.

Because Duet relies on NetWeaver, customers must be on SAP's newest ERP release, ERP 6.0. Microsoft Office customers must be running Microsoft Office Professional 2003 or 2007, as well as those releases of Exchange Server.

Auckland Regional Council had some trouble at first because not all of its end users were running Office Professional editions, and some of their computers didn't have enough RAM. Once they sorted out their environment, it took about a month to go live with Duet 1.5, Holley said.

In addition to vacation and time sheeting scenarios run through Outlook, Duet 1.5 allows employees to manage travel through Outlook, generate purchasing agreements through Word, and access more reporting and analysis through Excel. Customers can adopt just the scenarios they want.

Holley thinks Duet will help customers reduce staff costs because some staff used to be assigned solely to approving leave requests, and that work is now all managed through Outlook. But Duet has also brought an intangible benefit -- confidence in SAP.

"There's a huge benefit of staff actually appreciating SAP," Holley said.

SAP and Microsoft said they couldn't discuss pricing because their contract states they can't talk about it together. But Holley said it cost the council about $50,000, including the implementation.

SAP and Microsoft will skip Duet 2.0 and pool that functionality into 1.5, according to Pascal Gibert, Director of Duet Product Management, Microsoft Corporation.

Duet 3.0 will have more functionality around reporting and sales management, as well as time management scenarios, he said. Its release will coincide with the newest release of Microsoft Office.

"The idea is with SAP you have a lot of workflows," Gibert said, "and they asked us to be able to expose those workflows in the Office environment."

The goal is to enable every SAP user to access business functionality through Microsoft.

"They're not trying to bring everything from SAP into Outlook," Holley said. "[They're looking at] what is the key stuff for the ad hoc user."

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