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SAP StreamWork latest merging of collaboration portal and BI software

SAP StreamWork is the latest entrant in the collaborative decision-making technology market.

SAP has released a new collaboration portal that the vendor says will help end users make faster and better business decisions, the latest in a wave of products bringing collaboration to business intelligence (BI).

SAP StreamWork, previously known as 12Sprints while in beta testing, allows users to access and share documents, including Excel spreadsheets, BI reports and data visualizations, all from one environment, according to SAP.

Users can create action plans around specific tasks, invite colleagues to participate, and track their progress against business goals, according to David Meyer, senior vice president of emerging technologies at SAP.

Perhaps most importantly, StreamWork integrates with other business applications to better link decision making to business processes. The new portal is meant to complement and enhance (not replace) existing CRM and ERP applications, for example, and could eliminate the need to jump from application to application when weighing business decisions, Meyer said.

“SAP StreamWork will naturally extend the places you do work today,” he said in a conference call with reporters and analysts to announce the new portal.

StreamWork is the latest entry into the emerging market for collaborative decision-making tools, according to Rita Sallam, an analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner. She said the aim of such tools is to better connect BI and data analytics to the resulting decisions and business processes they support.

“I sort of view that as the next evolution of BI,” Sallam said.

The most comparable product currently on the market is Lotus Connections from IBM. The collaboration/social networking portal incorporates Cognos BI tools to aid business decision making. Microsoft is also working on improving integration between its collaboration suite, SharePoint Server, and its soon-to-be-released BI tools like Excel PowerPivot.

Google Wave, a collaboration portal form the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet search giant, is a similar offering, though it lacks some of the enterprise-specific features of StreamWork and Lotus Connections.

Cognizant, a Teaneck, N.J.-based consulting firm, is taking a slightly different approach to facilitating better collaboration for decision making and has created what it calls its “Behavioral BI” approach[J1] .

Among the services Cognizant is working with clients to develop are recommendations for BI users. When users open a report, for example, they would also get recommendations about what previous users of that report found helpful. They can also initiate a dialogue with similar users within BI applications via embedded Web 2.0-style communication tools, according to Karthik Krishnamurthy, head of Cognizant’s data warehousing and BI practice.

“We’re taking an existing BI platform and building capabilities and services on top of it,” Krishnamurthy explained.

Rob Koplowitz, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, said too often BI and data analytics are done in isolation of the business processes they support. A sales rep might analyze sales trends in a BI application, email colleagues about the findings, and eventually apply -- or not apply -- the new insights to the marketing strategy.

By bundling BI, communication tools and business applications, collaboration portals aim to overcome these barriers. “I do think these worlds have been largely disconnected,” Koplowitz said.

SAP is making StreamWork available as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application. Users can create an account online and experiment with a limited version of the portal at no charge, then upgrade to the professional edition if they wish. Meyer estimated pricing for the professional edition at $9 per user per month.

Gartner’s Sallam cautioned companies considering investing in collaborative decision-making technology to expect resistance from end users, despite the technology’s business benefits. “There will certainly be cultural barriers,” she said.

Among them, expect users to chafe at having the decision-making process be recorded for posterity within collaboration portals. While vendors like SAP tout their software’s ability to bring greater transparency to the decision-making process, some employees will probably not embrace the increased scrutiny.

Sallam also encourages companies to identify a “champion” within the organization who can evangelize about the benefits of collaborative decision making., an online food website and e-newsletter, has been beta testing StreamWork for several months. As the CEO of a small company with a limited budget, Geoff Bartakovics said he appreciated the communication portal’s low cost, SaaS delivery model, and ability to keep his team on task.

“You’ve got 14 people around the country and you’re trying to keep their attention on this one hour of discussion about the key performance indicators across your business,” Bartakovics said. “Knowing that they’re all sitting in front of the same activity, taking a look at all the data that’s been uploaded by the directors -- that’s very powerful to us.”

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