IBM and SAP on Monday announced plans to release a jointly developed application that allows employees to access SAP's Business Suite applications through their Lotus Notes desktop client.
Code-named Atlantic, the software will let users tap into SAP's applications for workflows, reporting and analytics through the Notes applications they're currently using to access e-mail, calendars and instant messaging from a Lotus Domino server. It's the same kind of functionality and convenience Microsoft Outlook and Exchange users have enjoyed with SAP for more than a year-and-a-half.
The two companies made the announcement during IBM's Lotusphere conference in Orlando and executives claim thousands of customers using both application suites had been requesting this cross-platform functionality for years. IBM said the majority of its top 100 customers also using SAP's enterprise resource planning (ERP) software."Lotus has been an innovator in collaboration for 20 years," Vishal Sikka, SAP's CTO said in a release. "This agreement is a great example of how SAP enables our customers to empower their users by providing easy access to SAP business processes and data through productivity tools and user interfaces of their choice."
IBM said more than 135 million people use its Lotus Notes software for unified communications and collaboration in the enterprise.
While Atlantic will first provide support for SAP workflows, reporting and analytics, the two companies pan to include other tools in future releases that to extend and adapt these collaboration capabilities and leverage additional offline features found in the Notes and Domino product lines.
In August, IBM began shipping Lotus Notes and Domino 8, the company's latest refresh of its flagship communications suite. Along with a snazzier user interface, Lotus Notes and Domino 8 included custom applications and Web 2.0 features such as mash-ups in the hopes of providing a more interactive user experience.
"We've been doing integration with SAP for many years, going back into the early 90s," Sean Poulley, vice president of business development and strategy for IBM's Lotus Notes and Domino group, said in an interview with InternetNews.com.
"We've always understood the need and the opportunity. What has really made it easy is the Notes 8 product. It's an open client that anyone can integrate with easily. It's somewhat of a landmark, in that this is the first time IBM has developed a joint software product with SAP," said Poulley.
This latest version of Notes 8 included Lotus Expeditor, an application development platform that gives users and independent software vendors (ISV) free reign to build, manage and deliver all kinds of business-friendly applications from their Notes dashboard.This expanded functionality, now integrated with SAP's Business Suite offering, could give IBM a boost in the unified communications and collaboration space, particularly against industry leader Microsoft and its Exchange/Outlook franchise. Eventually, IBM will likely transition many of its longtime Notes/Domino customers to its WebSphere Portal Server and software platform.
Poulley said Notes users will, for example, be able to pull project reports or expense approval requests from their e-mail client and simply click on a name to initiate an instant messaging session with the appropriate colleagues to determine whether or not the request should be approved or denied.
"A user wants to understand what the budget is on that project and make decisions in context using the Notes client," Poulley said. "Without it, people either accept things they shouldn't, which wastes money, or reject things they shouldn't reject, which wastes time. This gives them the ability to see information in context."
Gartner analyst Matt Cain said there were a couple good reasons for IBM and SAP to work together to integrate Lotus collaboration services with SAP processes.
"There are a lot of Domino/SAP shops and there is significant business value in integrating Notes and SAP from a user's perspective," he told InternetNews.com. "Being able to kick off SAP workflows and pull reports from Notes allows users to work more intuitively. And, Microsoft had a competitive advantage over IBM in the e-mail market because it had Duet, which is the integration of Outlook with SAP processes.
"We would expect the SAP/Lotus collaboration work to continue, but we do believe that SAP will optimize its collaborative investments on Microsoft," he added.
Atlantic, which is expected to be available to customers in the fourth quarter of this year, will be sold by both companies. Future iterations are expected to include applications for managing sales leads, budgeting for sales and marketing programs and various finance functions.
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