Users of ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems will see more of Microsoft's software than they will of SAP's before the decade is out if the president of SAP's products and technology group, Shai Agassi, gets his way.
Agassi is simply wishing SAP out of sight, not out of business, though, as the company moves ahead with the integration of its ERP system and Microsoft's Office desktop productivity suite.
SAP has already rewritten its flagship R/3 ERP product once, switching from dedicated client software to a Web interface with the introduction of its MySAP portal.
That switch did not appeal to everyone, though, Agassi said Wednesday at the International Cebit Forum in Hanover, Germany.
"We thought people would use our portal, but now we realize they want to use SAP in their own interface," he said. "People will prefer to retain their current user experience."
For the foreseeable future, that user experience will be defined by Microsoft Office, he said.
"The one application that is always open is Office, and in five years' time I don't think that is going to change," he said. "This is important because there are four times as many people who use Office as use SAP."
That's why SAP is working on Mendocino, a project to integrate Microsoft Office with SAP's back-end software.
"People love Office, but they don't 'do' Office: they do calendaring or sales proposals. You can connect SAP [to Office] so they don't need to leave their comfort zone," he said.
Agassi gave an example of why linking frequently used software directly into back-office systems makes business sense too.
About four years ago, one of SAP's business units distinguished itself by unexpectedly reporting growth of 132 percent -- well above the 15 percent characteristic of the rest of the group, he said. The growth should have been 1.32 percent, and error was due to a mistake made manually transferring a figure from a spreadsheet to the SAP reporting system, he said.
Borrowing an analogy from fellow speaker Thomas Endres, chief information officer of airline Deutsche Lufthansa, Agassi spoke of his vision of a first-class service for SAP users: "My view of the first-class lounge for SAP users is one where you don't see SAP at all, where it's in the background," he said.
The International Cebit Forum is a one-day conference running alongside the Cebit trade show in Hanover.