SAP hopes software test-drives lead to ERP success

SAP will resell a visualization tool that can give users a look at the application early on in a project

SAP is hoping to make customers' ERP (enterprise resource planning) projects more successful with a tool that can visualize the application's ultimate look and feel without having to write code, the company said Monday.

SAP has signed a global reseller agreement with iRise and will sell its software under the name SAP Application Visualization, according to a statement. The pact builds upon the companies' existing partnership.

Traditional methods of documenting business requirements for SAP projects -- such as spreadsheets, text files and flowchart diagrams -- haven't changed much in the past 20 years, and are "nearly impossible" for business users to decipher, according to iRise. Further, business users often don't know what they want out of the software until they can interact with it, the company said.

The visualizations provided by iRise mean users get their hands -- albeit virtually -- on the software much earlier, according to the company. This can save customers money by cutting down on application rewrites as well as simplifying training and "change management" activities.

"iRise simulations are so close to the final applications that people cannot tell the difference between the two," the company's site claims. The visualizations can be easily assembled even by non-technical employees, it adds.

Visualizations can be published for viewing by various workers, as well as delivered in a password-protected file.

Electric utility National Grid recently conducted a pilot program with the iRise software, and after "overwhelmingly positive" responses from users, now plans to adopt it as a standard tool for project delivery, global CIO David Lister said in a statement supplied by SAP.

If visualization tools live up to their promise, over time they might help lower the number of ERP project failures, which have long been a bogeyman for SAP and many other vendors.

The use of such software for ERP is definitely on the upswing, according to Forrester Research analyst China Martens.

For one, there's "a stronger push to try and get implementations right from the get-go, by getting a wider group of staff within a company involved in the early stages of design and piloting," she said via e-mail.

ERP software also "remains too hard to use and often opaque in terms of process flow," she added. Visualization tools can help customers work out the kinks.

Tools like iRise may also come in handy throughout an ERP application's lifecycle, not just development and testing, such as when companies plan major upgrades or decide to alter the focus of their deployments, according to Martens.

But SAP customers have to decide whether the iRise software, which is being marketed as a "solution extension" and thus not included with annual maintenance fees, will be worth the additional money, said Jon Reed, an independent analyst who closely tracks SAP.

The benefits would probably be greatest for pure SAP shops, he said. "If you're using SAP a little more selectively, then I think this tool is a little less useful."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's e-mail address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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