SAP readying potential Google Wave rival

Constellation is a 'virtual war room' set for release next year

SAP is planning to release a "virtual war room" decision-making tool dubbed Constellation, which could be a potential rival to Google's heralded Wave collaboration platform.

Constellation will consist of a cloud-based tool accessible via a Web browser, as well as an on-premises component, SAP official David Meyer said during a private webinar conducted recently for a group of SAP "mentors," the company's term for particularly active and valued community members.

The cloud tool is now in private beta under the code name 12Sprints. While SAP executives provided glimpses of the application during events earlier this year, the Web briefing provided a wealth of new detail into Constellation's workings and SAP's go-to-market strategy for the product.

Meyer, vice president of emerging technologies in SAP's BusinessObjects division, demonstrated how users can collaborate in real time on problem-solving "activities" that employ widgets called "methods." As examples, he showed a tool for cataloging the pros and cons of a scenario, and another for conducting analyses using the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) methodology.

"The sweet spot for people working on an activity is say, five to 30," Meyer said during the Web briefing. However, SAP will provide ways to publish activities to wikis, SharePoint and other platforms to reach a wider audience, he said.

Meanwhile, Constellation's on-premises component, which is in an earlier stage of development, will let users tap securely into their company's various data stores.

"When you're working in the cloud and you have the right [security] credentials, you can tunnel into your enterprise and forage among all the ERP data, all the unstructured data, all the petabytes of BI data you have, and just access it through that one point in the cloud," Meyer said.

For example, users involved in buying decisions could pull in data from a purchase order system, discuss the pros and cons, and reach a verdict, Meyer said. "Right now, that's all being done on the phone, and it's all lost. It's not captured. ... That kind of cognitive capture is very powerful."

Constellation has an open but governed approach to security, Meyer told viewers of the webinar.

"Our principal point of view in Constellation is let people do whatever work they want to do, whatever way they want to do it, and audit what they do, so you could take care of the situation after the fact if it happens, in terms of a data leakage or something," Meyer said. Users will also be able to put controls in "so certain things can't happen," he added.

SAP is still mulling over pricing for Constellation, but will offer it in three tiers, according to Meyer. There will be a free option that allows a limited amount of activities, as well as two paid versions.

The company has "a tremendous number" of integrations with other SAP applications in development now, and intends to commercially release as many of them as possible, according to Meyer. Sample code will be available for connecting BusinessObjects BI (business intelligence) software to Constellation, he said.

In addition, users of SAP ERP (enterprise resource planning) systems dating back to version 4.6c will be able to move the contents of a screen to Constellation for discussion, he added.

Meyer also indicated that SAP plans to create an App Store-like marketplace for the platform, where developers can create custom integrations or methods and put them up for sale. "We want to open it up for the community, for the teenagers in the garage," he said.

To that end, Constellation is amenable to a wide variety of technologies. "Much like a Facebook, any of your methods can be running in our container, talking to local interfaces, or they can be running on your own Web server, talking over HTTP. So you can develop in any language," he said.

And SAP is also eager to integrate Constellation with rival platforms, including Google Wave. "It was clear we needed to work together," Meyer said. "We're excited about what they're doing, they're excited about what we're doing." Users will be able to share content between the two platforms, he said.

SAP will "make a lot more noise" about Constellation beginning in January, and the cloud tool could be available for sale in the first half of next year, Meyer said. The on-premises portion may be in beta by April, and generally available sometime in 2010, he added.

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Chris Kanaracus

IDG News Service
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