SAP promises interface will make apps easier for users

Shai Agassi, product and technology chief at the German vendor, outlined a usability initiative at the recent Sapphire conference. China Martens reports

Project Muse, SAP’s forthcoming GUI (graphical user interface), will roll out across its high-end applications over the next 18 months.

SAP developed the GUI over the past year, through a close partnership with Macromedia and Adobe Systems, which acquired Macromedia in December.

Project Muse will let users access SAP’s mySAP Business Suite applications from their Mac, Linux or Windows desktops and from mobile devices, says Shai Agassi, president of SAP’s product and technology group. He demonstrated the interface during his keynote address at the Sapphire conference.

The move is part of SAP’s strategy to simplify access to its enterprise applications and, hopefully, attract more users to access mySAP software, the next version of its applications after the ageing R/3 suite, which is still in use at many customer sites.

SAP will initially make the new Project Muse GUI available to users of its mySAP ERP 2005, Agassi says. The company will release the interface in waves over the next year and a half and also intends to provide tools so that users can give their custom-developed software the same Project Muse look-and-feel.

Project Muse draws on two Macromedia products, the company’s Flash authoring software and its Flex methodology and services, which are used to create interactive websites and applications. The interface is a skin that sits on top of SAP’s mySAP applications that embeds help and includes guidance on how to fill out specific fields in order forms and invoices.

SAP and Macromedia first announced they were working together a year ago. The relationship has been somewhat overshadowed by the partnership between SAP and Microsoft, also announced last year, aimed at tightening integration between Microsoft’s front-end Office software and SAP’s back-end enterprise applications. The fruits of that relationship, initially labelled Project Mendocino, will appear in June as Duet for Microsoft Office and SAP.

SAP is lining up multiple ways to access its applications, whether via Project Muse, Duet, mobile devices, voice recognition, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds or electronic forms through Adobe Forms, Agassi says.

“We’re making ourselves much more open to casual users,” says Léo Apotheker, SAP board member and president of customer solutions and operations. “If that adds up to software for the masses, we’ll be very happy.”

Agassi says the new user interface was long overdue, but also says, “You can’t hurry a muse”. He says it was necessary to have SOA (service-oriented architecture) technology in place to make Project Muse a reality. All the new interfaces SAP is coming out with for its applications depend on Enterprise Services Architecture (ESA) — its take on service-oriented architecture.