The term enterprise resource planning / ERP originated in the 1990s when coined by an analyst firm and the category continues to evolve. Now, business processes are becoming more complex, leading companies to apply more automation to speed the flow of information and reduce errors. For items that require human intervention, collaboration is becoming more important as teams of experts must work together to address complex business challenges. These factors, along with the increase in hybrid work, led to discussions between SAP and Microsoft and ultimately their decision to team-up to create a more collaborative ERP.
The combination of executives, engineers, and product managers from SAP and Microsoft realized that there were a few things that could be addressed in the near term and others that would take more time to scope, validate, and deliver. This resulted in a joint plan that focused on three time horizons to address distinct customer requirements.
- Scenarios that add value quickly and can be delivered in the short-term
- Scenarios that further strengthen collaboration and integration while needing more evaluation to enable them in the mid-term
- Scenarios that must be explored in more detail to align with evolving collaboration and integration trends and changing market needs
While the discussions covered several possible integration scenarios across multiple business scenarios, we focused on combining our respective strengths in ERP and business collaboration.
Collaboration tools bring employees together to focus on shared goals
Collaboration is becoming more common in the enterprise with tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and WhatsApp allowing employees to chat in real time and share files and other content. Many employees chat continually throughout the day with colleagues to complete complex tasks that require multiple areas of expertise to solve. One challenge in this environment is that constantly moving between apps to gather background information or dig into details hurts productivity and context switching can break a person’s focus and concentration.
ERP systems drive business processes and promote agility
Today’s business processes are complex, and often involve specialists from different parts of the business, each of whom will add value along the way. For example, a typical order to cash process will involve people from sales, planning, manufacturing, shipping, and finance. Interacting with colleagues also requires context shifting to switch between the system of record that contains the data they need to make decisions and the communications medium.
Eliminating context switching means meeting people where they are
Leaders from Microsoft and SAP saw this challenge from different sides and decided to team up to solve it. Based on decades of partnership and developing integrations to help their joint customers, Microsoft and SAP met to discuss how to bring their respective strengths into a joint solution. The result is the new Share to Microsoft Teams functionality recently introduced into SAP S/4HANA Cloud, public edition.
The joint solution brings employees the best of both worlds
As a near-term solution to reduce context shifting during the workday, the Share to Microsoft Teams feature introduced in SAP S/4HANA Cloud, public edition 2208 allows business users to share links to live business data in Microsoft Teams chats. People can share documents, lists of items, analysis, or anything from an app built with SAP Fiori elements. This is the first step to bring SAP S/4HANA Cloud, public edition and Microsoft Teams closer together since people often move between the two tools as they complete their work.
As we show in our roadmap*, we will be evolving the integration to bring SAP S/4HANA Cloud data into a tab in Microsoft Teams. Later, we will use Adaptive Card-based Loop components to allow live data in an SAP S/4HANA Cloud system to appear in Microsoft Teams or Microsoft Outlook. People will have access to the same information whether they view it in SAP S/4HANA Cloud, Microsoft Teams, or Microsoft Outlook. In parallel, we will explore extending this functionality beyond SAP S/4HANA Cloud, public edition into SAP S/4HANA Cloud, private edition and SAP S/4HANA on-premise.
Integrated systems remove friction from business processes
Based on the scenarios we have discussed with customers involved during the development process, we expect several benefits from combining data from the ERP system with real-time collaboration.
- Faster to resolve issues since people can chat while viewing the same data while making updates that are visible to all parties simultaneously
- Fewer errors since it’s easier for people to request help from within the application where they have questions
- Better productivity since people will require less context switching since they can work in their preferred enterprise software while having access to other functionality from that tool
The future of work depends on collaboration
In the not-too-distant future, for enterprise software, if a business process is easy or at least straightforward, a machine will do it autonomously. Giving humans access to data and analytical tools to make complex decisions builds on SAP’s strengths. Adding industry-leading collaboration from Microsoft empowers workers to make better decision faster. The future will be here faster than we think.
On behalf of SAP UX Engineering, Christian Hoffmann and Peter Spielvogel.
* All forward-looking statements are subject to various risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from expectations. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements, which speak only as of their dates, and they should not be relied upon in making purchasing decisions.