One of my dirty little blogger secrets is that I dislike demos. I know-demos are a staple for the tech market, but honestly, they're very hard to translate into a blog post, I can't use them as an interview because the reader can't see the presentation and, frankly, what do I know? I write about integration, it's not like I'm out there comparing all these products for a $2,000 white paper. I tend to think it's more valuable for me to hunt down what analysts and end users have to say.
So, I dislike demos and I avoid them. That's my confession.
But, after writing about SAP's new offering 12Sprints last week, suggesting it sounded like it would be similar to Google's Wave and possibly Sharepoint, I got an e-mail from SAP. "We'd like to clarify a number of points and open questions in your blog post," it said.
Clearly, I wasn't getting out of this demo.
My ITBE colleague, Mike Vizard, was also invited on the call. We heard from David Meyer, senior vice president of of Emerging Technologies, SAP BusinessObjects, and received a walk-through on 12Sprints. Here's what I learned:
The Name? It's pronounced "twelve Sprints, not "one-two-sprints."
Business ready? It's much more business-minded than Google Wave. Google said it didn't want to put too many constraints on Wave, so people would have a very flexible starting point. As a result, there are a few cool plug-ins, but it's not immediately obvious how organizations could use it.
That's not the case with 12Sprints. Just start an activity and peruse the tools, and you'll immediately see how it would fit in with business actions, meeting planning, presentations and decision-making. There are interactive tools for:
- Creating an agenda, complete with time allocations for topics
- Performing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
- Weighing the pros and cons
- Building a product portfolio
- Performing a cost/benefit analysis
And on and on. Meyer said in some ways, 12Sprints would always be in beta, meaning SAP will be developing new tools and functions for it, so that's promising news.
Is it like Sharepoint? Meyer pointed out that companies use Sharepoint very differently than people talk about Sharepoint. Touche. After seeing it, I think it does complement more than compete with Sharepoint. Where it more closely resembles Sharepoint is the way Sharepoint integrates with Outlook, allowing you to connect discussions to documents. With 12Sprints, you can see the documents from within the interface. And it will send alerts to your e-mail, so it's not trying to replace e-mail. "We're not trying to replace things, we're trying to augment them," Meyer explained.
That said, I think this might be something business leaders, end users and IT need to consider: How many places do we want to be able to hold discussions? Maybe it's time for e-mail to be replaced.
Integration points with SAP? SAP plan to provide full integration with SAP and BusinessObjects. You can perform a search and it will be able to pull information from any application it's connected to. But hold on-there's a catch, of sorts. As Meyer pointed out, different users have different levels of access, so it didn't make sense to provide immediate, live access to the data. Instead, the creator of the action decides what everyone will see-in effect, taking a snapshot of the data to share with other participants.
But this is the cool part: The creator will be notified if that data has been updated, and given the option of updating to the new data, or not.
Other integrations? It is already integrated with WebEx, so you can do a WebEx presentation within the tool, another cool feature. It also sends notifications to your e-mail, like most social-networking/collaboratin tools. The API is open, so the thought is that will lead to people developing their own connections. You can read more about that in my previous blog post.
Cost? Right now it's in beta, and the good news is, there are plans to maintain a free version of 12Sprints. Of course, there will also be subscription tiers. Meyers indicated the plan is to have at least one tier priced so you wouldn't hesitate to use your credit card to pay for the capabilities.
Why would you use it? Vizard asked this question -- you can read his thoughts here -- and it's a good one, and goes back to my issue with how many places we need to access information and discuss it. My initial thought: You'll use it because your boss does.
My husband, a programmer who does a lot of work with SAP, had a different reaction. His thought: Why wouldn't you? It allows you to quickly query employees and co-workers, thus helping you reach faster decisions, eliminating or at least reducing meetings, and providing a record of discussions and decisions. As an added incentive, 12Sprints ships with the tools business users rely on anyway, but those tools are now incorporated into a collaboration tool, which has a very social networking look and feel.
He even suggested we use it in our marriage, to rank financial decisions, discuss pros and cons of vacation plans, and rank our house repairs.
Ahem. How typically techie.
All of which leads me to my real issue with all such social network/collaboration tools, not just 12Sprints. While on their surface, these tools would seem to make everything much neater and easier, I think the flaw is that business decisions-not to mention marriage decisions-are often messy. Emotions, egos and politics all come into play-and in my experience, using electronic communication can often compound these problems. E-mails, blog posts, status updates, and so on are often misinterpreted at best, or, at worst, people dash off unpleasantries they'd temper in face-to-face discussions.
The result: A meeting or a phone call to clear everything up.
So, in a rational, tech-focused, strictly business world, these things are great. Maybe the new digital generation will be better at using these tools without the drama, but that remains to be seen. As it stands now, I can't help but wonder whether these solutions - no matter how smartly designed-will work out in the real world.