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Microsoft, SAP Extend Dance

Microsoft  and SAP  are so pleased with the success of their original "Duet" platform that they're already planning an encore.

Duet allows information workers to interact with certain SAP line-of-business applications and data stores through a Microsoft Office front end. The initial version was introduced almost exactly a year ago, during which time it earned 250 customer wins and more than 400,000 licenses.

The platform is designed around scenarios, or use-case templates, which end users can access through an Office interface. Current scenarios include vacation scheduling and recruiting through Outlook. A supply chain scenario is available through an Excel interface.

New features will include scenario support for sales and supply-chain management. For instance, customers will be able to manage sales leads and opportunities within SAP's customer relationship management application through an Office application.

SAP and Microsoft are also planning to roll out modules for purchasing, legal contract management and governance, and risk- and compliance management scenarios.

The companies will also expand Duet to leverage SharePoint Server, enabling the support of unstructured processes, information and team collaboration.

The roadmap promises customers "new collaboration features and simpler, more flexible ways for information workers to leverage their organization's business processes and information," said Leo Apotheker, deputy CEO of SAP, in a statement.

Because SAP applications require training before they can be used, the number of seats sold at each customer implementation is limited to only those employees who really need those specific tools. By turning familiar Office applications like Outlook and Excel into a front end, Duet allows SAP to sell more seats of its applications within its installed base.

For Microsoft, the primary virtue of Duet is that it allows the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor to extend Office into the realm of business applications.

Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio noted that Duet is also helping Microsoft expose SharePoint to a business audience that hasn't been familiar with it as of yet.

"If you can get the functionality of the SAP business processes and push that downstream and allow the end user to access it through a SharePoint portal, that can be very, very powerful," she told internetnews.com.

The companies plan to make Duet 2.0 available at the end of 2008, and to release Duet 3.0 soon after the next generation of SAP Business Suite applications and the next version of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server are released.