As far back as 1999 SAP attempted to offer document management capabilities with R/3. It was also involved in the foundation of Ixos, a company that developed a standard connector to SAP modules to provide archiving facilities.
Ixos grew into a substantial mid-tier software developer in its own right and was acquired in late 2003 by the Canadian document management supplier OpenText.
The concept of archiving has been central to SAP's moves in this space over the past six or seven years. SAP applications generate vast quantities of reports and data sets, and archiving this output is seen as an important activity.
However, until recently the concept of managing content throughout its lifecycle, from creation to destruction, was not a part of the SAP approach.
SAP does not have a product that can be placed under the enterprise content management (ECM) banner. There is no equivalent to the likes of Documentum, Filenet or Open Text. But you can find content management functions in the following products.
SAP Collaborative Product Development
Inherent in the mySAP Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) product is a set of basic collaboration capabilities. These have been bundled as a separate package called SAP Collaborative Product Development.
This has structured folders, revision control and check in/out capabilities. There is also basic access control capability that extends down to the document level. Collaborative Product Development also integrates with SAP's CRM and supply chain management applications.
SAP Netweaver and Enterprise Portal
Netweaver comes with a set of knowledge management features. Combined with the collaborative elements of the Enterprise Portal, it can provide good collaboration services.
Typical functionality includes collaboration rooms, to provide virtual workspaces where information can be shared in a secure environment.
Functions such as check-in/out and revision control are provided as standard, along with a team calendar, task assignment and instant messaging.
SAP Easy Document Management
This has a pre-defined user interface that is fully integrated with Windows Explorer. It allows users to drag and drop content into a folder-based interface that they are already familiar with. This piece of enhanced functionality can work with a range of SAP products such as PLM and Advertising Manager.
Other SAP-related products
SAP has a vast product portfolio, and functions that are typically associated with document and content management appear in many products.
The Ixos Archivelink that is now owned by OpenText is used by many of the leading document management suppliers as it provides them with a cleanly configured access route into SAP repositories. However, to some degree it is a one-way route, and was designed primarily to provide archiving capabilities out of SAP repositories for external archives.
SAP does not currently provide a holistic concept of how information (unstructured data) is managed. There is no current push towards a centralised repository or the need for a single source of information. Popular methodologies such as information lifecycle management (ILM) are also not top of agenda at SAP.
What SAP does, it appears to do quite well, but there is no obvious strategy to tie all the elements in place. Overall, the organisation is doing a much better job at providing content management capabilities than many realise, but it has taken it a long time to fully grasp the importance of this functionality.
At present, Oracle and Microsoft are charging ahead of SAP in providing capabilities to manage unstructured data.
However, the gap is not so great that it cannot yet be closed. We expect SAP to devote more resources to this activity over the following 18 months and an acquisition may not be out of the question.
SAP content management
When should you deploy SAP content management?
- lf you are a large organisation involved in manufacturing or complex product development
- lf you are an existing SAP ERP or portal user
- lf you do not require high-throughput, complex document and content management capabilities.
Alan Pelz-Sharpe is a research director at analyst firm Ovum