Acta and Actuate: Working With or Against SAP?

Enterprises are discovering that a good data warehousing solution by itself doesn’t cut it as a standalone business intelligence (BI) solution anymore. Today’s logic dictates that in addition to a data warehouse, companies need a simple way to provide advanced reporting capabilities and to Web-enable these reports and other business-critical data. A new strategic technology partnership between Acta Technology Inc. (www.acta.com) and reporting specialist Actuate Corp. (www.actuate.com) plans to give it to them.

According to the terms of the partnership, Acta and Actuate will facilitate the rapid deployment of reports and other business-critical information in the form of interactive Web pages for customers who use SAP America Inc.’s (www.sap.com) ERP applications.

In April 1998, Acta became the first vendor to deliver a data-warehousing solution for the SAP R/3 ERP suite. At the time, Acta was seen as enabling business intelligence (BI) in the R/3 environment.

The Acta/Actuate technology partnership will leverage different aspects of both companies’ technologies to Web-enable business data, such as order status information, product availability, year-to-date purchases, early payment incentives, and open invoices.

The companies made the partnership announcement at the SAP Users Group 2000 conference in Atlanta.

"Our partnership with Actuate will enable the SAP installed base of more than 30,000 accounts to unlock high-value business information contained within SAP systems and publish it through the Web for use by customers, partners, and employees," says Acta's CEO and president Carol Mills Baldwin.

The two companies plan to leverage Acta’s eCommerce Data Platform -- a solution that facilitates the rapid deployment of back-office data in business-to-business (B2B) scenarios -- and Actuate’s e.Reporting product, a solution that enables companies to publish reports to the Internet and to the Web. Acta’s eCommerce Data Platform is augmented by ActaWorks RealTime, a data migration and data management server environment.

"Close integration of Acta and Actuate products enables both companies to better address the needs of customers requiring a comprehensive SAP-to-Internet business information delivery solution," says Pete Cittadini, Actuate's president and COO.

The Acta and Actuate effort, however, may face some competition from SAP. While the ERP giant was criticized in the past because it once offered a relatively closed system, SAP has taken strides of late to remedy the problem.

The company’s first crack at opening up its environment to a reporting and data warehousing solution -- the SAP Reporting Warehouse -- was a flop. But SAP’s second attempt, the Business Information Warehouse, was received more warmly by end users and analysts following its 1999 release.

As a component of the company’s mySAP.com enterprise information portal initiative, Business Information Warehouse 2.0 provides companies with an integrated view of their business processes. It can be customized to meet the information needs of employees, customers, and other users. MySAP.com Workplace portals tie together disparate business processes -- such as market intelligence, sales execution, definition and pricing, customer history, and profile and buying patterns -- that Business Information Warehouse reports on and analyzes.

While he acknowledges there are a variety of vendors competing to market data warehousing and integrated, Internet-enabled reporting solutions for the R/3 environment, Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing strategies at Current Analysis Inc. (www.currentanalysis.com), says currently no one vendor is poised for dominance.

"There are a lot of vendors out there that are building hooks into R/3 and into data warehouses," Schiff says. "But I don’t think it is going to be a winner-take-all game. I expect it to remain fairly competitive."

[Pull Quote] "There are a lot of vendors out there that are building hooks into R/3 and into data-warehouses. But I don’t think it is going to be a winner take all game, I expect it to remain fairly competitive." --Mike Schiff, director of data warehousing, Current Analysis Inc.

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Microsoft Aligns to Revive Digital Dashboard

Alicia Costanza

Microsoft Corp.'s digital dashboard alliance with InfoImage Inc. is starting to deliver. And what the companies are delivering is freedom -- freedom 2 to be more precise.

In October 1999, Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) and InfoImage (www.infoimage.com) unveiled a joint effort to release a product composed of both companies' technology. That vision was freedom 2.

Microsoft's digital dashboard technology, a fancy name for a knowledge-management platform, was the basis on which freedom 2 was built. Freedom 2 is a decision portal that simplifies the task of finding, accessing, analyzing, and sharing information with other workers. The product comes in two flavors: the freedom 2 B2E server offers internal users access to corporate data via an intranet portal, and a B2B edition that provides information to external users and suppliers via an extranet.

By consolidating information from data sources -- such as databases, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and the Internet -- freedom 2 offers users a unified view of data in the portal. "Users can access information from any part of the company, giving them the ability to collaborate with other parties and get advice, and giving them the ability to take action," says Jon Michaels, chief marketing officer and co-founder of InfoImage.

There are a lot of portals out there, but InfoImage believes it is freedom 2's features will set it apart. One example is its collaboration capability that enables users to work within other applications without leaving the portal.

Another ability is knowledge maps, which lets users navigate in and out of folders because they hierarchically categorize an organization's data. Users can do searches without realizing they are performing complex ad hoc queries. "Knowledge maps help you find what you want in the portal," Michaels says.

One of the biggest differences is that freedom 2 is based on Microsoft technology. "One of the reasons our customers have chosen us is because we are Microsoft-centric, and we can scale to a large distributed environment. Our competitors can't do this," Michaels says.

Freedom 2 takes company data and allows users to view it in a Web browser. Additionally, freedom 2, includes server applications and Office 2000 software.

"[Freedom 2] really shows off Office 2000. The partnership helps us execute our digital dashboard strategies and helps our customers by bringing to the table the experience that InfoImage has," says David Holladay, lead product manager at Microsoft.

But Microsoft may also have been interested in InfoImage for another reason. "Because we run on the Microsoft platform, we drive a lot of license sales for them," Michaels says. "And we only run on the Microsoft platform."