Decisions, decisions, decisions. Sometimes it takes a village to raise a decision, other times it takes as few as two or even one. SAP AG (www.sap.com), ever in the forefront of business software development, has researched, preached, and practiced the gospel of online collaboration for several years. On Feb. 2, 2010, SAP inaugurated public beta testing of 12sprints (www.12sprints.com), the code name for its latest application that supports the backbone of any operation: making informed choices. With 12sprints, SAP joins a growing body of web applications sold as a software as a service (SaaS) that utilize cloud-computing technology and are centered around some kind of collaborative, team-based tool. The business process that 12sprints tackles with a high degree of finesse is the art and science of decision making. 12sprints appears to be the perfect complement to SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, accelerated for SAP NetWeaver BW (www.sap.com/solutions/sapbusinessobjects/large/business-intelligence/search-navigation/explorer/explorer-accelerated/index.epx). In one of the SAP 12sprints YouTube channel videos (www.youtube.com/12sprints), you can see a proof-of-concept demonstration of how 12sprints incorporates data from other SAP applications and can itself be used on a variety of computing platforms.
SAP engineered 12sprints to be as intuitive as possible with a minimum of visible controls. By hovering your cursor over a field, you can reveal other controls, which means the GUI may not meet federal accessibility requirements. The two main organizing principles of 12sprints are creating, managing, and completing an Activity and adding Participants, if necessary, to an Activity. Whoever creates an Activity can control the addition of Participants, or allow any participant to invite others or pass ownership of an Activity to another Participant. 12sprints contains a series of templates or models for Activities, including two exclusively devoted to decision making, and through which you may collaborate with others to make an informed decision. Other Activity templates are modeled on discussion, research, and project planning. You can also start with a blank Activity and go with your own flow.
SAP seeded 12sprints with many popular assessment and analytical tools such as a SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis and four different role-based matrices (ARCI, DACI, RACI, and RASIC). To help weigh options in making decisions you can add from the Tools Catalog items such as a pro/con table, a quick poll, or a consensus table. 12sprints beta also includes a Cisco WebEx (www.webex.com) meeting link. Every Activity item you add is accompanied by a sidebar that contains comments, action items (a to-do list in other words), and references. A Reference in 12sprints has at least two different meanings: a cross-reference, usually a link, to content in another or the same Activity; or information associated with and that's intended on assisting the decision process.
12sprints offers some third-party application integration, most notably with a service called Evernote (www.evernote.com). Only two extensions are in the public beta: Scribd iPaper (www.scribd.com/ipaper), a browser-based document viewer, and one that lets you email and create a new Activity from the email's content. Since 12sprints lives in the cloud-computing environment, there are no versions or releases, and enhancements will simply appear as the service evolves. Because it's SaaS, users will also be able to pick and choose which services they wish to activate. SAP has promised that a free version will be available alongside the paid one. While SAP is promoting a more "open" data environment, there is no sign 12sprints will be an open source product. For SAP AG's take on cloud computing, have a look at the Open Cloud Manifesto it co-sponsored (www.opencloudmanifesto.org).
SAP established a feedback forum for testers to submit and review ideas for improvement; several functional additions from these suggestions, such as mind maps, project calendars, instant messaging, and data export, are being considered or developed. SAP also posted documentation on the evolving 12sprints Invocation API and the 12sprints Method API, through which third-party applications can interact with 12sprints, and is open to inquiries from developers.
One curious aspect of 12sprints is that it leaves the decision making in the hands and minds of its users. I was somewhat surprised to learn that there were no machine-assisted evaluative routines to help judge the quality of information being compiled, which could accumulate quickly and overwhelm anyone. For example, while there is a Collection tool into which you can sweep any number of individual items, there is no Executive Summary tool that would populate itself based on an AI (robotic) routine and user picks. About the only automated assistance I noticed was with the action items that include due dates. Every time you return to an Activity with an open or uncompleted action item, a window will pop up to remind you. You can also send yourself an email reminder to get it done.
Computerworld's Chris Kanaracus described 12sprints as "a potential rival to Google's heralded Wave collaboration platform" ("SAP Readying Potential Google Wave Rival," Dec. 1, 2009; www.computerworld.com/s/article/9141622/SAP_readying_potential_Google_Wave_rival). But having used both, I can say the two products are completely different. Google Wave is an open-ended instant messaging platform into which users can incorporate extensions (gadgets and robots) that enhance the real-time collaborative aspect of Wave. As SAP Research (Brisbane, Australia) began demonstrating in July 2009 through its Gravity prototype extension for Wave (www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/15618), we will likely see a cross-fertilization of two distinctive products rather than one eliminating the other.
While you might think 12sprints is business-centric, developer and SAP evangelist Timo Elliott used it to help him decide whether to vaccinate his daughter against the H1N1 flu virus (http://timoelliott.com/blog/2010/02/some-examples-of-how-to-use-12sprintscom-the-new-sap-businessobjects-collaborative-decision-making-platform.html). As the old slogan goes, its use is limited only by your imagination. In the sometimes long run up to a decision, 12sprints will at least give all participants in the process the opportunity to say as much or as little as they wish.
UPDATE Mar. 30, 2010 from SAP:
We've now transitioned from our beta, codenamed 12sprints, to our first released product, SAP StreamWork. We appreciate the feedback you've provided during the beta phase - thanks to your help, we've been able to build a product that more closely matches your business needs.
But we're not finished yet! We seek your continued feedback and guidance as we evolve the product to make you as productive as possible. When you want to recommend a new feature or improvement, make sure to click on the Feedback button that's available directly within SAP StreamWork on every page.
What happened to the domain name?
A key part of the change is that we've updated the domain name to sapstreamwork.com. Your old bookmarks will continue to work, but we'd encourage you to revise any links you have.
Can I continue using my account? What about my activities and data?
Yes, you can continue to use the same login credentials you used during the beta. The data and activities in your account have all been retained.
Can I keep using SAP StreamWork for free?
Yes, you can continue to use SAP StreamWork for free. However, SAP StreamWork Professional Edition is now also available - it adds administration features and increased storage that will help you use SAP StreamWork throughout your organization.