Skip to Content

What I Learned from the SAP BO Summit in Boston

Sept 5, 2008 update: I was able to track down a couple of relevant links for this BO Summit. I got my hands on the link to the BO Summit main sessions on video. There is also some relevant info in the BO Summit newsroom.

On Tuesday, August 12 in Boston, I had the opportunity to attend the SAP BO Summit. The Summit was an opportunity for so-called “Influencers” to learn more about the SAP BO Roadmap and the value proposition that SAP/Business Objects provides to SAP customers. I was told the videos from the event would be posted online, but I have yet to get a link for that. For now, here is a link to some previously recorded BO webinar events. My goal when attending these kinds of events is always the same: to get an inside view of the key emerging skills that SAP professionals and project teams should be tracking.

In this blog entry, I’ll share what I learned on that. For those who are looking for more of an overall view of the events that took place, Sandy Kemsley’s Column 2 blog did an outstanding job of documenting the events while they were happening. Sandy had good looking blog entries and slides up so fast that it was just plain unfair to work alongside her.

If you want a taste of controversy from the event, Dennis Howlett’s blog entry on SAP pricing versus Oracle is a good place to start. In the blog post, Dennis quotes an SAP sales executive who then responded in the “talk back” section of the blog. Both sides of that story are interesting. I’m not going to choose a side myself, but I’m all in favor of honest discussions, even if a few ruffled feathers is the price.

As for me, I used my new JonERP Twitter Feed to micro-blog my instant reactions to the show as they were happening. Some of the comments were perhaps amusing, like my quip about the Deloitte and Accenture speakers tussling over who had the biggest BI practice, or my whining about having to take too “deep a dive” into strategy and execution theory. Hopefully buried in those smart aleck comments is something that still has some relevance. I’ll take a few of the “tweets” that seem more relevant to SAP skills trends and incorporate them into this blog entry.

Right before the BO Summit, I did a piece on SAP and Business Objects skills transitions that I spent a few months of obsessive research on before I posted. I’m not going to bother repeating the info from that article here, so you might want to check that out also. Down the line, I’m hoping to post some thoughts that BO executives shared with me about this article. But at the BO Summit, I did pick up on a few things that I had not noted in the original article, so I’ll share those in this blog entry.

Let’s start with the press releases issued in conjunction with the conference. In my opinion, of the press releases issued, by far the biggest story was SAP’s press release about Standard and Poor’s new risk management criteria they will soon be including in their evaluation of companies. SAP believes, correctly in my view, that this new practice will drive corporate interest in GRC (Governance, Risk and Compliance) in general, including SAP’s GRC product offering. Here is the press release.

I always look for skills trends with regulatory teeth, and this seems to have something close to that. SAP and BO’s GRC suite is supposedly ready for prime time, so this Standard and Poor’s announcement comes along at a good time from SAP’s vantage point. Those who have thought about beefing up on their GRC product knowledge should probably start now.

Another skills takeway from the conference: one of my first “tweets” said “SAP/BO is on an aggressive ‘replace Hyperion with EPM’ campaign…with some success.” I made a note of this because Hyperion has been entrenched on SAP customer sites for as long as I can remember. Now that Oracle owns Hyperion, SAP is feeling an increased urgency to get Hyperion out of SAP user sites, and for obvious reasons.

But SAP knows that in the area of performance management and analysis, you cannot get customers to accept anything but best-of-breed solutions. SAP’s success getting its customers to replace Hyperion with SAP EPM shows you the caliber of the combined SAP/BO offering in the EPM area. So, add “EPM” skills to the list of SAP skills to put on the wish list.

Of all the speakers I was able to see at the conference, I was especially impressed with Lee Dittmar, Principal with Deloitte Consulting. Lee, who is the national leader of Deloitte’s Enterprise Governance practice and the global leader of the Governance, Risk and Compliance practice, impressed me with the sharpness of his comments on the BI market, and especially with his honesty. When I first posted the tweets on Lee, I stupidly attributed them to the Accenture speaker, so now is my chance to set the record straight.

My first post on Lee said, “Big honesty points for Lee Dittmar: ‘We’re still working in silos, still buying point solutions… it’s holding us back!'” I believe it was Lee who also went on to say that the overall BI market was healthy enough that it almost seemed to be “countercyclical,” given the overall slump in the economy.

I was able to talk with Lee after his panel appearance, and he elaborated on a few of his comments. One thing he said was that in terms of consulting demand, a particularly strong area was Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC), which in the combined SAP/BO portfolio, is now powered by SAP’s OutlookSoft acquisition. But Lee also noted a strong level of across-the-board BI demand – enough to warrant significant training and ramp up. I hope to have Lee on a podcast down the line to delve further into his views on the SAP BO market.

Lee’s honest comment about the continuing reality of corporate silos led to a number of good discussions. This topic came up again in a press briefing in the afternoon. The takeaway? That the expansion of BI across the enterprise, driven by BO’s capabilities to do more for non-financial users than SAP historically has provided, is forcing the issue on silos and sparking collaboration amongst constituents and leaders that didn’t previously work together.

It will be interesting to see if this holds true and if so, how the change management issues raised by the spread of ERP reporting throughout the user community are addressed. But from a skills perspective, we can certainly see that mastering BO’s reporting tools and learning how they tie into a broad range of SAP consulting specializations is a good use of one’s time.

Here are some more skills-based predictions that I extrapolated from the overall trends of the BO Summit:

– We can expect to see numerous BW 3.5 to 7.0 conversions, as some of the latest BI/BO capabilities are only available to BI 7.0 customers.

– There is increased interest in BO products across the board by SAP customers, in particular, for high performance reporting products like Crystal Reports and also Polestar, BO’s open query, keyword-based search tool.

– That last point will drive the need for BIA, SAP’s Business Intelligence Accelerator, as these cutting edge searches have high performance needs, so an in-memory database like BIA is a must.

– Expect a strong need for data architects and data warehousing experts who can help companies map out the best strategy for combining SAP BI and BO environments.

– There should be continuing demand for SAP developers who can customize interfaces for user-friendly, role specific information delivery, in particular for SAP Portals but also for mobile devices. Note, however, that increasingly, this will involve Java skills and not ABAP, as BO’s tools are not ABAP-based.

– BI/BO is no longer just a skills specialization, but something all SAP consultants need to add to their skill set.

– The BO “Edge Series” is now creating more opportunities in the midmarket, where the BO suite is now second only to Microsoft.

Obviously, there was a lot to absorb at the BO Summit, and there’s a dizzying array of activity taking place in the SAP/BO space. I hope this blog entry took away from the confusion rather than adding to it.

In closing, I would just like to mention that as I tweeted at the show, I am still struggling with the catch phrase “BobJ” that insiders use to refer to Business Objects. Perhaps I just need to get with the program; I will admit that I am grudgingly jealous of people who can say something so corny and do it without an ounce of self-consciousness. Now that’s a skill to shoot for!

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
  • Jon:  Yeah, get with the newspeak and repeat after me: “Bob J.”, “Bob J.”, “Bob J.”  See, that wasn’t so hard was it?  I’m glad you’re on twitter now; wish I had seen your tweets in realtime, but I’m following you now – please follow back jspath55 when you can.
    I’ll agree with most of what you wrote, except for the “need for BIA … an in-memory database like BIA is a must.”  A nice-to-have sure, but we’re not convinced of the price-to-performance ratio.  Well-designed cubes, aggressive tuning and pruning, and expectation-setting can help trim infrastructure costs while still getting business answers.  We’re seeing challenges with BW training and query design more than speed of response; not to say everyone’s happy all the time.
    • OK Jim, let me try this again: “BobJ,” “BobJ,” “BobJ”…..
      I think I’m getting closer!  Thanks for your feedback on BIA…I had heard a number of SAP customers say that BIA was essential for their latest and greatest BI efforts, so it’s good to know that this is not necessarily the case. I will be curious to find out if you check out the Polestar tool from BO at some point and whether you think that would require BIA for your usage, as my comment about BIA being a must was particularly in reference to that. I guess in the end the key is not one particular tool but getting the results users need in a cost effective manner.

      – Jon Reed –

  • Every customer I go to is still unsure what SAP is going to do with BOBJ.  They’re eager to see a clearly defined solution…  but antsy over their existing investments and how they can possibly to migrate to (yet) another frontend OLAP tool or strategy suite.  Thanks for sharing more insight.
    • Thanks Nathan. I didn’t write at all on the combined SAP/BO roadmap in this blog entry, though I did touch on it in the other article on BO skills on my web site. That’s probably a whole other article, or maybe even a book, getting all the aspects of that sorted out. There is definitely still confusion over the combined roadmap and also, SAP customers are in very different places with their BW projects as they are now.

      In fact, I can’t claim to be totally clear on the SAP/BO roadmap myself yet, my work in that area is a work in progress. One thing that did come out during the conference was that the BO “Voyager” product and the SAP BEx product are being combined into one new product, “code named” Pioneer. I believe the target release date is 2010. There was some discussion about how this new product would affect pricing for existing BEx customers, so that’s an example of some of the confusion that likely exists out there. Of course, SAP is still committed to supporting existing BEx installs until, I believe, 2015.

      When I write about SAP, I try to keep in mind I’m writing about a moving target. 🙂

      – Jon Reed –

  • Jon –

    Thanks for the blog…it was mentioned there has been a particularly strong demand in Business Planning and Consolidation (BPC).  I do believe that many of the system integrators/consultants are ramping up their BPC expertise, but many existing SAP customers are taking the wait-and-see approach, especially with the rampup of the BPC7.0 Netweaver version.  We’ll soon see if demand for BPC’s friendlier user-interface and ease of modeling/use (i.e less IT involvement) is the driving factor that will have SAP customers replacing or enhancing their current BPS/IP applications with BPC.  Thanks, Pat

    • Hey Patrick –

      Thanks for the comment. Your feedback definitely makes sense. Although the comments I heard from systems integrators about BPC/OutlookSoft implied a decent level of customer need, you’re smart to realize that there is often a gap between rampup-projections and the hires that actual SAP customers are making based on their existing investments.

      I did a search of Dice’s 87,000 technology jobs tonight, and got 26 jobs for SAP + BPC + OutlookSoft. Not long ago, I reviewed more than 1,000 recent hot jobs from a consulting firm and saw a handful of OutlookSoft jobs there as well – more than I expected, but certainly enough to show that there is a small and likely growing demand in this area. Right now, this is likely a pretty small niche, and as you said, whether it remains so or whether it breaks open more broadly remains to be seen.

      I’m betting that SAP/BPC/OutlookSoft will become a  pretty solid consulting market under the SAP BI/BO umbrella, but these things take time. As a basis of comparison, a search on Dice for SAP MDM jobs generated 290 results, and MDM itself is not yet fully developed in terms of its consulting demand. Contrast that with a search on SAP BW, which yielded more than 1,000 results – not counting any SAP BI jobs that don’t include the “BW” letters.

      So, this brief number crunching exercise gives us a sense of “what’s real” now…and that seems to jive with your feedback from SAP customers. The challenge in this business is accurately predicting which areas will expand beyond narrow consulting niches. I think SAP BPC will do so, but while I’ve been right before on this kind of thing, I’ve also been wrong. We’ll see!

      – Jon Reed –