After paying close attention to SAP’s discussions surrounding Business Intelligence (BI), and BusinessObjects (BOBJ), and Analytics (all of which we’ll lump together and use interchangeably throughout this blog post), I think the current state of BI is actually very solid. To try and get all of my thoughts down, I’m going to give a report card of sorts to SAP’s BI offerings. Please note that this is coming from a totally platform-agnostic perspective.
I know this is still in Ramp-Up and is rumored to have some outstanding issues, but assuming those can be dealt with rather quickly and have a successful general availability release, it’s tough to imagine this isn’t going to be considered a home run historically. Much like Apple won the day by putting a camera in the iPad2 (which people had been calling for since before the first iPad came out), SAP is making everyone happy with a reliable and responsive multi-source semantic layer. The convergence of the user and developer experience in Crystal for Enterprise and Web Intelligence is also something people have been anticipating for years (especially those struggling with Webi’s charting engine), and it appears the delivery not only met everyone’s expectations but also allowed each tool to keep its respective strengths. Having a stable working 4.1 version by or at the SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in October will earn SAP a higher grade here.
This is such a mixed bag. The iPad (with or without HANA) finally gave Explorer the platform it needed to jump into the forefront, where I personally think it has belonged since first seeing Polestar. The new Exploration Views (which I haven’t seen the full demo of) really dials up the sexy and gives you at least the start to an iOS dashboard until Dashboards (Xcelsius) goes to the iPad. Adding Webi to the iPad shows SAPs commitment to supporting that platform and gives its customers at least one avenue to provide their mobile workforce with the lion’s share of their existing content. Many people have clamored about Android support, and that is obviously coming, but giving customers at least one option that doesn’t require totally rewriting all of their content is a huge win right now. Also, very big kudos for making sure that XI 3.1 customers could also take advantage of this.
I do see a few missed opportunities however. SAP BusinessByDesign has a dashboard application for the iPad that is absolutely mind-blowing. I’d like to see that be available for everyone. I’m also concerned that Explorer doesn’t have any sort of offline capability and it appears SAP doesn’t have any interest in developing one. One day I think we’ll be able to assume universal broadband accessibility, but today isn’t that day. [Update: Apparently SAP is working on some level of offline ability for Exploration Views. Not sure it will be enough, but don’t know enough to weigh in.]
Finally, there have been some growing pains from trying to take an historically centralized distribution model and making it more consumer-centric. I will say that through that process I’ve been very, VERY impressed with SAP’s responsiveness and problem resolution and believe that as their communication improves (and it will) they’ll be one of the first enterprise players to figure out the “prosumer” space.
It’s a social world. People want to be social. Numbers can’t exist in a vacuum. People need to be able to talk about specific data points and let those comments follow them around. So far as I can tell, BusinessObjects struck out with their attempt at “discussions” and SAP hasn’t yet decided to pick up that ball. I think they really should. Some would argue I should give this an incomplete, but I think ignoring the issue doesn’t make it not an issue.
Sybase Data Solutions
As I’ve Sybase Love Fest Part 1 – Data Solutions, I’m in love with the data solutions the Sybase acquisition brought to SAP, and that is before we even start talking about ASE. I’m not sure, though, why we aren’t hearing more about it on the BI side. 99% of SAPs customers have no hope of using HANA this year (and 100% of their BI-only customers), so why do I only hear about how HANA will eventually solve all of my problems when Sybase could solve a lot of them right now? Their Replication Server and IQ analytics database are as plug and play as those sorts of solutions get, and no one will talk about them from a podium (only in small-ish conference rooms). I think there is a big opportunity there. SAP would also be wise to start shipping BI4.1 with ASE as the default CMS repository database instead of MySQL or DB2 to get people familiar with it. Love the tools, but the messaging is non-existent.
I love the dedication that SAP has shown to innovation and pushing the envelope in Analytics and everything else. I’d like to see them improve their communication and in some cases their execution, but by and large they are delivering what they need to deliver plus plenty to keep them light years ahead of the rest of the enterprise-wide business intelligence solution providers, especially in solution agility and mobility. I also really appreciate their willingness to cede so much to their partners (especially in the mobile space) for their customers’ sake; SAP could very easily try to keep a lot of that pie for themselves but know that their customers can’t and won’t wait for them to get it right. Their commitment to remaining platform agnostic is clear, and there is definitely no one I’d rather be tied to at this point.