This summer I shared my thoughts on the Grading BI at SAP at SAP, and after attending SAP TechEd and the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference I thought it was time to update my grades. For the remainder of this exercise I’ll be combining my thoughts on the Business Intelligence Platform, BusinessObjects, and Analytics all together, largely because their segmentation is, at least in practice, large a marketing function. As always, this is coming from a totally platform-agnostic perspective; I know that we are all “SAP” shops, but for brevity’s sake I’ll be referring to customers who run SAP ERP as “SAP shops” and customers whose only SAP investment is in BI as “BusinessObjects shops.”
While I had really been hoping for a 4.1 release by now, we are still at a relatively buggy (but usable) 4.0 release with no specific plans for 4.1 except for of course the January release, complete with Ramp-Up (and most of the things that had been hinted at in a “.1” release), of 4.0 Feature Pack 3. But it is definitely not 4.1. Hopefully 4.1 will be available before 3.1, and even 4.0, go out of support (June 30, 2013).
As for the platform itself, it is bigger, stronger, and can do a LOT more than the old version. The initial reaction from most BOBJ-only shops has been that 4.0 was really just for SAP shops. I personally think that was largely sour grapes. Of course this release has extra SAP bells and whistles, but it also has more than enough platform-agnostic features to qualify as a historically major release and one that should have us all chomping at the bit once it is ready.
While I really expected Universe and Report developers to be the most giddy about 4.0, most of the squeals and giggles are coming from administrator gearheads who love the improved monitoring and auditing (squeals) and probes (giggles).
Bottom-line? I still think this is a promising release and one that will be stable by the end of the year (and sooner, if you’ve got a gutsy admin who likes to patch). However, execution/delivery problems with this release will still make lots of customers gun-shy and no amount of “record-number of downloads” is going to change that, at least until some customers start talking about the pain and heartache they went through upgrading and the unbridled success they’ve had since.
Grade (previously B+): B
SAP still deserves credit for making Mobile BI work on the iPad for 3.1 customers. Beyond that, things remain a bit unsettled in this area.
Mobile BI… or BI Mobile… or MoBI — I’m still not entirely sure what this is officially called, but I know that calling it “Webi for the iPad” is a gross, gross oversimplification. I think I felt — like everyone else — that I should have been able to set Mobile up on my server and suddenly I’d have all of my Webi content available on my iPad, but that isn’t even close to what we’ve got. I’d really like for someone to give me a solution that just lets me browse my repository, render reports as PDFs if they haven’t been “mobilized”, and let’s me access my Explorer Information Spaces and Exploration Views (and yes, even my Roambis) from the same interface. I just want a BI Launchpad where I can get at all of my existing content (sans Dashboards for obvious reasons) in one app. Users don’t want to know that they need to go to one app for a dashboard and another for a sort of dashboard-like report and another for an Information Space (or “cube” as my users like to call it). And they certainly don’t want to be forced to touch (and in many cases dumb-down) every Webi report they’ve got before it is acccessible on a device, which is what we’ve currently got.
Beyond those very enterprise problems though, is that SAP still hasn’t figured out how to deliver to the consumer, which is absolutely critical in the mobile world. I know we have some mobile ecosystem things (which are necessary for a consumer experience) that should be fleshed out in Madrid next week, but I’ll believe it when I see it. And I am looking forward to some Sybase Unwired Platform tie-ins as well (which are coming, and are hopefully fully-baked).
Grade (previously B-): C-
There are two key battlefronts for collaboration in BI. The first is bringing visualizations to the place where users live. The upgrades for BI in Streamwork are a fairly small step in that direction, but a significant step nonetheless in that SAP has realized that BI needs to be portable in an organization to drive collaborative decisions.
The second is to tie comments, feedback, and metadata to data points which then can be shared across visualizations. I’m not sure that any vendors have gone there yet, and with good reason: it will be hard as hell. It would be extremely valuable to me to be able to tag the sudden uptick in San Diego party pants sales as being a result of a Rod Stewart concert so that I didn’t assume I needed to change my forecast going forward, and to have that bit of information pull through to everywhere else it was included (so that we didn’t order more party pants, for example). The old Performance Manager tool, maligned as it was, would have been a great stepping stool to get there, because it stored such data points and hanging a comments field on each would have been relatively easily. Alas, as really-real time, no need for aggregation type databases (like HANA) come online there just won’t be any easy way to tag metrics for given slices and dices. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.
Grade (previously D): C
The more I hear about Sybase the more Sybase Love Fest Part 1 – Data Solutions. I really think their data solutions can be a key contributor to a successful agile BI development methodology, but we need to get it more front-and-center and make it a more integrated part of the Business Intelligence portfolio. Replication Server could greatly enhance your Data Services team’s effectiveness for those instances when you don’t need the “T” in “ETL” (which, let’s be honest, you don’t need nearly as often as you think you do). ASE could seriously help your “I don’t want to be tied to Oracle anymore” situation, too. And IQ’s only sin, so far as I can tell, is that it costs 1,000 times less than HANA, so SAP doesn’t really want you to buy that super-fast database.
I must also admit that I’ve changed a lot of my thoughts on HANA since recently hearing that a lot (not most, but a lot) of the organizations doing POCs with it right now are not current SAP customers. I could see SAP shops dipping their toe in because they are culturally comfortable with SAP products, but for a lot of others to see some potential means something.
Grade (previously C+): B
I still trust SAP to provide me everything that I need from my BI software, but being a Gen X-er (ish) I really want to see them give me everything that I want. I think the changes they’ve made to their existing products are very respectable, but their next big ideas need to be much bigger — and get delivered much faster — if they want to stay ahead of the new kids on the block. Some of that will mean eating their own lunch, and their willingness to do this hasn’t been frighteningly obvious yet (across SAP). I know they have clever people, I think now the issue is in commitment. And I’m not the only one.