SAP’s Self-Service BI Solution
SAP BusinessObjects has delivered self-service BI for many years with SAP BusinessObjects WebIntelligence. But as I mentioned in my previous post the requirements and expectations for self-service has evolved a lot in the last several years. SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence continues to be the top self-service reporting solution but SAP realized that just evolving Web Intelligence might not be sufficient to target the key pain points of this segment. So SAP took a step back and embarked on an in-depth research project.
What are the challenges facing BI today?
Myself and a team of designers/product managers spent time researching what solution would be necessary to provide a better self-service model for BI. As part of that we interviewed a large breadth of users and customers from large to small companies and in various job functions. What became clear is that today Business Analysts (or someone with a need to consolidate and share information within their line of business or team) spends about 80% of their time doing what we call “Data Manipulation”. This means they take data, often from different data sources, they manually combine it, do some level of transformation (like VLookup in Excel) or create a custom group. They might even make changes to the numbers (ack!) and calculated fields. They then review their work multiple times to ensure correctness, as the process is manual each time and prone to errors. Once the data is in a form they are comfortable with they spend about 5 – 10% of their time on analysis and gaining insight. This may lead to more manipulation. The remainder of their time is spent preparing the information to share it back to the business decision makers.
When we asked Business Analysts how they felt about the time they spent on the various tasks and the tools they used for their analysis they were clear that they wanted to spend their time providing more insight and adding value and less time in preparation and sharing and were eager to find a better tool to accomplish this.
What is SAP’s vision for self-service?
Through this research we realized that to really deliver a self-service solution we must address both the breadth of workflows and users. As I mentioned in my previous blog the audience for self-service is not only the Analysts but also the Managers who need this information to make informed decisions each day.
For SAP we realized that a solution would include a family of experiences.
SAP released SAP BusinessObjects Explorer several years ago to address a gap in access to information, this tool is intended for those who need to do analysis but are not Analysts nor wish to become them. This user population is effectively managers of things (people, products, resources, etc.) and often has many detailed questions about their portion of the business but neither the time nor inclination to pick up an expert tool. Explorer provides the ability to easily search for data, explore the information through an intuitive interface and have this level or exploration and analysis available either on the desktop or mobile device.
SAP released SAP Visual Intelligence in mid 2012. This tool is focused on the needs of the Business Analyst. It addresses the challenges with “Data Manipulation” and information access through an intuitive interface that captures all the transformations and then reapplies them on refresh, there by cutting down the time it takes to prepare data and allowing more time for analysis and insight. It also simplifies the sharing process as the Analyst can simply share the datasets into Explorer for easy access by the Managers.
Overtime you can expect to see these tools to become more integrated (in both naming and capabilities) as well see a dramatic evolution in providing superior visual analysis which will serve as a foundation for a next generation of self-service BI.
This is the second of a series of posts on self-service BI where I will share what I see influencing self-service BI, and how self-service can help make your overall BI program more successful and address common pitfalls.
Saskia Battersby is a General Manager of BI in Solution Management at SAP, with over 8 years of experience in BI Product Management including managing OLAP Intelligence, Xcelsius and most recently SAP Visual Intelligence.