Comparison of SAP BusinessObjects BI and Niche Vendors
As a seasoned BI professional, I am often asked: How does SAP BusinessObjects compete with some of the newer niche vendors in the marketplace?
Scalability and Enterprise Scale
First and foremost, scalability comes to mind. SAP BusinessObjects has been running as an Enterprise class application since the 1990s. With 65,000 customers, many operating an enterprise level, Business Objects saw the need for many critical enterprise features which are still missing in niche vendors. We have BI deployments of all sizes, but more importantly, BusinessObjects can scale to any size to meet the end user requirement. The ability to scale services both vertically (the addition of services to existing hardware) and horizontally (new hardware) has resulted in some amazing BI deployments on a massive scale. I have personally seen SAP BusinessObjects solutions supporting global implementations of 150,000 users.
While I can’t share specific customer examples here, there are several aggregate stats I can share, as well as third party and SAP white papers that confirm these assertions. For example:
- A recent white paper from EV Technologies, entitled SAP Lumira benchmark- Large Data Set Load Testing found that “SAP Lumira proved to be a superior tool for a single user processing large data sets by demonstrating a linear progression of resource usage.”
- An SAP Co-Innovation Lab (COIL) study with Brocade, “An On‐Demand Resource Provisioning Reference Architecture for the SAP® BusinessObjects™ Business Intelligence Platform” showed that BusinessObjects architecture could adapt to changes in demand and the system would continue to meet SLAs.
We have all heard stories about data into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, security is often the over looked or forgotten piece of enterprise scale. While I don’t have the time or space to cover every security feature in the platform, BusinessObjects has several features ways which lower the risk of being hacked by malicious person. For example, there is a two-key cryptography system that controls both access to the CMS repository, and keys used to encrypt/decrypt objects within the repository. These keys are encrypted with FIPS 140-2 certified libraries, which is a stringent US Federal Government protocol. Our niche friends simply don’t have this security feature. If you are interested in this security topic, I suggest you check out Greg Wcislo’s article here.
The BusinessObjects semantic layer, or universe, is a data agnostic abstraction layer that lies between BusinessObjects Enterprise reporting solution and the raw source data contained within the database. One universe typically supports thousands of workflows and reports, guaranteeing the customer’s data is accurate and trusted. In my first job back in the late 90s, when I worked in a large investment bank on Wall Street, the universe was our acid test for data accuracy which we measured other solutions by. Build the universe correctly, and you have trusted data. Period.
A critical feature in the semantic layer is not only the ability to represent the database correctly, but also ensure that data security is respected from the source system. Users will often have similar access patterns, but will have different data access rights (column or row). For example, I might only be able to see one region or sales group, whereas you may see another. The universe layer can provides several critical security features to ensure that this source system security is respected. Our competition typically replicates their data out of the EDW, and the re-apply security in their reporting layer. Not only does this create data traceability and lineage issues, but allows for errors in re-application of data security.
The semantic layer provides a layer governance that other tools simply don’t have. Rather than providing the end user just a connection to a data source and table names, the semantic layer provides the necessary governance so you can actually trust the end result. You avoid the meetings where report results don’t match, and decision frameworks slows. The universe ensures that your SQL is correct, so the data is always correct. A rich metadata layer ensures users don’t misinterpret table columns.
The Universe also drives TCO of BI solutions lower: One often forgotten feature is the ability to update thousands of reports with a universe, rather than having a developer manually interacting with each of these reports. The difference is hours of development effort verses weeks or months of effort. Furthermore, the semantic layer metadata can be leveraged in other products such as Information Steward, which in turn provide data profiling, data lineage and impact analysis of data changes, from the database all the way out to the report object layer. Needless to say this is very powerful—imagine being able to trace where your data came from or measuring the impact of making a column or table in your database in all your reports
Finally, having worked on Wall Street for 10 years both as a BOBJ customer and partner, I saw the Universe in action and the power it provided. For example, we were able to re-platform databases without a massive BI reporting projects that our Business Objects competitors would have required.
Dynamic Report Bursting (sometimes referred to as Publications) allows for mass distribution of reports and data, securely and personalized, to an end users requirements. Imagine a sales report distributed to each Account Executive, where only that Sales Executives data is displayed in the report? Or a credit card statement report, run once for thousands of users, but secured and personalized for each user? There are thousands of customers using this capability. Our competition would have to run each report for each thousands of times–not a practical solution for mass consumption needs!
In my development days on Wall Street, we used this technology to distribute personalized and highly-sensitive Derivative Collateral Statements to thousands of investment banking customers.
Trusted Data Discovery
With the explosion of data in the last few years, more and more users and consumers of data are demanding an easy way to pull the information together without getting IT involved. The BI tools proliferation has enabled users to easily get data into a visually-appealing format, but how do we know the data is right?
SAP has made significant investment in Lumira, our agile data discovery tool, targeted to end Line of Business user or analyst. Lumira and the server component, Lumira Server, inherits of all trust of the semantic layer, and the scalability and security of the Business Objects platform.
On a weekly basis I hear the horror stories of ‘bad data’ used to make critical decisions. I was also present when one customer described the CFO’s reaction on seeing sensitive data displayed on a wide screen TV in the lobby of their office. Undoubtedly an unpleasant and perhaps career limiting conversation! How can we avoid these events? Users need tools where that can access trusted data. Not providing them will lead to shadow IT, spreadmarts and data swamps, and secret ETL jobs running as scheduled report runs! Lumira provides all the flexibility an analyst needs, but all the trust, security, and governance that management and IT require.
Amongst Lumira’s many unique functions, it allows users to acquire data from many sources. Not only does it have the best connectivity to SAP sources and trusted data from the Universe (semantic layer), it can connect to all major third party databases with Free Hand SQL, query both Excel and text and even return data off your clip board (great for web data!). It also has unique connectivity to Hadoop, where we can sample large data sets.
Once you have data back in desktop, you’ll find Lumira has great data preparation capabilities. You can quickly profile the data by switching to faceted view, you can cleanse data errors, and add additional calculations and groupings/ intervals to your data. You can also easily combine your data with other sources without having to script a solution. For offline data, a columnar in memory data storage system is leveraged.
Visualizing is also quick and engaging experience. You can access a large charting library, and even download some chart extensions from Github or the SAP Analytics Extension Directory. This is a novel concept where anyone can develop their own chart leveraging D3. You can also leverage an ESRI mapping engine, or even see what some of our partners have done in this space (Galigeo and CMaps come to mind). Populating a chart takes a click–so ease of use is front and center in our design. Predictive capabilities are also in the product. As we all know, Data Scientists are in large demand, but requirements for a simple time forecast should not be delayed because of scarce resources. In Lumira an analyst can do a simple linear regression or triple exponential smoothing (a forecast with seasonality) on a click. Moving simple data science functions to the analyst make sense, and delivers a much faster time to market. I would also suggest checking our SAP Lumira’s Influence Detection capabilities. Influence Detection determines the top influencers of a particular metric. For example, you might be able to determine that Day of the Month, or a particular brand, best describes revenue, and then you can drill into those results to find more detailed information. Many of competitors rely on the R Language in order to leverage Predictive capabilities. In my experience the majority of users are adverse to learning programming skills!
You then can turn your simple visualizations into something really special with Lumira. I like to say you can create “magazine quality visualizations” with the tool. For example, by leveraging infographics, you can tell a very customized story about the data. In the visualization below, “Americas’ Addiction to Oil”, the infographic of the gas pump reminds the reader specifically what the author is referring too. No ambiguity here. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an infographic is worth a thousand pictures!
Finally the data is shareable on the SAP BusinessObjects platform (BIP) via Lumira Server. Any user with access can then review the results in a browser or mobile device. All existing security will be respected. Since Lumira is built leveraging HTML5, the deployment is truly WYSIWG – the user experience on desktop is similar on Mobile. The data engine for Lumira Server is also pretty unique: it leverages an embedded in-memory, column-oriented, highly-parallel & compressed SQL-based data engine. When leveraging data against HANA online, Lumira leverages the power of the HANA engine to process the data. While I have already plugged EV Technologies white paper on this, it’s worth a second mention: SAP Lumira Server scales linearly.
When you are in need of a trusted, governed, and scalable platform that enables the entire spectrum of reporting needs, BusinessObjects Enterprise is the right solution—65,000 customers (and counting) can’t be wrong.
If you are interested in finding more about the SAP Business Objects platform and Lumira please see the on demand presentation link below. You can open the presentation by registering at: http://event.on24.com/r.htm?e=1214666&s=1&k=4B8396123221404901912EC4306042BC&partnerref=BI