In late March, over 1000 people attended the SAP Insider Business Intelligence (BI) and Portals conference. Most were customers of SAP products who were not (yet) using the products SAP acquired with Business Objects. Enthusiasm was high for the demos of text and predictive analytics, event processing and more. But to carry this story to market, especially to the new business buyers, SAP must state the offerings in terms of business problems and the value of solving them. In my informal poll, many attendees expressed bewilderment about which product to use when. Even the techies, the vast majority of attendees at this event, will need that information to explain to their constituents why new significant new investment in product licenses will be required. Maps of tables and hierarchies, directories, etc. will not sell the story – but defining concrete business and economic benefits will.
SAP clearly has made its branding decisions; only the demos of current lab projects showed any Business Objects branding, likely because they are for internal use, not for sale. The SAP brand is a powerful one; prospective buyers recognize SAP’s deep understanding of business processes and industry issues. BI tools are used for visibility into the condition of a business and its partners, as well as where risks lie. Context is key there, SAP’s deep knowledge, if applied to product design, may help break its BI offerings out of their longstanding restriction to power users. SAP is not alone here; after decades of vendor innovation designed to grow the user base, still only 15-20% enterprises users typically have access to what they need. SAP showed an array of 19 new pre-built industry-specific dashboards which will carry customers closer to a specific set of useful metrics, reducing “time to value” for their investments. The company clearly sees the synergy between the acquired (and existing) BI assets and those in its applications portfolio.
From a tools perspective, the current portolio is impressive. The array of choices include:
- SAP BusinessObjects Polestar – data exploration and visualization for casual users where “Information spaces” have been built atop BusinessObjects Universes
- SAP BusinessObjects Voyager – exploration for business analysts of OLAP servers (supports multiple servers within the same workspace)
- SAP BusinessObjects Xcelsius – dashboard development for IT and power users. Can build stories for PowerPoint slide shows
- SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence (WebI or “webby”) - query, reporting and analysis for power users and business analysts against Universes
- Crystal Reports – scalable operational report building for skilled report developers
- SAP BusinessObjects Dashboard Builder – interface for building interoperable composite dashboards tfrom BusinessObjects content such as Xcelsius, Web Intelligence, Crystal Reports and Voyager
- BI Widgets – self-service mash-ups for business users
Without making it clear which tools work against what data, and when, SAP will continue to struggle to get their message across to tomorrow’s purchaser. It is clearly on the path, and has an opportunity to change the game, or to allow BusinessObjects’ well-earned reputation to atrophy. The elements are there, and the game is afoot.