SAP took the wraps off planned updates to its data warehousing, data integration and on-demand BI plans a bit at the SAP Insider BI and Portals event in Orlando in late March. There were some modest surprises: the unexpected absence of Marge Breya, who was in Walldorf apparently getting a broader set of responsibilities (a week later, still no official word about that); a delay in the release schedule and changed naming of the next Business Warehouse release; and a strong (and thus encouraging) Data Services message that reaffirmed Business Objects openness.
Wellesley Information Services puts the Insider events on (and publishes the magazines and books), so it’s not exactly “official,” but clearly SAP dominates the event. There was a decent partner presence as well among the event sponsors, and a sizable amount of the content was from consultants, partners and customers. In all, the picture was fairly healthy. My discussions with attendees made it clear their objective was educational and hands-on, and they universally expressed satisfaction with that content. Disney properties continue to disappoint for events like this – after a decade of hosting conferences week in and week out, the Dolphin and Swan are still riddled with no-connectivity spots, and power is rarely available for laptops.
Franz Amman took the stage for Breya in the keynote slot, and the sudden switch clearly had an impact on the story, which seemed a bit disjointed. SAP issued no press releases and the only really specific news was the new name for the former 12 Sprints, now named SAP StreamWork. There were some demos, as usual, and discussion of upcoming releases without a clear timeline, but that is more of an issue for analysts and journalists than users.
A few highlights for me:
SAP is advancing BW and BW Accelerator, driving more access to non-SAP data for broader, deeper support for applications like sentiment analysis and advanced visualization. As can be seen from this link, though, from a Google search done on April 2, 2010, the branding is still trapped in the old NetWeaver messaging. There was a lot of discussion of Data Services, particularly important because of the push to make Business Warehouse and the BW Accelerator a repository for non-SAP data as well. Data Services can source data from many places into the BW, and SAP wants to get people thinking about that. “We’re dropping it into columnar format and compressing it in memory,” was the story, “and that will drive excellent performance.” I’m eager to see a customer talk about that. The planned 7.2 release was delayed, though, and now there will be a 7.3 release that makes room for advances in the architecture of SAP applications. So the priorities seem to lag the message.
SAP continues to be clear that their portfolio will have a common ribbon across all the tools, and the same UI everywhere. The objective is to “take your context along with you.” For this, role orientation – not just user name – is important, I pointed out to Amman in a conversation later. He agrees, but this was not discussed from the stage – admittedly, there wasn’t nearly enough time, given the sudden changes in plans and the absence of a clear set of messages about product plans and timing.
The BI Consumer Services (BICS) interface is important to legacy users, and users are getting protection, both technical and license-wise. Increasingly, the front end tools like Explorer will be able to run ad hoc in the next overall release with BO Universe-based views alongside in-place BICS connections to other data. It will not be necessary to convert BICS – “to get where you want to go will be seamless;” (i.e., you’ll be able to open and save in old the version.) SAP users today keep their BICS license, no additional “connection” or “integration” charges will be required.
SAP believes they will play a big role in the on-demand BI space. “Business Objects was the first BI vendor to go to on-demand; we have 300k subscribers for BI on demand,” Amman tole me. It’s a necessary part of the mix for them. One scenario: for a given customer, a warehouse picker might keep their stock list on a hand-held. For such applications, some of the UIs might not be from SAP at all – partners may build those apps and consume a stream from internal SAP data. This is a hybrid model: get the UI and templates from the cloud, use a proxy to combine your data with it.
Duet was not in the speeches; in fact it was only discussed in response to a direct question. Still, that answer suggested work is proceeding. SharePoint too, and SAP says those are not incompatible paths. Amman told me: “It’s not an either/or – we need integration with Office, we’re moving that forward. SharePoint is a different beast – everyone has multiple instances. I don’t want to force a choice, I want to support the ones they make.” Duet will continue to be an end-user and partner development environment to integrate SAP pieces into workflows for specifically purposed applications in a Windows environment.
Bottom line: SAP is still struggling to tell the Business Objects story while keeping their branding atop it. It’s strange to see SAP slides that offer BI On Demand for salesforce.com – but that’s exactly what Business Objects does, and SAP needs to get more comfortable with it. But that story is still just not loud enough; yes, the attendees are SAP customers – but very many SAP customers are Business Objects and not SAP at all. And this is all still looking rather unfamiliar to them. And NetWeaver got some ringing defense, but it’s time to acknowledge that it’s not the place to expend their branding efforts. SAP apps and Business Objects BI, data integration and warehousing technologies are the resonant labels. But recent surveys in several places have indicated that BO momentum has sputtered. That needs fixing, and soon.
Disclosures: SAP is a client of IT Market Strategy.