Want Broader BI Usage? Crystal Reports Founders Offer Indicee

Mark Cunningham has reunited some of the team that built Crystal Reports (now part of SAP Business Objects) and launched Indicee, a SaaS-based BI reporting play that is pointed squarely at the continuing difficulty of extending BI beyond its seemingly permanent minority usage model.

It’s commonly understood that users continue to fend for themselves manually, moving data to spreadsheets for analytic manipulation because IT is unable to respond quickly enough to their needs. Indicee tackles this by re-using existing report and spreadsheet content (not surprisingly, Crystal reports lead the source list), moving it to the cloud for data mart-based interaction, and innovating a different approach to user interaction. It’s worth a look, and a free download for trial use sweetens the deal. Read more of this post

IBM’s Smart Analytics System: More Than An Appliance?

When is an appliance not an appliance? When it’s more. On July 28, IBM’s Software Group and Systems and Technology Group (i.e., the hardware folks) hosted an analyst event to introduce the Smart Analytics System.The discussion began with a series of conversations about the value of “workload optimization,” or the effective tuning of processors, storage, memory and network components with software used for information management.  Not controversial, but hardly news. IBM claims to be raising the bar, though, with the promise of a system that is already tuned, and attuned to the needs of its purchaser, at a level far beyond appliances that other vendors have delivered: appliances, if you will, not only predesigned for specific use cases, but customized for specific instances of those use cases. It’s no accident that IBM never called the Smart Analytics System an “appliance.” Extending the Smart brand here is a powerful move, and IBM appears poised to make good on its promise. Read more of this post

Tableau Software: Visibly Catching On and Catching Up

Data visualization specialist Tableau Software spent some time with us this week talking about where they’ve come from and where they are going. After early project work for the DoD, founder Pat Hanrahan and his PHD student Chris Stolte joined forces with Jock MacKinlay, who spent some time at Xerox PARC. They spun out of Stanford in early 2003, and launched into a steady run of growth. With $5m in early funding, they’ve run conservatively – “cash flow even,” Marketing VP Elissa Fink calls it – ever since, and just celebrated 16 straight quarters of beating the prior quarter’s number. Read more of this post

SAP Needs A Clear Message For Business Objects

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 interested in the restaurant for sale etc., 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.

Along with some efficient business management software (learn more at www.advancesystemsinc.com) and from all the 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.