Software // Information Management
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8/19/2008
08:35 AM
Mark Smith
Mark Smith
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BI and Performance Management Evolve at SAP-Business Objects

I have been critical of the integration of Business Objects and SAP in the past, but many solid steps in the right direction are simplifying the complexities I've blogged about. Business Objects provided answers at last week's Influencer Summit that increase my confidence significantly on their product roadmap...

Business Objects an SAP company brought forward the integrated strategy for where they plan to advance their organization and products into the future at last week's 2008 Influencer Summit. The core emphasis was on the product strategy and the success of the portfolio of products across enterprise performance management (EPM), governance, risk and compliance (GRC) and business intelligence (BI) and information management. This is a blend of products from Business Objects and SAP, along with companies they have acquired over the last couple of years. Business Objects has focused on how they can advance their products to address the broad set of user demographics and interactive requirements of them across organizations using Web 2.0 Internet technology.Thematically, Business Objects launched the summit with their direction for enabling business management with products that can optimize business performance from strategy to execution throughout an organization. To emphasize the importance of this approach, SAP brought Robert S. Kaplan to present on the principles of his new book written with David P. Norton, The Execution Premium. The book and methodology are part of his academic and management consulting work as part of Palladium Consulting. Interesting point as Palladium has transitioned from thought leadership through the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative, which is now defunct as part of the decline of balanced scorecard methodology, to management and technology consulting.

Business Objects is more than gleeful about the potential of products for business management to support strategy and objectives across management processes. SAP, Business Objects and even acquired Pilot Software have been focused on this mission in the past, but now using the large organization to establish the opportunities moving forward. Comparatively, Oracle through acquisition of Hyperion and IBM's acquisition of Cognos are advancing to similar approaches to the market with varying characteristics to their applications and integration of products.

Business Objects has advanced their enterprise performance management (EPM) products that are completing their first phases of integration into a common platform and framework. Products like SAP Strategy Management 7.0, Business Planning and Control (BPC) 7.0 are now integrated to a common platform approach using SAP NetWeaver and other products such as BusinessObjects Financial Consolidation 7.0 and BusinessObjects Profitability and Cost Management 7.0 are integrated into the core Business Objects XI 3.0 BI technology and beginning integration with SAP NetWeaver. Making the tough decision and leaving many BI and performance management products behind that were duplicate, Business Objects is providing open visibility into their future. Business Objects as part of SAP has now assembled a suite for financial performance management that is directly competitive with Oracle with Hyperion and IBM with Cognos. The competitive aspect of the suite is the depth of each product and then the integration into the platform, but at the same time finance is investing into areas outside of their direct organizational responsibility. We broadly call that operational performance management, where operations, sales, customer and workforce generate revenue or incur costs and more timely visibility into their performance and adjustments to plans can impact financial performance.

To address performance management throughout an organization, inside and outside of finance, there is SAP Strategy Management 7.0, which brings significant new advancements in capability through an interactive experience that supports the strategic and operational direction of an organization. The product is also integrated with SAP GRC Risk Management, where risk can be managed with strategies and governed through monitoring. Strategy Management can provide a range of business management needs that play a critical role in operational performance management. SAP Strategy Management can help define and track strategy, establish goals and objectives, and then monitor initiatives that can be brought together in a scorecard or dashboard application.

In BI, Business Objects has continued to advance its portfolio of products, which is critical for its business and companies using SAP. Business Objects' BI portfolio and XI version 3.0 now includes a set of dedicated tools for specific needs. These products and needs include Crystal Reports for production reporting, WebIntelligence Voyager for ad hoc reporting and analysis, Xcelsius for dashboards and Polestar for discovery, analysis and search and recently added Text Analytics that came from the Business Objects acquisition of Inxight. Business Objects also came out with its Predictive Workbench for statistics in partnership with SPSS. SAP also announced a new product called Xcelsius Present which advances the use of Adobe Flash that integrates into spreadsheets and presentations from Microsoft Office to provide an interactive and usable experience for decision-making. Business Objects has to rationalize its use of Flash technologies, which have limitations on mobile devices, and how they support other Web-based technologies. For example, Business Objects has not yet officially supported Apple iPhone, as the Opera browser does not support Adobe Flash and will require some careful navigation of capabilities to ensure simple access and integration with information.

Organizations that want BI on top of SAP from Business Objects have many options and choices of products that provide access to SAP; however many new ones are still being proven in new deployments. Business Objects is in a challenging position, as accessing data and analyzing and reporting on SAP BW and SAP R/3 is done across many products. Business Objects is recommending BusinessObjects XI 3.0 and WebIntelligence Voyager as an interactive OLAP product on SAP BW 3.5 and SAP BI 7. In addition, Business Objects Polestar is a new product that can be used for searching and analyzing data which will be improved and will operate on top of SAP BI Accelerator (BIA) by end of 2008. A big improvement over previous generations of WebIntelligence, which was not designed to interface efficiently with SAP BW and SAP BusinessExplorer (BEx), is not sufficient for broader needs of business users. It is now commonly discussed across the Internet that the product roadmap for interactive OLAP on SAP will be the integration and evolution of BusinessObjects' Polestar and SAP Business Explorer into what is referred to as Pioneer. This will be, of course, one of the key products for SAP in the next couple of years for conducting interactive analysis or OLAP for business users.

Organizations using SAP BW are being requested by SAP to upgrade to SAP NetWeaver BI version 7 service pack 1 to ensure better performance of interfacing from Business Objects XI products. This push to the latest platform will help ease the transition for products in the future, but the BI products from SAP like Business Explorer and Web Application Designer will be phased out over the coming years. Making this step forward will require resources but is a necessary step if you are going to continue to invest into Business Objects or SAP. Those who want to pull data out of SAP R/3 and BW can look at Business Objects Data Integrator and packaged RapidMarts for establishing a separate foundation for BI. Those who are looking for more robust reporting and interactive capabilities today should look closely at the Crystal Edge product suite, which can provide the most proven integration as Crystal has for many years integrated into SAP R/3 and SAP BW. Though it is marketed as a SMB solution, it is more than robust enough for enterprise clients and deployments and would be on top of my short list for evaluation on SAP. This recommendation is not being promoted by SAP as it does not support the overall product strategy of other products operating on the Business Objects platform that might be important to your future use.

Unique with Business Objects compared to the other large provider like Oracle and IBM is its focus on applying analytics to unstructured data through BI capabilities with Text Analytics, which was part of their Inxight acquisition. The software as a service (SaaS) efforts are expanding as well, and the information and BI-on-demand products are reaching business analysts and others who need faster and simpler methods to operate. While still early, Business Objects' SaaS efforts are reaching further into the SMB market and collaboration with other providers, like salesforce.com, where SAP has had recent challenges. Business Objects has yet to provide many of their core BI products or, more important, SAP Strategy Management in their SaaS efforts. Steps in this direction are actively being examined as they recognize that many organizations want to start small before they make large enterprise commitments.

Business Objects has integrated the people and products into one organization to optimally develop and deliver performance management, business intelligence and governance, risk and control for the industry. In the year ahead, the challenge will be to get further integration of the product lines with the BI technology based on BusinessObjects XI and the application platform SAP NetWeaver to simplify the administration and leverage the value of the technologies. I have been critical of the integration of Business Objects and SAP, as noted in this post, but many solid steps in the right direction are simplifying the complexities I outlined. Business Objects also provided answers at the recent Influencer Summit that increase my confidence significantly on their product roadmap. Business Objects is a global leader and is a vendor that should be examined despite some short-term integration challenges with SAP. Business Objects has a clearer product roadmap that can help mitigate any project and migration issues.

Let me know your thoughts.I have been critical of the integration of Business Objects and SAP in the past, but many solid steps in the right direction are simplifying the complexities I've blogged about. Business Objects provided answers at last week's Influencer Summit that increase my confidence significantly on their product roadmap...

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