There's not much that hasn't been unified, upgraded or left unchanged in SAP BusinessObjects 4.0, a major business intelligence and information management suite release announced Wednesday at a company event in New York.
Unification is the big theme, as SAP has given a formerly less-than-consistent collection of (BusinessObjects-acquired) products a more consistent look and feel, a more cohesive and complete data-integration and data modeling foundation, and a more predictable upgrade schedule.
In some areas, SAP is delivering improvements customers have long been asking for, clearing up inconsistencies and overlaps lingering from the BusinessObjects acquisition in 2007. In other respects, SAP is delivering solid, forward-looking enhancements that set customers up for an era that demands real-time access to and insight into ever-larger data stores.
The changes to the newly unified suite start with the very name of the product, with the "4.0" designation marking a synchronization of business intelligence (BI) and enterprise information management (EIM) tool sets that formerly had separate time tables. The last big BI upgrade, for example, was the "XI" release, but that nomenclature has been abandoned. Gone, too, are familiar-but-obtuse names such as "Xcelsius," now called SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards, and "Universes," the metadata modeling layer renamed the Business Layer in 4.0.
Beyond these cosmetics, BusinessObjects Dashboards (formerly Xcelsius) now has direct connectivity to the Business Layer (formerly Universe); that's one of those consistency upgrades customers have been waiting for. The Business Layer also supports data federation, a data-integration approach that's now a must-have rather than a bonus for any company with lots of data sources.
Fortunately the Business Layer changes do not introduce upgrade penalties. Customers that upgrade can continue to run the Universes developed for previous Business Objects deployments. This dual-Business-Layer capability protects investments made in existing applications and makes the prospect of an upgrade far less daunting.
In fact, SAP executives claim the move to 4.0 will be "more like an upgrade that a migration." That should be comforting to customers who went through the sometimes-painful migration to the XI platform. When the product hits general release -- as hoped for by the company's SAPPHIRE conference in May -- executives said upgrade wizards will be available to ease upgrade transition pains.
Customers who use both BusinessObjects and legacy SAP BI tools can look forward to fewer overlaps. The SAP BeX Analyzer BI interface, for example, will no longer be needed as you'll be able to expose BW data, metadata, hierarchies and calculated metrics though BusinessObjects interfaces such as Crystal Reports, Web Intelligence and Dashboarding. That's a plus for customers who would rather analyze data from all sources through a single BI tool set.
One such customer is CN, the Canadian freight railway and a longstanding user of both SAP BW and BusinessObjects. "We've been pushing SAP pretty hard on figuring out which products stay, which go and which will be blended, so this whole strategy of integration has been a key point for us," said Alan Capes, director of IT business development and strategic planning at CN, in an interview with Information Week.