At SAP's seventh annual Influencer Summit in Boston last week, Co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe highlighted four areas of SAP innovation: core, mobile, cloud, and in-memory. Interesting to me is that SAP now considers the core to include business intelligence (or to use SAP's umbrella term, business analytics) as well as its well-established business applications.
Mobile, cloud, and in-memory also cut across both BI and SAP's business applications. In mobile, SAP currently has a number of first-mover and competitive advantages. Sybase Unwired gives them a development platform as well as device management. SAP now has 30+ mobile applications.
However, in the BI space, its solutions are mixed, depending on the device and the BI content (check out BI Scorecard's latest summary scorecard to see how they stack up). For example, mobile interfaces vary depending on whether they're from the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 WebIntelligence, Crystal, Explorer or Dashboards modules. Look for this to improve in 2012, as detailed in this article about what's ahead in SAP BusinessObjects Feature Pack 3.
[ Want more coverage from last week's Influencer Summit? Read SAP: We'll Be No. 2 Database Player By 2015 . ]
SAP BusinessObjects was one of the first BI platform vendors to have an on-demand strategy. Day two of this summit was largely focused on cloud computing, with SAP emphasizing existing and new cloud applications, including Sales OnDemand, Sourcing OnDemand, Travel OnDemand and so on. The pending acquisition of SuccessFactors will position SAP as the number-two SaaS vendor in revenue after SalesForce.com. SuccessFactors provides services-based employee performance management applications, and it claims 15 million users and a 70% growth rate.
All of this shows SAP is committed to the cloud, but here, BI was like a forgotten step-child. One exec said, "except for Business ByDesign, we didn't have cloud solutions to sell until this year." Maybe he misspoke, but it reinforced my perception that SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand has been more of a check-box than a fully supported BI cloud strategy. In yet another show of stepped-up commitment to cloud, Google announced it will integrate Google Apps with SAP Business ByDesign, the company's cloud-based business applications suite.
Meanwhile, there is little doubt about SAP's commitment to in-memory with its Hana technology expected to power not just BI but also business applications. SAP's vision for in-memory and Hana is to redefine real-time performance. Snabe declared in-memory to be the next-generation architecture. He took a subtle dig at Oracle's use of "hybrid" (relational plus in-memory) technology in Exalytics (without explicitly naming the vendor), saying hybrids don't last.
The benefits of in-memory in terms of real-time, analytic performance were backed up by a number of customer testimonials. However, remember that the number of live deployments is in the low hundreds. I suspect this is both because of the newness of the product (which was released in June), but also because of the steep price tag (I heard a quote of $5 million in one installation, but SAP doesn't publically quote pricing, so I can't confirm). SAP needs to figure out how to bring in-memory to customers with lower budgets. This may be where the cloud has a role to play, as Hana will also be the database powering BI OnDemand.
One of the most interesting announcements related to Hana was planned support by third-party vendors including Tableau and Tibco Spotfire. Tableau has long had a philosophy and architecture of not requiring customers to replicate data into their in-memory engine (an option added in 2010 through Tableau Version 6). So support for SAP's Hana makes sense (check out this demo preview of Tableau running on Hana). It's notable that Oracle discontinued its OEM relationship with Tableau earlier this year. Spotfire, in contrast, has typically had an extract-and-load-into-memory approach (with a drill on demand option), so I will be curious to see how this is implemented. Neither solution is, as of yet, generally available.
Customer FreshDirect provided an interesting view of their journey to self-service BI. The direct-delivery grocer is using SAP's newly released Event Insight capability to track on-time delivery throughout the day. Unexpected events like United Nations meetings and Obama coming to town can disrupt deliveries throughout New York City. Event Insight alerts the company to traffic problems so it can quickly add reserve trucks to routes when delays pop up.
FreshDirect routinely monitors BI usage, and if someone is not frequently using their license, it gets taken away and allocated to another user. Users author their own reports on everything from delivery performance to number of parking tickets. "If you don't have access to analytics, you're going to get squashed by your competition," says Brandon Arbiter, FreshDirect's manager of business intelligence.
It was a big picture kind of summit, so I had to reflect on where SAP has been in BI and where it's going. Executive VP of Business Analytics Sanjay Poonen committed to being best of breed in BI. I couldn't help recall SAP's stance prior to the BusinessObjects acquisition, striving only to be "good enough." It's better for customers and the industry that they are now pursuing excellence.
Cindi Howson is the founder of BI Scorecard , an independent analyst firm that advises companies on BI tool strategies and offers in-depth business intelligence product reviews.