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10/29/2007
01:45 AM
Mark Smith
Mark Smith
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The Not-So-Good at the Business Objects Meeting

Following up on my last post about all the good things I encountered at Business Objects' recent user conference in Orlando, Fla., here are a few looming and, in some cases, troubling aspects of what's ahead for customers in the wake of the pending SAP acquisition. For instance, Business Objects is very bullish on its approach to enterprise performance management (EPM), a topic highlighted in many executive keynotes at the event... Despite all the reassuring words, I have my doubts about what li

Following up on my last post about all the good things I encountered at Business Objects' recent user conference in Orlando, Fla., here are a few looming and, in some cases, troubling aspects of what's ahead for customers in the wake of the pending SAP acquisition.

Business Objects is very bullish on its approach to enterprise performance management (EPM), a topic highlighted in many executive keynotes at the event. Most particularly, Mark Doll, head of the EPM business unit, talked about new services tied to performance management products. Despite all the reassuring words, I have my doubts about what lies ahead.The BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management Suite brings together the acquisitions of Cartesis, SRC and Armstrong Laing, creating a large set of financial performance management applications. It's just starting to come together from a product and technology perspective, but it's not yet integrated and there are still plenty of overlaps in administration and functionality. Of course, earlier this year, SAP purchased OutlookSoft, which is directly competitive with the Cartesis technology. Confused yet? Well, it will be downright messy for the many organizations that invested in these products as it won't be easy to resolve the product overlaps.

At a higher level, Business Objects has not been very progressive in recognizing the importance of managing strategies, initiatives, goals and objectives - the challenges of alignment across process and organization boundaries. This could change if the SAP portfolio of performance management products becomes part of the Business Objects portfolio; SAP Strategy Management, which came over from the Pilot Software acquisition earlier this year, has seen more success in large-scale deployments than has BusinessObjects Performance Manager, the BI vendor's current product. Given the looming acquisition (and the pressure SAP is under from Oracle), you would think Business Objects would use the event to highlight existing integrations with SAP and other ERP providers. Unfortunately, there was very little discussion of technology and data integration with SAP. There's no doubt it will be a challenge trying to operate the BusinessObjects' BI platform directly on top of SAP NetWeaver BI and the SAP BW platform. Business Objects has long had difficulty ensuring efficient interactions between BW query interfaces and the BusinessObjects Universe. And in many attempts over the last 10 years - through product upgrades, acquisitions and changes in product approaches - Business Objects has not been very successful in achieving robust integration with SAP.

In contrast, vendors like Arcplan, Cognos, MicroStrategy and Panorama have had better success integrating with SAP BW. Taking either simpler or more sophisticated approaches to the integration than Business Objects, these vendors are making good progress with customers.

Many observers have talked about Business Objects-SAP integration as a good thing. While there might be advantages from a reporting perspective, with Crystal Reports 2008 as the lead product, I think these folks need to dig deeper to understand the technology and customer situation. Professor Tom Davenport, for example, commented in The Wall Street Journal that the acquisition will give SAP "a much better story about how you can use your data effectively to run your business." Tom is a well-known academic guru who chimes in as a thought leader on hot business technology topics, but as I've pointed out in a previous post on his positions on analytics, it seems to me that he has had little hands-on experience with the technology.

In another example, Cindi Howson commented in "Synergies, Overlap in the SAP-Business Objects Deal" that "Business Objects XI… offers customers of earlier BW versions a stronger BI solution." This is interesting but maybe a little generous since most know that Business Objects for years has strongly encouraged customers to move data out of SAP BW and not try to use the vendor's direct access capabilities due to performance, functionality and usability constraints. In an SAP environment, I would select SAP BI in a heartbeat over Business Objects if I had to make a choice between the two, but I would also seriously consider the third-party vendors mentioned above. The many organizations that have tried to integrate Business Objects and SAP products can attest to the challenges.

I was among the first to point out SAP's challenges in the BI area, and I took a lot of heat from the vendor for my candor. The acquisitions and consolidation in the industry have since proven my comments to be right on the money. Given all the product overlaps and market confusion tied to the pending acquisition, Business Objects has to do a better job bringing the facts to the table regarding existing integrations with SAP and future product directions. If Business Objects is listening, maybe it will provide more details.

Want to talk more and get the real scoop? Email me.

Mark Smith is CEO And Senior Vice President of Research at Ventana Research. Write to him at mark.smith@ventanaresearch.com.Following up on my last post about all the good things I encountered at Business Objects' recent user conference in Orlando, Fla., here are a few looming and, in some cases, troubling aspects of what's ahead for customers in the wake of the pending SAP acquisition. For instance, Business Objects is very bullish on its approach to enterprise performance management (EPM), a topic highlighted in many executive keynotes at the event... Despite all the reassuring words, I have my doubts about what lies ahead.

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