I recently attended the SAP Influencer Summit in Boston. At this annual event, 275 thought leaders gather to hear about SAP's strategy and vision around BI and more. The tricky thing about events like this is that some attendees want broad, high-level insight, and others, like me (and readers like you) want much more detail.On the high-level side, on demand, in-memory, and mobile are three key elements of SAP's strategy. In-memory is certainly important to SAP and to the BI industry, as I wrote in this article. Explorer again took center stage in a number of demos, along with a cool one with the iPhone (see this blog and new product review for more on Explorer). However, I was disappointed by the emphasis for in-memory analytics' ability to lower the cost of ownership. From the BI perspective, the real value of in-memory is in the ability to do the harder analytics without a query timing out or taking hours to complete.
On that point, the term "analytics" was used interchangeably with BI, begging author Tom Davenport to ask John Schwarz (former Business Objects CEO and now member of the SAP Executive Board) to clarify SAP's strategy, "are we really talking BI here or analytics?" Schwarz' answer was not confidence inspiring. He didn't communicate that SAP BusinessObjects had any strategy on predictive analytics beyond the current Predictive Workbench (based on SPSS), which is good for the data mining experts but doesn't go far enough in bringing predictive analytics to more decision makers. In an offline discussion about this issue, the company did communicate a strategy but they are not talking publicly about it yet.
For those small- to midsize-business (SMB) customers who hesitate to buy BI from mega SAP versus independent Business Objects, the comments again gave a mixed message. SAP declared that the SMB market accounts for about 1/3 of SAP's business and is one of the fastest growing segments. But when Schwarz talked about subscription-based licensing, he touted a flexible licensing agreement that is available to the top 350 customers around the world. So the biggest customers who have the largest IT budgets get flexible licensing, but the SMBs who are facing tighter credit markets don't.
At this point, I've had a week to digest the remarks, and I still can't say if some of the comments are a result of trying to brief too diverse an audience or if it indeed SAP BusinessObjects has a less coherent BI strategy than in the past.
On the detail side, SAP Business Objects did share some of their most noteworthy improvements due in future releases. Multi-source universe (SAP BusinessObject's meta data layer) is one of the most compelling in the core BI platform, making it easier to get to data in multiple data sources. There also is a plan to allow multiple levels of modeling of the Universe such that power users in the business can model one portion, while IT can model the physical layer. Such capabilities, if done properly, can allow for collaborative development, but also for a more agile, business-focused BI environment.
As this will be my last blog post for the year, I wish everyone happy holidays, safe travel, and lots of chocolate chip cookies (or mince pies for the English readers)! Santa gets both, as well as milk and sherry, at our house.
Sincerely, Cindi Howson, BI ScorecardThe tricky thing about events like the recent SAP Influencer Summit in Boston is that some attendees want broad, high-level insight, and others, like me (and readers like you) want much more detail... The company did share some of the most noteworthy improvements due in future releases of SAP Business Objects software.