SAP BusinessObjects Customers Await New Platform

Delays have pushed back the vendor's business intelligence suite 4.0 upgrade, but components including data services and a Microsoft Office analysis tool are finally available.
At SAP's annual Sapphire user event in May, CTO Vishal Sikka claimed that BusinessObjects version 4.0 is the "best release ever." Trouble is, the general release was originally expected ahead of Sapphire but had been pushed back to June. Last week SAP acknowledged the product won't be available until next month.

The delay in the business intelligence platform is significant, but SAP did, at least, release two components of version 4.0: the Data Services module (for data integration, data quality, and data profiling) and SAP Business Objects Analysis Edition for Microsoft Office, a premium alternative to SAP's venerable BEx Excel interface.

SAP BusinessObjects first announced version 4.0 last February in New York and in other cities around the world. It's a product several years in development and one that promises innovation for both the SAP Business Warehouse (BW) customer base and for non-SAP ERP customers. SAP customers have been waiting for performance improvements and better integration with BW. Long-time BusinessObjects customers have most been waiting for data federation, better graphing, workflow, and a more scalable dashboard solution.

Version 4.0 officially went into ramp up last December. Ramp up is SAP's approach to releasing new software versions whereby a limited number of customers put it to the test. The software has to be deployed in production, not just in labs or downloaded for evaluation purposes. SAP makes the software generally available to all customers once certain key performance thresholds have been reached related to bug resolution and the number of successful customer deployments.

Customer reaction to the delay has been decidedly mixed. Nobody wants to deploy software that isn't stable, and BusinessObjects customers have clear memories of 2003 and 1996 releases that were not stable.

A delay to ensure software quality is something SAP customers have come to expect. However, one customer I spoke to complained that the repeated delays have impacted training and deployment plans that most likely will now be pushed into 2012. Customers who were planning on purchasing BI 4.0 likewise have to defer their plans, or decide to purchase and deploy on BusinessObjects XI 3.1 and upgrade later. SAP's next earning call at the end of July will be the biggest indicator of how big a deal this delay has been in terms of company performance and BI customers turning to competitors.

There's always frustration when products are delayed, and the challenge becomes managing expectations. All vendors and internal BI teams should take heed. SAP has been talking about the 4.0 release since it completed the acquisition of BusinessObjects in early 2008. By those roadmaps, the 4.0 release is a full year later than expected.

Customers tend to look at roadmaps with a wary eye: too much theory, too many moving parts -- time will tell. However, much of the hype around 4.0 began bubbling up with a pre-announcement at the ASUG conference last October. Then came the worldwide launch announcement in February. No wonder the product got so little fanfare at Sapphire in May, as it still wasn't ready.

A few months delay in the software industry is not that big a deal, particularly as the installed base and complexity of these products has grown. More worrying, to me, is the number of key departures from the SAP BI product team (well-known executives Marge Breya, Dave Weisbeck, and, the latest, George Mathew, have all left within the last year). I could make a similar criticism about loss of BI personnel at Microsoft, but not at IBM Cognos or Oracle. As the SAP BusinessObjects executive departures are in the middle of a major product release, it cannot be good for either customers or for the vendor. (SAP says the departures have had no impact on the product release and that other veterans -- including Sanjay Poonen, Steve Lucas, and Adam Binnie -- have shifted responsibilities to take over for the executives who have left.)

You tell me: has your BI deployment or buying been effected by this delay, or are such delays par for the course?

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.

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