Explorer Splash Shows BI Matters to SAP - InformationWeek

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5/13/2009
10:15 AM
Cindi Howson
Cindi Howson
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Explorer Splash Shows BI Matters to SAP

The SAP BusinessObjects Explorer accelerated version is cool and disruptive, but with the attention it is getting in all the keynotes, my bigger takeaway is that BI matters a lot in the SAP world. The vendor is viewing information holistically, from process (source systems) to insight (BI)...

If you've been following Business Objects' innovations, you know Polestar is a combination search, exploration, and visualization tool. I have described it as an iTunes- and Google-like approach to BI. It certainly makes my "cool" list and is a product the company has demoed as part of the Cool BI course I teach at TDWI.

Yesterday at SAP's Sapphire conference in Orlando, Fla., the vendor announced "Explorer," a combination of Polestar and the Business Warehouse Accelerator (BWA). BWA is SAP's in-memory database and appliance (see my in-memory BI feature for more info). And don't let the "Explorer" rebranding confuse you (as it did me!); we aren't talking about the former SAP BEx (a.k.a. Business Explorer).

There are a couple reasons why this is a big deal.I recently wrote in my evaluation of SAP BusinessObjects XI 3.1 that the integration between BW and BusinessObjects XI was no better than any other BI vendors who rely on the BAPI interfaces to get to BW InfoCubes. The Explorer release greatly changes that with direct access to BWA. With BWA, the level of performance and data volumes that Explorer can navigate changes drastically. Polestar alone had limitations on data volumes; Explorer with BWA really doesn't. As well, this combination also leverages the BWA indexes without requiring customers to first create a universe, as the standalone Explorer (former Polestar) would require.

So customers can be up and running fast. Super fast. Beta customer Molson Coors says they were up in 1 day, with Explorer navigating 10 BW Infocubes. The largest cube is over 300 million records, yet they're still getting speed-of-thought exploration. Katrina Coyle, global information manager at Molson Coors, explains that the search-like interface and corresponding speed changes the whole way people use information. Simply entering key words such as "Coors Lite marketshare" means people can spend more time asking the right questions rather than trying to find the data.

The other headline is their announcement that BWA will support non-SAP-BW content in a second wave. That gives SAP BusinessObjects an in-memory approach to BI that's good for non BW customers too, whether running SAP or not.

At first blush, this announcement may sound like little progress, as Doug Henschen blogged. Well, I wasn't at Sapphire last year, so I can't say how this keynote and announcement differs from last year's demo. In truth, when the vendor requested a briefing about "Explorer/Polestar," I initially declined, thinking I had already heard about that. The differences are there but under the covers. As Doug correctly points out, some competitors have in-memory, but here too, the difference is in how the in-memory technology is integrated into an existing BI deployment, whereas tools like TM1 and QlikView are deployed stand-alone.

Lastly, as a newcomer to the Sapphire world and one who tends to view everything through the BI lens, I was pleasantly surprised that BI here is getting top billing. As I advise clients and debated pros and cons in last week's TDWI class on Developing a BI Tool Strategy, BI is now a bit part in these vendors' total revenues. For context, check out the total company revenues for these mega vendors, in which BI is only about $1B. Knowing how much BI can drive sales for core product lines and how those core product lines are doing, matters. When the going gets tough, making sure BI funding (whether in R&D and support) doesn't get cut is an important strategic consideration for BI buyers.

So while Explorer accelerated version is cool and disruptive, the attention it is getting in all the keynotes means my bigger take away is that BI matters a lot in the SAP world. The vendor is viewing information holistically, from process (source systems) to insight (BI).

Regards, Cindi Howson, BI ScorecardThe SAP BusinessObjects Explorer accelerated version is cool and disruptive, but with the attention it is getting in all the keynotes, my bigger takeaway is that BI matters a lot in the SAP world. The vendor is viewing information holistically, from process (source systems) to insight (BI)...

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