Improvements in mobility, data visualization and collaboration are what's next for a just-released business intelligence suite.
Most SAP BusinessObjects customers are still sizing up the vendor's 4.0 business intelligence suite release, which was introduced in September. At last week's ASUG (Americas SAP User Group) conference in Florida, SAP gave those customers more to think about, detailing a BI 4.0 Feature Pack 3 upgrade due out in the first half of 2012.
The biggest improvements in Feature Pack 3 will include advances in mobile BI, analytic views, and collaborative BI by way of SAP's Streamwork tool. Here's a peek inside those expected upgrades along with a summary of the key new capabilities of last month's big 4.0 release.
Mobility, mobility, mobility: With SAP's acquisition of Sybase, the vendor has access to technology that most other BI vendors lack. One of the biggest concerns with mobility is security. With Feature Pack 3, SAP BusinessObjects products will be prewired with Afaria, security controls from the Sybase Unwired platform that support mobile device management capabilities such as authentication and remote wipe.
The feature pack will also bring significant improvement to the SAP BusinessObjects native iPad apps in terms of interactivity and user experience. However, looking at some of the offerings from partner vendors exhibiting at ASUG, the solutions from RoamBI, Antivia, and Exxova were pretty compelling, and they are available today. Right now, SAP BusinessObjects' mobile story is a complicated puzzle depending on the device and content. Dashboards, for example, rely on Flash, which is not supported by Apple on the iPad. Content, security capabilities, and device support all seem to improve in the next release.
Analytic Views: Analytics views are an extension of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer, the combination search and basic visual discovery tool. With analytic views, users can create individual visualizations and save them into a briefing book. Explorer will also be usable offline in the next release.
Collaborative BI: SAP Streamwork is SAP's collaboration tool. Feature Pack 3 will provide better integration with BI content. While viewing a report, for example, someone can initiate a threaded discussion or action within Streamwork.
The 4.0 release did get some attention during ASUG's keynotes and, certainly, in the track sessions. Herein lies the problem with a later-than-expected release: all the excitement around 4.0 was largely experienced during the launch way back in February. Steve Lucas, SAP's senior vice president and general manager business analytics, cited the product's ramp up as one of the most successful ever, with 400 live deployments and 4,000 downloads (though few customers with live 4.0 deployments presented at ASUG, so I'd love to hear from you!).
Given that 4.0 only reached general availability in September, many customers are still trying to understand this version. Do they now wait for Feature Pack 3 or immediately implement 4.0? SAP is recommending customers upgrade now, but in my opinion, they should decide their migration timing based on which functionality is most important. The biggest improvements in 4.0:
Multisource universes: An administrator can build a universe (the vendor's term for a data model) drawing on multiple relational data sources. This has been a big competitive weakness in SAP BusinessObjects when compared to Oracle, IBM Cognos, and MicroStrategy. I've tested this capability in 4.0 and feel that other products still seem to have a more robust approach. Nonetheless, this is still a big improvement for SAP BusinessObjects customers.
Direct SAP BICS Connectivity: The 4.0 release lets SAP Business Warehouse (BW) customers access BEx queries directly via the BICS (Business Intelligence Consumer Services) layer, a proprietary communication interface for BW, using either Web Intelligence, Dashboard Designer, or Crystal Reports.
Going through the BICS layer provides better performance than the APIs previously used. There had been talk of SAP BW being supported as a data source in the universe, but that does not appear to be the case. (I have received conflicting information from SAP on this point, so I'm awaiting clarification.)
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