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SAP Catches Data Visualization Wave

SAP Visual Intelligence, debuting Wednesday, taps into two hot trends in BI and analytics.

SAP is tapping into two hot trends in business intelligence and analytics with the release of SAP Visual Intelligence, a desktop tool for advanced data visualization fed by the vendor's Hana in-memory analysis capabilities.

Set to be introduced on Wednesday during a keynote by SAP CTO Vishal Sikka, Visual Intelligence adds a rich, desktop-client data-analysis tool to the heretofore server-based BusinessObjects Explorer product line.

Advanced data visualization is compelling because it makes it easy for business analysts with minimal training to see patterns and relationships in data. The intuitive nature of visualization has driven fast growth in recent years for niche vendors including Tableau Software and Tibco Spotfire.

SAP Visual Intelligence is the latest response from a big BI and analytics vendor to the trend. In March, IBM released IBM Cognos Insight, a desktop data-visualization tool tied to the server-based TM1 in-memory platform. Also in March, Microsoft delivered Power View data-visualization capabilities featured in Microsoft SQL Server 2012, that vendor's latest database release.

[ Want more on SAPPHIRE? Read SAP Faces Uphill Battle On Database, Mobile, Cloud. ]

All of these products take advantage of in-memory platforms that enable users to quickly explore millions of rows of data, while also drilling down to precise details to explore root causes of sales shortfalls, production snarls, and other exception conditions.

Demand for in-memory technology started building at least five years ago, with products like QlikTech's QlikView and Cognos TM1. Indeed, BusinessObjects Explorer was introduced as Polestar way back in 2007, and it gained in-memory power in 2009 when it was integrated with SAP's Business Warehouse Accelerator--the precursor of today's Hana platform.

SAP Visual Intelligence natively connects to Hana as its primary source of centralized corporate data. But as a desktop tool, the tool also gives business analysts the freedom to combine and explore data in new ways, adding data from external sources. A Semantic Enrichment feature built into the tool helps users add and explore new dimensions within data. If you're exploring customers by city, for example, the tool will automatically suggest other possible geographic views, such as states, countries, or regions.

Visual Intelligence is available immediately with built-in integrations to Hana, but an upgrade expected by June will add support for a variety of industry-standard databases (such as Oracle, IBM DB2, and Microsoft SQL Server) and file types (such as CSV and Excel files).

SAP said current licensees of BusinessObjects Explorer will be able to add Visual Intelligence at no charge. A stand-alone version of the desktop tool is planned for this summer, but no pricing or licensing details are available. IBM has priced IBM Cognos Insight aggressively at $500 per seat, hoping to fill a data-exploration gap that competitors like Tableau have successfully exploited.

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