At SAP's Sapphire conference this week, business analytics dominated a large portion of the exhibit hall in a prime location. Business analytics is SAP's umbrella term that includes data warehousing, information management, and business intelligence. In years past, these topics did not get such prominent positioning at Sapphire, but I was surprised that BusinessObjects 4.0 did not get more attention during the event.
Taking center stage during multiple keynotes was Hana (the SAP High-Performance Analytic Appliance), an innovation that combines in-memory processing and a columnar database on an appliance. What was just an idea at last year's conference was released to rampup in December. Hana customer testimonials were central to CTO Vishal Sikka's keynote, with companies from around the world and across industries touting its value, ease of deployment, and low cost of ownership.
Tom Greene, CIO of Colgate-Palmolive, cited tremendous savings in time with queries going from 77 minutes to 15 seconds. A Bosch-Siemens exec described his company as a data-driven enterprise that makes decisions on facts. The home-appliance manufacturer is using Hana to study profitability by customer and product, a level of analysis that took days before but that now takes seconds on Hana.
Nestle, which sells more than 1 billion consumer products per day, described how Hana lets the company analyze the granular detail, not just the summary aggregates they were previously limited to in SAP Business Warehouse (BW). Nestle's Hana implementation took only three weeks and brought a 2,000-times performance improvement over BW alone. The list of deployment scenarios went on.
The keynotes brought the excitement. I learned more about SAP's product positioning through track sessions, micro forums, and one-on-one sessions. Here are three important clarifications on SAP's data warehousing products:
SAP BW, despite rumors of its demise, will continue as a data warehouse solution for SAP ERP customers. BW is considered to be better suited for financial consolidations and historical aggregates.
Hana is for real-time, granular-data analysis, initially for SAP ERP customers, with expansion beyond that group next year. Hana could be used as the database engine for SAP BW, posing a clear threat to a market currently dominated by Oracle. (IBM would stand to lose database share as well, but IBM is one of the Hana hardware providers.)
Sybase IQ supports larger data volumes than Hana, with a lower price point, and integration with any data source. Sybase IQ is also more proven, with more than 3,000 installations over more than a decade, compared to a score of Hana deployments over the last few months.
The lower acquisition cost for Sybase IQ makes sense given that it's a software-only product, versus the Hana appliance (but then, you'll have to add the cost of hardware for IQ). I wish SAP would publish a price list (like Oracle does!), as Sikka cited Hana running on everything from an Mac mini at the low end to a blade server with 2 terabytes of RAM and 80 cores at the high end. Surely prices will vary across that range.
It wasn't discussed at Sapphire, but the other potential beneficiaries of Hana are third-party BI vendors and those customers. Hana supports both SQL and MDX query, simplifying access by third-party tools such as IBM Cognos, Oracle BIEE, and MicroStrategy. These vendors are currently forced to rely on BW's BAPI interface, which can be slow.
Not surprisingly, competitive BI vendors were not invited to participate in Hana's rampup, but both IBM Cognos and MicroStrategy say they will be quickly verifying support once the product becomes generally available (and I have yet to hear from Oracle).
The in-memory and real-time themes grabbed most of the attention at Sapphire, but two other top SAP priorities are mobility and collaboration. Mobility for SAP is far beyond traditional mobile BI initiatives in that it means supporting complex business processes. The capabilities are powered largely by Sybase mobile infrastructure.
Collaboration is a new breed of applications for SAP, focusing on people interactions rather than the company's historical process focus. Sales OnDemand is one of the first applications reflecting this shift, but the StreamWork collaboration platform will be central to this area of development.
SAP Business Objects 4.0 was mentioned in the keynotes, but that's about it. With 100 customers in ramp up, the product is expected to become generally available in June. Sikka claimed that version 4.0 is the "best release ever," and he said BusinessObjects founder Bernard Liautaud had complemented SAP on the improvements.
Sikka also declared that industry analysts are calling 4.0 the "best BI product," but he went on to rephrase "the largest market share" product (a big difference from "best product," but a nuance conveniently lost in the Twitter world). I suspect you won't get any industry analysts backing up Sikka's initial claim without qualifications, although the market share claim is correct.
I wanted to see SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 testimonials, ideally from customers who have gone through an upgrade. There were none. I remain in the skeptic's corner that customers will rush to embrace this new version. Taking advantage of the product's many sought-after improvements also brings a learning curve in design and administration. I'm still assessing just how steep that curve is.
On a side-note, I bumped into specialty vendor Roambi at Sapphire. The company has just released a cool new Roambi Flow product that lets business users publish magazine-style reports that can include charts, articles, and video all from an iPad. In a world of mega BI vendors, this startup is certainly differentiating itself and innovating in exciting ways.
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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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