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Is SAP Out of Sync with its BusinessObjects Customers?

This is a question I asked at the Town Hall session at the recent SAP Analytics and BusinessObjects Conference held in Ft. Worth, Texas. I qualified the question by stating that everything that SAP was promoting in their keynotes and on their booth were their Analytics tools namely Lumira, Predictive Analysis/Infinite Insight and Visual Design Studio with emphasis on running on their in-memory database HANA.

In contrast, most of the attendees were users of BusinessObjects Web Intelligence, Dashboards/Xcelsius, Crystal Reports, Universe Designer, Explorer and the BusinessObjects platform. Fortunately, the conference had plenty of BusinessObjects education sessions and partners to more than satisfy the attendees and many of the Web Intelligence, Information Design Tool/Universe and Dashboard/Xcelsius sessions were packed .

According to ASUG, the organizer, this year’s conference had more attendees than any of the previous three years and there were a large number of first-time attendees. Many of these first-timers were SAP ERP customers implementing or about to implement BusinessObjects for the first time. This SAP ERP base has been a focused growth area for BusinessObjects ever since its acquisition by SAP but they appear to be receiving mixed messages on which direction to go as far as their Business Intelligence strategy is concerned.

The new “Analytics” tools from SAP were not conceived or designed as part of the BusinessObjects platform. Yes, Lumira and Visual Design Studio can access a BusinessObjects universe but that was a later add-on function and these tools are so architecturally different from the rest of BusinessObjects that they do not logically fit the suite. More significantly, SAP recommends using HANA analytic views for these tools rather than a BusinessObjects universe and any of the traditional BO tools.  While Steve Lucas, SAP Global GM for Platform Solutions, has recently emphasized that the new Analytics tools are not a replacement for the BusinessObjects platform which is a robust, secure and full featured BI solution, the imbalance between the time spent talking about the two remains extreme.

If the SAP ERP customers are confused by the mixed messages, the non-SAP ERP BusinessObjects customers are completely baffled by SAP’s lack of emphasis on the BusinessObjects platform.

When you own the leading Business Intelligence product suite in the world, why would you not make extending and enhancing it your top priority?

The good news is that BusinessObjects remains the best all round BI suite in use today and that was in evidence at the conference with some truly remarkable customer case studies. The creative usage of Web Intelligence, Xcelsius Dashboards, Explorer and Crystal was on display in many sessions and these were not rehearsed demos, these were live production BI applications benefitting millions of people.

I did not receive a satisfactory answer to my question from the representatives of the SAP management on stage at the Town Hall but that is because they never actually answered what I asked.  What was more interesting was the number of customers at the conference who approached me afterwards thanking me for raising the question because it was on their minds too.

It his keynote address, Steve Lucas did say that BusinessObjects release BI4.2 would be released in 2015 and full of new features, the most significant of which would be quality. This is good news for all but SAP needs to do a little more than this to re-synchronize with its BusinessObjects customers who, for the most part, appear to be ahead of them in Business Intelligence know how.

About Paul

Paul Grill started his career in Information Technology in the U.K. in 1978, as an Executive Data Processing Trainee for Honeywell. More than thirty years later, he still has a voracious appetite for learning as Information Technology continues to advance at an ever accelerating pace. He was first introduced to the world of Business Intelligence in 1991, in France, when he saw a demonstration of an early version of BusinessObjects on Windows 2.1. He returned to the U.S. to rave about this phenomenal product, but it was many years before BusinessObjects made it into the mainstream. Paul founded InfoSol in 1997, and made Business Intelligence one of the key solutions offered by the company. Today, InfoSol is a leading SAP BusinessObjects solutions partner, known for its expert consulting, education and innovative add-on solutions. Paul is well known within the SAP BusinessObjects community for his extensive knowledge of Business Intelligence, and he has lectured and written many articles on the subject. Paul enjoys writing, running and coaching kids soccer, and is passionate about Ancient Egyptology.

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14 comments

  1. Hey Paul,

    I was at IBIS thought not at SABOUC.
    My humble opinion is that SAP is doing what they intended to in the beginning,
    which is really focus on the SAP BW Customers. Realistically that is where their
    real revenue is coming from, so it makes sense for them to do so.

    While its great to see SABOUC event growing, I suspect the reason why is a bit disturbing.
    What I gathered from talking to customers is that a lot of them are there because they are
    thoroughly confused with SAP’s direction. That seems to be the global consensus actually.

    This is not a good reason to attend an event.
    Also, like you, a few folks came away confused.

    I think the smart folks are just waiting for the dust settle,
    and keeping their options open. The well know ‘SAP BI saga’ has to end at
    some point. As you can see half or more of the leadership team has walked off in the
    last 9 months. That should be a clear sign.. that dust is still in the air.

    Great article as always…

    Cheers,
    Mico

  2. Paul and Mico,

    Interesting to read both of your thoughts. We’ve been thinking along very similar lines ourselves. There seems to be lots of confusion around Lumira and Design Studio, so we expanded on this in an Antivia blog posts last week.
    http://bit.ly/1seF9s2

    Kamilla N-L
    Antivia

  3. I do agree with you Mico about SAP’s attention being focused on their BW base and their BI strategy appears to be clearly directed towards those customers. However, even these customers are confused and are trying to understand the difference between the BusinessObjects suite, Lumira and Visual Design Studio and cannot get consistent answers from SAP.

  4. Yes, there is ALOT of confusion in the SAP Analytics space period that start with the product names.
    SAP is determined to make the market swallow Lumira even though customers are clearly showing sing of software indigestion.

    IMHO they are better off renaming the entire suite to something that is more inclusive, and then truly working to get rid of all these products. I’m surprised they brought over the same multi product strategy from BOBJ to the Lumira suite. All the players who are creeping up on their market share have a single suite and name so its makes it easy for customers to keep track of and market. I’m personally still waiting from someone to have the balls to pull the plug on the BusinessObjects name and change the Lumira name.

    2015 will bring new players, with new inputs and new visions.
    Only time will tell is SAP can get this right.
    Their track record has been less than stellar.

    Cheers,
    Mico

  5. Unfortunately, naming BI products is not a strength within SAP and, like Mico says, has only added to the confusion. I think most customers would be happy if SAP never renamed anything ever again. Putting a preamble of SAP, BusinessObjects or Crystal on the front of product names has made it near impossible for anyone (even SAP personnel) to call any of their products by their correct names.
    They do need to keep the names BusinessObjects and Crystal if they want to keep those communities and I am sure they do because Lumira is not a BI suite and will not be for many years to come.

  6. I have to wonder… is the forest being overlooked because of the trees? Since BusinessObjects was acquired and not developed organically, is it getting an appropriate amount of attention?

    By “attention” I’m talking about, is BusinessObjects getting it’s proper billing in the following areas:
    – Keynotes
    – Go-to-market strategies
    – Marketing and sales materials
    – Future direction of the BI product line (roadmaps)
    – Is it getting an appropriate amount of dollars budgeted for development
    – Is IdeaPlace being utilized to implement innovative crowd-sourced ideas

    The focus (at conferences and in BI roadmaps) should be about these things:
    – Which products are profitable?
    – Which tools are bringing value to customers?
    ——–THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO THAT MATTER———

    With further focus on:
    – What are customers BUYING – (not downloading for free)
    – What tools are being used to solve actual business problems – (not downloaded for free for fun ‘data discovery’).

    I’m all for new tools and I’m really happy that new products are being offered. But what is the “big money-maker”? The answer to this question is the product that HAS to be nurtured, enhanced, protected, and improved. The focus should be to win even more market share by making that backbone product even better.

    This could be…
    Making SAP BI 4.2 more agile and with a cloud deployment version for smaller implementations and an “Edge Cloud” version for BI 4.2 with more functionality in Webi.

    According to this article, BI Platforms is the big “money maker”.
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/louiscolumbus/2014/04/29/2013-business-intelligence-and-analytics-market-share-update-sap-continues-market-leadership/

    BI Platforms? That means SAP BusinessObjects.

    If SAP is raking in $3B+ annually in SAP BusinessObjects, shouldn’t that be the complete FOCUS in any keynote? Why would anyone speak incessantly about a product that brings in less than 1% of it’s revenue?

    This article also gives me a really idea about just how well SAP BusinessObjects is doing in the industry:

    http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/2723717

    In data warehouses around the world, large enterprise BuisnessObjects implementations dwarf the tiny and barely-niche needs of other little products. The investments these organizations are making, not only from the software they’ve purchased, but in the staff (developers, consultants, and analysts) they’ve hired, should get the lion’s share of focus and attention.

    Companies will pay big $$’s for powerful tools. When these tools are continuously improved, even more market share will be won. Why dabble in non or barely-profitable tools?

    Why is the forest continually being ignored because of a few Charlie Brown Christmas trees?

  7. Brilliant point Jim! The need to focus attention on the BusinessObjects BI platform which generates the real BI revenue for SAP is absolutely “spot on” .

  8. Also in agreement with Jim.

    So my my question is, SAP isn’t the only one attempting to play in Tableau’s data discovery space. SAS is overhauling their BI platform to go after this space, as are others. SAS claims to have a “Tableau Killer” but surely this won’t be the case.

    Why attempt to play in space where Tableau is so far ahead, when Tableau clearly still has such major weaknesses in the Enterprise BI platform space?

    Why not focus on strengths rather than weaknesses? Who cares if some “data visualization guru” somewhere is using a Tableau chart when Business Objects still has customers with as many 80,000 users plus…

    Why not just continue upmarket, aka resolve the innovators dilemma?

    As an aside, the Tableau conference had more attendees than ASUG BOBJ conference…

  9. I think this is a case of companies like SAP and SAS being reactive rather than proactive. You are quite right that Tableau comes up far short of a full BI platform – it is simply a data discovery tool.

  10. I just stumbled across this thread and find it very interesting. I have not been able to attend any SAP user conferences for many years so i have been out of the loop as to what SAP is championing at the conferences. However, I think the evidence of SAPs lack of attention to the BusinessObjects product can also be seen in the quality of the releases.

    When our organization went live with BusinessObjects 4.0 in early 2013, it took SAP all the way to SP4 to get a stable and acceptable version of BusinessObjects for us to go live with. When BusinessObjects 4.1 was marketed as a stability release i had high hopes for a better (less buggy) product. Well, we just went live with BusinessObjects 4.1 in early November 2014. Guess what patch level we needed to have in order to go live with a stable and acceptable release? You guessed it: SP4. No different from BuisnessObjects 4.0.

    I have to admit i was pleasantly surprised with the migration process from BuisnessObjects 4.0 installations to brand new BjusinessObjects 4.1 installations but i expected better from SAP since the big news about 4.1 was that it was supposed to be more stable. In fact, we still have one issue with the version we went live with that is affecting a subset of users.

    IMHO if a software company could actually release a STABLE version of their software consistently, that fact alone would win them extremely loyal customers as well as plenty of new ones. If only SAP could deliver that for BusinessObjects consistently.

  11. SAP is well aware of the issues around stability and quality of its BusinessObjects software releases and has promised to improve this in 2015. I quite agree this would make a big difference to both customer loyalty and perception by the rest of the world.

  12. I have been trying for months to get migrated from 3.1 to 4.1 SP4. When I heard that 4.1 was stable and it was on SP4, I felt like I could finally move to the new 4.x platform.

    I am doing the migration myself because we don’t have a consulting budget. I am an EDGE customer with Data Services and both of those compounded the challenge.

    We have finally discovered this week that one of my key issues with Active Directory Sync is a “BUG” in 4.1 SP4 and supposedly fixed in SP5. Thank goodness we finally got a senior tech involved on the ticket! I am in the process of applying SP5 to my Dev box now. Hoping to get to testing today. I don’t know if I will make my goal of upgrading in 2014.

    It has been a huge challenge for me even with 15+ years of experience with BusinessObjects. I have reservations about going live on 4.1 because of the struggles I’ve faced. I am concerned that the platform is not going to be stable and I’m not going to be able to support it. Hoping my testing the next few days goes better. I have never felt this way about any of my previous upgrades.

  13. In all fairness, we’ve been using BI 4.1 in a production environment for several months now with very few to NO issues.

    Possibly the biggest issue was with the poor performance of the Applet viewer that forced everyone, including myself, to begin exclusively using the HTML viewer for Webi. This viewer is great and only has a few very minor shortcomings compared to the traditionally more robust Java viewer. Overall, BI 4.1 is stable and feels solid. If you run into any issues, they can almost always be fixed by browsing BoB. 🙂

    While I have quite a few ideas for improvement at SAP’s Idea Place – shameless plug – (vote for my ideas, please) – https://ideas.sap.com/SAPBusinessObjectsWebIntelligence, overall I’ve been pretty happy with good ole BI 4.1.

    My main point is this. Even though BI 4.1 is the worlds leading BI Platform, it’s almost being ignored lately at conferences and in social media for the younger and far less worthy Lumira. But these are apples and oranges comparisons. BI 4.1 is a powerful ENTERPRISE platform and Lumira is… new.

  14. I’m glad the platform is stable for you Jim. I decided to start my 4.1 upgrade based on recommendations and comments like yours. Unfortunately, my experience is not the same.

    As you know, I am an EDGE customer. The Platform Search feature apparently has a bug in it for the EDGE install. SAP Support ended up sending me the java\lib files from the Enterprise install. I just applied SP5 last week to try and fix another issue and now my Platform Search doesn’t work. I also have to copy the java\lib folder to another server for a 3rd party add on product to work. I will probably need to get an updated copy of the java\lib folders from SAP support for Enterprise.

    The reason I applied SP5 is because I am working with SAP support on an issue with the Active Directory Sync. There are issues in SP4. They were supposedly fixed in SP5. I installed SP5 last week and tested. The problem with removing users from a group when they are the last user in a group has been fixed. However, the problem with removing a user from a group when they belong to at least 1 other group has not been corrected. I cannot go live on 4.1 till the Active Directory sync issues are fixed. If I delete someone from a group in AD, I really need that person to come out of the group in the CMC. This is a SHOW STOPPER for me! I am waiting to hear from SAP support on what to expect for that.

    BOB has always been a great resource even dating back to it’s early days as an AOL Listserve. I am also finding alot of good information on SCN. I typically google my issue and both of these sources come up high in the results list. Unfortuantely, the issues I am facing are related to the product itself and shy of writing an SDK application that removes all 200+ AD groups from my environment every night and adding them back in, I cannot go live on 4.1 until it manages the AD sync correctly.

    I can only hope that the fix will be in SP6. 🙁