Brick and Mortar BI

We are in a stage of business intelligence evolution.  Smaller, niche vendors in the BI space have created confusion for classic BI shops in what they should be focusing on and a state of glee and excitement at the prospect of new tools to enrich the analysis of data.  Much has already been said about the threat to what I’ve come to think of as “brick and mortar BI”.  These technologies have furthered the idea of a “network of truth“. But, I don’t think of technologies like SAP BusinessObjects as a doomed brick and mortar like I might Blockbuster (sorry friends).  I think of it as brick and mortar because it is a platform for BI as much as it is a tool for creating BI.

SAP BusinessObjects as a Platform

A platform has a big job. In our case, SAP BusinessObjects has handled the burden of evolving from a somewhat-clunky application server (6.x anyone?) into a more robust services oriented architecture. It has the job of handling security and content delivery (among other things) in what is hopefully a stable platform. There is no denying it.  There is an inflation in the resources required to run and maintain SAP BusinessObjects in the BI4 platform. BI4 has given us more in terms of scalability and capability and I am hopeful that SAP continues to innovate the platform itself in simplifying the way they package and deploy software and in the time it actually takes to do so. I actually believe that they will, even if those gains are not immediately recognized.  Bottom line, SAP BusinessObjects as a platform is foundational to building a successful BI implementation.  I also categorize the universe, in this case, as being fundamental to this technology as a platform.

SAP BusinessObjects as a Reporting Tool

Crystal Reports is our stalwart reporting tool.  It is also said that Web Intelligence (Webi) has fallen into that category and in certain circumstances. I will totally buy that, even though Webi goes way beyond simple reporting and analysis. It’s the most beautiful mobile technology in the BI suite at the moment, highly interactive, easy to build, and depending on how you use it, can be a desktop report, a mobile report, an emailed report, a dashboard, a scorecard, and so on.

To some, these tools aren’t sexy any more.  That is OK.  I’m going to go on record and tell them both “I still love you.” Do you remember that picture that Business Objects of old use to share, where 80% of the user population consume information someone else created for them, 15% were competent enough to fiddle around to create a report, and 5% could bang out reports like they owned them? I can tell you that thanks to Sherlock I get to analyze a lot of customer systems and I will share a little secret: this pattern is still largely true. Is this a loud scream that BI adoption sucks?  Meh.  This is, at least in my case, a 14 year old pattern. Will technology change that pattern? I don’t believe so.

SAP BusinessObjects as a reporting tool is also foundational.  Despite the lack of really significant change in Crystal Reports (not going to talk about Crystal Reports for Enterprise) and Web Intelligence in BI4, they still get the job done and have been getting them done in a good way for a long time.  Robust data sources: check.  Robust outputs: check (I’m looking at you Crystal). Robust formula language: check.  An IT guy can definitely produce content when its needed and deliver it to the masses. So can an analyst when creating a prescription for guided analysis. The key here is, this is reporting for the masses and that’s just fine. They help us drive to the single version of the truth, which I still think is important in the age of big data, real time data, and exploration tools that is advocated in the network of truth.

SAP BusinessObjects as an Analyst’s Tool

If there is any one area we can all absolutely agree SAP needed a strong response it is here. Why oh why could the world not just accept Desktop Intelligence here? I kid. The Tableaus and the Qlikviews of the world seemingly came from nowhere with a fresh and innovative way for analysts (those in the 5%) to get really creative in figuring out data. SAP Visual Intelligence (rebranded as SAP Lumira) is an up and comer and has legs.  I have a few blogs stewing here on my own learning curve with what I think the community has lovingly come to call Visi.

I’m not sure I buy that any of these tools, Visi included, have the BI sharing capability and maturity that SAP BusinessObjects has. I have high hopes that Visi will. I know Visi can export to Explorer and that’s great.  But I’ve been vocal that I think there needs to be much more. I believe that these visualizations belong in the BI Launch Pad, should be consumable via mobile easily, and should have many of the same capabilities that have made SAP BusinessObjects as a platform a strong foundation. The other perk is those shops that have invested in SAP Netweaver instead could then also leverage this content when pushed through the platform.

Whether you buy into the single version of the truth or the network of truth, there is one fact that I do believe to be true: the masses need BI. The masses won’t pick up their own BI tool and say today “I’m going to create my own Tableau data visualization”, no more so than they are going to create their own Web Intelligence report. The masses eagerly await the BI someone else makes for them.  I’m not sure a tool will change that.

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