#askSAP BI Strategy & Roadmap Announcement – Times They are a Changin’

Earlier today, SAP made a public statement of direction for the Analytics portfolio. To some, this news might seem Earth-shattering. To others who have been following the industry for a while, today’s announcement should come as no surprise. It wasn’t lost on me that SAP chose today, September 9th, 2014 to make this announcement, when much of the world will have eyes on Apple as they unveil their latest gadgets. In their shoes I would have likely done the same thing.

So on to the announcement. Earlier this year, Jayne Landry, Global VP & GM of Business Intelligence at SAP, posted a blog that started to set the stage for today’s news. The message of that blog was convergence, or the SAP buzzword for the year, “simplification.” Jayne very carefully noted that the BI Platform needed to change and evolve as the market and technology is changing, but stressed that existing content would not be “expired.” As someone who has worked with BusinessObjects for so many years, this is encouraging news. We sorely need some tool consolidation. There are so many products in the BI Platform that work differently, its no wonder that the sessions at conference “Choosing the Right Tool for the Right Job” continually sell out.

Goodbye, Flash

Today we got SAP’s first concrete statement of direction on how that is going to play out in the BI Platform.
First, their products that rely heavily on Adobe Flash are being “retired”; namely SAP Dashboards (Xcelsius) and Explorer. It is a bit poetic to me in a way, since it was essentially Steve Jobs that single-handedly killed Flash, that SAP is announcing that their Flash-based BI tools are going out to pasture on “Apple Day” just before the iPhone 6 is going to meet the world.
Dashboards will collapse into Design Studio and Explorer will fade into SAP Lumira. Jayne was very clear that your existing Dashboards and Explorer information spaces will continue to work and be supported, so that your existing investments are not wasted. She made mention several times that SAP learned their lesson when trying to force the migration from Desktop Intelligence to Web Intelligence several years ago.

Better Interoperability with Microsoft Office

Second, there are plans to add more interoperability between the newer tools in the suite, Design Studio and Lumira. Their hope is that by adding the ability to pass content back and forth between the two, and add the ability to put Lumira charts or stories into Microsoft Excel and Powerpoint, the next product on the “simplification” list is Live Office. Really, Live Office has been a challenge to work with for as long as it has been around. Improvements or replacements here should be welcome by nearly everyone.

The third major sunset announcement is around Set Analysis and Analysis for OLAP. Both of those will be replaced by functionality in Lumira, including 3rd Party OLAP connectivity.

Webi & Crystal are Survivors

One thing I noticed was that there were no plans to touch Web Intelligence or Crystal Reports in this announcement. This should also be encouraging for customers, since Webi and Crystal are backbones of Enterprise Reporting. I’m hopeful that at some point in the future we’ll see some of the same interoperability between Webi, Crystal, and Lumira as what was proposed today.

Another big bonus for customers who have been sweating the great HANA push… SAP is going to release a version of Lumira Server that uses a HANA runtime engine. That means that you do not have to purchase a HANA appliance to run Lumira Server. You can put Lumira server on your existing BI Platform, and leverage  Lumira content right along side the rest of your Enterprise BI. This is a huge win for everyone. For SAP, it broke down a major barrier for adoption of Lumira and Lumira Server. For customers, it means you don’t have to break the bank for a HANA server just to get going with SAP’s next-gen strategy.

Cloudy with a Chance of Azure

It wouldn’t be an SAP webcast without some mention of Cloud. The cloudy announcements were that the BI Platform would be extended to support Microsoft Azure, and HANA Enterprise Cloud. Those are also huge for customers that want to use the BI Platform in a Software as a Service model, or even a Platform as a Service. Options for customers = good. Very good. SAP will have to be drop-dead right around security, however. There aren’t any customers on the planet that want to open themselves up to a data breach. Especially the types of data we normally pump through a BI system.

The Customer is King
Overall I was very encouraged by the tone that SAP Analytics took with this announcement. It was different than announcements in the past because of the attention paid to customers needs and sensitivities. There was nothing overtly forceful about the roadmap and they went to great lengths to reassure customers that they will be able to continue leveraging their existing investments in the BI Platform and not expiring content. Ultimately customers win when they have options for using SAP to deliver their analytics.

What I’ll be watching
Personally, I’m going to be keeping a sharp eye on all of this “simplification” in hopes that in making things more simple, the quality of the products will be easier to maintain. BI4 has been plagued with quality issues and bugs since its release. SAP has made great strides in “stabilizing” the BI platform, while continuing to add new features, but to the outsider it looks like they have been continually playing catch-up. My sincere hope is that as these products converge on the newer technology stacks, that it will be easier to test and detect issues prior to release. Since SAP chose “Apple Day” to make their roadmap statement, I hope they take the Apple mantra to heart… “It just works.” Make sure “simple” refers to quality, too. Even the mighty Apple has fallen plague to quality issues lately, when they take their eyes off of their quality process, or cut corners to make a date. Learn from the past; your own and others.

I’ve already fallen in love with Lumira on my desktop. I use it nearly every day. I’m excited to see how things are going to shape up in the months to come.

What did you think about today’s announcement?

4 thoughts on “#askSAP BI Strategy & Roadmap Announcement – Times They are a Changin’

  1. I’m concerned that simplification would only cause less support for BW/BEx.

    Business Objects was acquired and offered as a premium solution to BEx reporting tools — BEx Analyzer, BEx Web Analyzer, and Web Application Designer. Till now, Business Objects hasn’t been able to fully support the features available with BEx reporting tools. You can see this in Note 1869560 – SAP BusinessObjects BI Support Matrix for SAP NetWeaver BW. Additionally, issues with security complexity and lack of full Netweaver Portal KM support have been created for those users who have fully implement the BEx framework and want enhancements that Business Objects offers.

    SAP should better support its BW customers since these customer use other SAP software like ECC.

    Here’s some numbers from SAP about BW as of Feb 2014.

    14500+ customers
    200 New Installations/Month
    3500+ 7.3 customers
    850+ BW on HANA customers

    Note that majority of customers still are not on HANA and given the cost of HANA will probably never be. I think that Business Objects needs to better support BW customers especially those who don’t have HANA. In order to do this, I think that Business Objects should be split into three platform lines:

    SAP BW/Netweaver
    Windows/Unix/Database Independent.

    Splitting out Business Objects to support solely on the SAP BW/Netweaver platform would allow a chance for Business Objects to be truly a premium reporting solution to BEx Web Analyzer, Analyzer, and Web Application Designer by better supporting and enhancing the BEx semantic layer, BW security, Netweaver Portal user interface, KM collaboration support on the J2EE platform. Also, there would be proper focus on this platform. Why didn’t Lumira support BW/BEx when it first came out? Why was the focus only on the Business Objects Universe and HANA initially? Doesn’t SAP care about its BW customers who can’t afford to go to HANA?

    The HANA platform solution would get rid of the abap and java stack (J2EE, Tomcat, etc). All code would be on the HANA platform itself. This will give a chance for HANA to show that it can serve as a solutions platform. Business Objects on HANA can have its own semantic layer and security which can evolve separately and not be tied down with the older ABAP and JAVA frameworks.

    The Windows/Unix/Database Independent version of Business Objects is now free to expand on the universe semantic layer and security without being tied down by BW and HANA requirements.

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