At SAP’s seventh annual influencer summit in Boston last week, Co-CEO Jim Hagemann-Snabe highlighted four areas of SAP innovation: core, mobile, cloud, and in-memory. Interesting to me is that SAP now considers the core to include business intelligence (or to use SAP’s umbrella term, business analytics) as well as its well-established business applications.
Mobile, cloud, and in-memory also cut across both BI and SAP’s business applications. In mobile, SAP currently has a number of first-mover and competitive advantages. Sybase Unwired gives them a development platform as well as device management. SAP now has 30+ mobile applications. However, in the BI space, its solutions are mixed (check out BI Scorecard's latest summary scorecard here to see how they stack up), depending on the device and the BI content. For example, mobile interfaces vary depending on whether they're from the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 WebIntelligence, Crystal, Explorer, Dashboards. Look for this to improve in 2012 (with more detail in this article about what's ahead in SAP BusinessObjects Feature Pack 3).
For cloud, SAP BusinessObjects was one of the first BI platform vendors to have an on-demand strategy. Day two of this summit was largely focused on cloud computing, with SAP emphasizing existing and new cloud applications, including Sales OnDemand, Sourcing OnDemand , Travel OnDemand and so on. The pending acquisition of SuccessFactors will position SAP as the numbertwo SaaS vendor in revenue after SalesForce.com. SuccessFactors provides employee performance management capabilities in the cloud, with 15 million users and a 70% growth rate.
All of this shows SAP is committed to the cloud, but here, BI was like a forgotten step-child. One exec said, “except for Business ByDesign, we didn’t have cloud solutions to sell until this year.” Maybe he misspoke, but it reinforced my perception that BI OnDemand has been more of a check-box than a fully supported BI cloud strategy. In yet another show of stepped-up commitment to cloud, Google announced it will integrate Google Apps with SAP Business ByDesign, the company’s cloud-based business applications suite.
Meanwhile, there is little doubt about SAP’s commitment to in-memory with its Hana technology expected to power not just BI but also business applications. SAP’s vision for in-memory and Hana is to redefine real time. Snabe declared in-memory as the next-generation architecture. He took a subtle dig at Oracle’s (not explicitly naming the vendor) use of "hybrid" technology (relational plus in-memory) in Exalytics, saying hybrids don’t last.
The benefits of in-memory in terms of real-time, analytic complexity, and performance were backed up by a number of customer testimonials. However, we have to remember that the number of live deployments are probably in the low hundreds. I suspect this is both because of the newness of the product (GA’d in June this year), but also the steep cost for customer to acquire. SAP claims lower long-term ownership costs compared to traditional BW and relational deployments but upfront expenses can be an obstacle. SAP needs to figure out how to bring in-memory to customers with lower budgets. This may be where Hana in the cloud has a role to play or competitors such as QlikTech will continue to expand. Hana will also be the database powering BI On Demand.
One of the most interesting announcements in this area was planned support by third-party vendors including Tableau and Tibco Spotfire. Tableau has long had a philosophy and architecture of not requiring customers to replicate data into their in-memory engine (an option added in 2010 through Tableau Version 6). So support for SAP’s HANA makes sense. It’s a notable contrast to Oracle, which discontinued its OEM relationship with Tableau earlier this year. You can preview a demo of Tableau running on Hana here. Spotfire, in contrast, has typically had an extract-and-load-into-memory approach (with a drill on demand option), so I will be curious to see how this is implemented. Neither solution is, as of yet, generally available.
Customer FreshDirect provided an interesting view of their journey to self-service BI. They are using SAP's newly released Event Insight to track on-time delivery during the day. Unexpected events like Obama coming to town can certainly disrupt their deliveries throughout New York City. Event Insight alerts them to issues and enables them to quickly add reserve trucks to routes when delays pop up.
FreshDirect routinely monitors BI usage and if someone is not frequently using their license, it gets taken away and allocated to another user. Users author their own reports on everything from delivery performance to number of parking tickets. “If you don’t have access to analytics, you’re going to get squashed by your competition, ” says Brandon Arbiter, FreshDirect's manager of business intelligence.
It was a big picture kind of summit, so I had to reflect on where SAP has been in BI and where it’s going. Executive VP of Business Analytics Sanjay Poonen committed to being best of breed in BI. I couldn’t help recall SAP’s stance prior to the BusinessObjects acquisition, striving only to be "good enough." It’s better for customers and the industry that they are now pursuing excellence.
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard