America’s SAP User Group (ASUG) held its fifth annual user conference in Orlando, Florida last week, with Sanjay Poonen, President of Global Solutions and Head of Mobility, kicking off the week with both a new product announcement and a concession of sorts.
Poonen, who previously led the Business Analytics group, described SAP’s three vectors of innovation as big data, cloud, and mobile. Reflecting the convergence of the three areas of innovation, EPM OnDemand runs in the cloud and using HANA, the now one year-old in-memory appliance, as the underlying database. EPM OnDemand includes three new apps focused on expenses, profit and loss, and capital planning. The apps are all mobilized so plans can be viewed, routed, and approved all directly from an iPad or smartphone.
In the BI space, Poonen recognized the importance of Business Objects to the company’s culture, saying, “In 2007, we had to change the DNA of the company in how we thought about analytics. The Business Objects acquisition was about shaking up the DNA of SAP to shift the focus from the systems of record to systems of engagement.” While CTO Vishal Sikka once claimed SAP BusinessObjects version 4 to be the company’s best release ever, both Poonen and Senior Vice President John Schweitzer conceded that the version 4 release was not what they expected. “We had some work to do to get to the place of promise,” said Schweitzer That place of promise seems to be in the form of Feature Pack 3 (sometimes referred to as service pack 4), released in July this year. In talking to a number of customers at the conference, most had been waiting for Feature Pack 3 and plan to upgrade next year. Early adopters of version 4 say they wish they had waited, mainly due to product stability issues. Early adopters seemed to be in the traditional SAP customer base who embraced the improved support for BW and BEx that version 4.0 brought. Customers who have already deployed Feature Pack 3 cite greater stability and a host of improvements such as collaboration, exploration views, deeper-still SAP integration, HANA and HIVE support, as well as support for Web Intelligence and Crystal content iPad and iPhone for (see this article or a more in-depth review on BI Scorecard).
Visual Intelligence, SAP’s visual data discovery tool for power users first released in May 2012, continued to garner interest and improvement. SAP announced a free 90-day trial, added support for ODBC data sources (the May release only supported HANA), with universe integration due shortly.
One of the highlights of the event was the inaugural developer wars in which teams of developers were given exactly 30 hours to build a live of solution for Second Harvest Food Bank of Florida. Several teams dropped out but teams from Decision First, ATCG, Optimal Solutions, and the co-authors of a just-released book on Web Intelligence remained. A panel of five judges a la Idol style (of which I was a part) cast our votes based on design, analytic capability, ease of maintenance, and fun. It was VERY close, but the final award went to Optimal Solution. Of course the real winner was Second Harvest (also a judge) who walked away with a usable solution to better manage donations and costs to serve the community.
This is the fifth year ASUG has run the BI conference, post SAP’s acquisition of Business Objects. It is one of the best conferences for BI content, customer success stories, and product highlights. But ASUG, SAP, and the long-time BusinessObjects community are still evolving the user group model. One attendee already warned that she won’t ever join ASUG if they have to pay a membership fee, and fortunately, ASUG announced they are extending the “value partnership” which means they are waiving the fee for another year, but only if you don’t use any other SAP products. Founded in 1991, ASUG has a long history with SAP ERP customers, started in an era in which SAP dominated the ERP market and customers wanted a stronger collective influence that they were willing to pay extra for. But this history also has some baggage that the original Business Objects community lacked. SAP treads carefully at this ASUG-run event, and as ASUG protocol dictates, even remaining silent when at least one presenter gave incorrect information about a new product. In this regard, the vendor and the ASUG community alike are still finding their way with a BI community that is more diverse in size, BI maturity, and use of SAP ERP than the original ASUG members.
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard