By Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard
SAP's business analytics story at last week's Sapphire Conference was all about visual data discovery, mobile, and big data.
Visual data discovery continues to be one of the hottest segments in business intelligence, as indicated by the buzz around last week's IPO by data-visualization specialist Tableau Software on the NYSE. SAP's big news on this front at Sapphire was the rebranding of its Visual Intelligence product as "Lumira."
The name change is meant to signify a broader solution that will include Lumira Cloud, which is currently in beta and expected to be available mid 2013. Lumira Cloud will allow business analysts to publish and share their visual data discoveries with other cloud users, similar to the way Dropbox users can share files and organize work groups, explained Adam Binnie, SAP's VP of Business Intelligence Solutions. Web-based exploration is one of Lumira's biggest weaknesses, as it's primarily a desktop product. Compared to Tableau, Lumira has more powerful predictive analytics capabilities when deployed with SAP's new Predictive Analysis module, but compared to Tableau, QlikView, SAS Visual Analytics, and TIBCO Spotfire, the product lags in Web-based exploration (see the BI Scorecard side-by-side comparison for more detail). But with Lumira headed into the cloud, running on the SAP Hana in-memory database, SAP recognizes the importance of this market segment and has been aggressively closing the gap.
SAP has been beating the mobile drum for its applications since it acquired Sybase back in 2010. But in the analytics world, its capabilities have been a mixed story. First, there were multiple mobile BI clients, one for Explorer, a lightweight visual data discovery interface, and another for Web Intelligence, the business query module. In addition, the Dashboards module (aka Xcelsius)leveraged Flash technology and could only be rendered as static images on iPad and iPhone devices, although that product improved in a December 2012 release (SAP BusinessObjects Service Pack 5 / SAP Mobile 4.4) that allowed designers to render dashboards in HTML5.
SAP Mobile 5.x, due out mid year, will bring all content types into one mobile client. The interface includes navigation enhancements, similar to the Facebook left-panel interface, that improve navigation and make it easier to find reports by content type. There is currently limited support for content on Android devices that will continue to improve (see SAP's Mobile Roadmap blog.) With this release, I expect SAP to have one of the best mobile capabilities of leading BI vendors, something that was previously only a vision.
SAP seems to be executing on its strategy for visual data discovery and mobile capabilities, but customer adoption seems to be a tale of two worlds. There are the traditional SAP Business Warehouse (BW) customers, who are still heavily entrenched in the BEx spreadsheet-style interface, a legacy product. And then there are the BOBJ 3.x, and BOBJ 4.x. customers. The business analytics product line has gotten so complex that many feel safer simply staying put for now, legacy products or not, mobile-powered or not.
Customer eBay, for example, went through a major SAP ECC (ERP) implementation three years ago and initially leveraged BW with BEx. Silvia Vasquez-Lavado, head of Global Financial Systems at ebay concedes that it was painful to get the users to let go of their spreadsheets. With SAP BusinessObjects version 4, users can access InfoCubes directly via Analysis for OLAP or Office (Analysis is the BEx replacement with both a Web-based and Excel-add in), and Dashboards. "We are learning with the users that it is a transition from their beloved Excel to trusted information," Vasquez-Lavado said.
An executive from BEx customer Sigma Aldrich, a life sciences company, noted that there are still some things that BEx handles better than the newer Analysis for Office, such as calculated key figures, time slices, and hierarchies.
Meanwhile, a newly implemented BW customer told me her consulting provider only included BEx in the implementation, so now senior management isn't sure why they need SAP BusinessObjects as well. I can understand migration challenges in mature deployments, but to introduce legacy tools at a new deployment is not in the customer's best interest. SAP should be including SAP BusinessObjects in any new BW deployment, and that this is still not the case reflects ongoing challenges in the company's BI pricing and packaging. Migration of BEx customers to SAP BusinessObjects had also been slowed by delays and quality in the 4.0 release that were resolved in mid 2012 with 4.0 Feature Pack 3.
In contrast to the confusion in the core BI product line, Hana's role is clear: it's about more than business analytics. Maidenform, which uses Hana as its data warehouse platform, reported getting 1.8 billion records from point-of-sale sources, such as Target and Walmart stores, loaded in eight seconds. This allows the company to forecast sales trends weeks in advance as opposed to months out.
Hana will enable eBay to look at hundreds of terabytes of data for signals in currency fluctuations that will allow them to quickly change currency hedges. And utility company CenterPoint Energy is using Hana and BusinessObjects Explorer to monitor demand and track outages, reading 2.2 million smart meters every 15 minutes, for a total of up to 76 million reads per year. "We wouldn't have a big data problem if we didn't have sensors," said CenterPoint CIO Gary Hayes. "The majority of the data may be noise, but we need to manage that noise."
This was my fourth Sapphire conference, since the Business Objects acquisition in 2008, and this year stands clearest in my mind as one of the most exciting ones for Business Analytics. Perhaps it's because the company has moved beyond the three years of integration, beyond last year's apology about SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 issues, to this year, with many more customers live on the latest products. Co-CEO Mill McDermott also gave one of the best keynotes, bringing some very simple faces (and sports star power with NFL Host James Brown, 49ers CEO, and NBA commissioner) to big data. As the Under Armour CEO noted, years ago, a sweat-soaked T-Shirt slowed players down. Now, that T-shirt is capturing biometric data in real-time, making every professional athlete and casual jogger a contributor to the big data explosion.