At Sapphire this year, CTO Vishal Sikka claimed that version 4.0 is the “best release ever of Business Objects.” The GA was initially thought to be ahead of Sapphire in May, then pushed out to June, and now August. The delay was announced in a company blog post last week.
While the delay in the BI product is the most important, two other products in the 4.0 launch have become generally available. The Data Services module and SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, Edition for Microsoft Office, both GA’d last week. SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Microsoft Office is a premium alternative for the well-established BEx Excel interface. BEx continues to be supported, though.
SAP BusinessObjects launched the next release of their flagship product earlier this year in February in New York and cities around the world. It is a product several years in development and one that promises innovation for both the SAP BW customer base, but for the non SAP ERP customers as well. SAP customers have been waiting for performance improvements and better integration with BW. Long-time Business Objects customers have most been waiting for data federation, better graphing, workflow, and a more scalable dashboard solution.
The product officially went into ramp up last December. Ramp up is SAP’s approach to releasing new software versions in which a limited number of customers deploy production quality software. The software has to be deployed in production, not just in labs or downloaded for evaluation purposes. SAP will make the software generally available (GA) to all customers once certain KPIs have been reached, related to bug resolution and number of customers deployed.
Customer reaction to the delay has been decidedly mixed. Nobody wants to deploy software that isn’t stable, and BusinessObjects customers have clear memories of version 6 (2003) and version 4 before that (1996), releases that were not stable. (In case you are wondering how the vendor got back to a version 4, 15 years later after the original 4.0 was released: Version 11 of the product was renamed XI to also stand for eXtreme Insight. The new numbering was adopted when the BusinessObjects BI platform took on the Crystal Enterprise architecture which would have been Crystal Enterprise version 11. So the product was renumbered, XI Release 1, Release 2, and so on. The XI has been dropped from the branding, but in theory it is XI Release 4.)
In this regard, a delay to ensure software quality is something SAP customers have come to expect. However, one customer complained that the repeated delays have impacted their training and deployment plans that most likely will now be pushed into 2012. Customers who were planning on purchasing BI 4.0 likewise have to defer their plans, or decide to purchase and deploy on XI 3.1, then upgrade later. SAP’s next earning call at the end of July will be the biggest indicator of how big a deal this delay has been. The frustration then is about communication and managing expectations, a page all vendors and internal BI teams should take heed from. SAP has been talking about the 4.0 release since it completed its acquisition of Business Objects in early 2008. By those roadmap accounts, the GA is a year later than expected. Customers tend to look at roadmaps with a wary eye: too much theory, too many moving parts; time will tell. However, much of the hype for 4.0 began bubbling at the ASUG conference last October 2010, then the world wide launch in February 2011. No wonder, then, that it got little fanfare at Sapphire this year, as the product still wasn’t ready.
A few months delay in the software industry is not that big a deal, particularly as the installed base and complexity of these products has grown. More worrying to me is the number of key departures from the SAP BI product team (Marge Breya, Dave Weisbeck, and the latest George Mathew). I could make a similar criticism about loss of BI personnel at Microsoft, but not of IBM Cognos or Oracle. As the SAP BusinessObjects departures are in the middle of a major product release, it cannot be good for either customers or for the vendor. SAP says the departures have had no impact on the product release and other BI veterans have shifted responsibilities (Sanjay Poonen, Steve Lucas and Adam Binnie).
You tell me: has your BI deployment or buying been effected by this delay or are such delays par for the course?
Cindi Howson, BI Scorecard