SAP has launched SAP BusinessObjects 4.0, the first new release of the suite by SAP since it bought Business Objects in 2007. SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 was released in February and is currently in use at ramp-up customer sites with a predicted general availability date of May.
The biggest theme of the new release is improved integration. “With 4.0, customers will be able to have one single unified place to collaborate, analyze, and govern their data,” says Anupam Gupta, a practice manager at The Principal Consulting, who is currently working with several clients to plan their 4.0 implementation and upgrade projects. Integration between SAP systems and SAP BusinessObjects tools has been improved, reducing the need for tool installations previously necessary to connect the two.
“They tried to cut down some of the redundant layers in the process,” Gupta explains. A Business Objects Universe, for example, a mandatory layer earlier is optional now for reporting on SAP Business Warehouse data. SAP Integration Kit, used to connect BusinessObjects systems to SAP data for the purpose of reporting, previously required an additional installation. The kit is now included as part of the SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 install, however, allowing the systems to talk directly to each other.
The new release includes:
- Better integration between SAP BusinessObjects and SAP solutions, such as SAP Solution Manager, enterprise performance management (EPM), governance, risk, and compliance (GRC), business intelligence (BI), and enterprise information management (EIM) solutions, providing better monitoring, reporting, and analysis throughout the landscape
- Stronger integration with Microsoft Office and better user interface (UI) features influenced by Office tools
- Native Adobe Flash support
- Optimization for use on SAP High Performance Analytic Appliance (HANA)
- Move from 32- to 64-bit processing capabilities
- Extended mobile functionality and device support
- The ability to incorporate unstructured data along with transactional data for analysis and reporting
SAP is touting the further integration of the BI and EIM solutions into a single infrastructure, which will bring greater reporting capabilities to EIM. “I think that that will be better for customers,” says Chris Dinkel, an IT leader with Deloitte. He worked with two clients on 4.0 upgrades this year, and says, “On the EIM side of things there was no proactive way to let somebody know that an ETL (extract, transform, and load) job had failed. You used to have to look at a job log to see.” Dinkel notes that would usually take place the morning after an ETL job was supposed to have run overnight. “But now you can use BI to communicate out via email or text message that the job failed so someone can go in and figure out why it failed and restart it right away.”
The overall user experience in SAP BusinessObjects tools has improved, with influence from social media and common office tools. “BusinessObjects 4 offers a much better end-user experience,” says Gupta. “That’s definitely an area of constant improvement. SAP worked on the look and feel so it caters to more non-technical users.”
Taking a cue from the popular user interface of the Microsoft Office suite, the UI of SAP BusinessObjects tools has been enhanced with design features such as ribbon bars and tabbed views. Going one step further, integration with Microsoft Office extends functionality to more business users by allowing reports to be created in Excel spreadsheets, for example, a format familiar to a wide audience.
“SAP is known for a lot of things, but UI is not one of them,” Gupta quips. “That being said, they have made the effort in this release to improve dashboarding, mobile reporting, even changing some of the look and feel of Web Intelligence reports and Crystal reports. In a nutshell, it’s a big improvement in making the information available to the business with less dependence on IT.”
Flash is natively rendered in the new release, a move Dinkel sees as a big improvement. “Now it’s going to be a lot cleaner. Users can pre-populate dashboards and have them just there at the first site when they come in. That’s a big acceleration forward for them to be able to provide that capability,” he says.
SAP has taken steps to improve performance as well, with the BI and EIM 4.0 solutions, like the 3.1 release before it, optimized for use on SAP HANA. Users taking advantage of running 4.0 on SAP HANA, the company’s in-memory computing solution, will be able to analyze large amounts of data in a fraction of the normal time.
Additionally, the new release makes the move from 32- to 64-bit processing capabilities to improve back-end performance. “The drawback,” Dinkel notes, “is the fact that for most of their SAP customers, they’re still going to have to run through that 32-bit paradigm supporting some 32-bit services. Crystal Reports page server, a Crystal Reports job server, a Web Intelligence reports server, and a connection server can’t benefit because they can’t get the new connectivity model to support SAP connectivity appropriately.”
In terms of accessibility, SAP has increased access to the solutions from more mobile devices, such as Apple’s iPad. Additional functionality such as search and touch-screen response has been added to SAP BusinessObjects Mobile XI 4.0, which is included in the SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise installation package by default.
Access to new types of data has been added for better analysis and reporting. The addition of unstructured data analysis along with traditional transactional analysis will aid in sentiment analysis from a variety of sources. The solutions can now analyze unstructured data from blogs, email, and social media streams with the aim of providing users a better view of what people are saying about their products or company.
These improvements are emphasizing SAP’s efforts to better incorporate SAP BusinessObjects users into the SAP framework. Actions such as integrating SAP Solution Manager with SAP BusinessObjects tools “gives those users the feeling that BusinessObjects is getting into the mainstream SAP landscape rather than being something that’s disconnected,” says Gupta.
As a result of the improved integration between SAP and SAP BusinessObjects tools, “this release should be pretty valuable for non-SAP customers,” according to Dinkel. He feels that non-SAP users of BusinessObjects tools are a segment that hasn’t been given much attention by SAP since the acquisition. “SAP has been aggressively marketed to core SAP customers for running SAP systems inside, but they’ve not really done anything to non-SAP customers, who actually make up the vast majority of their classic BusinessObjects customers,” he says. Because this new release targets those BusinessObjects users, both Dinkel and Gupta believe this will be a major boost in SAP’s goal of reaching one billion users.
Customer reactions to the new release have been varied. Gupta has mainly witnessed cautious optimism among his clients planning to upgrade to 4.0. “Obviously, they’re excited and looking forward,” he says, “but also they’re cautious. It’s an early release, so there are always the issues of bugs and such. Everybody’s cautious and waiting to see how things go.”
Dinkel’s clients have already upgraded to the new release and aren’t as optimistic. “The two customers that I worked with that are using it off of SAP are not happy with it,” he says. Both clients had been running BusinessObjects 3.1 and were disappointed in the lack of significant improvement in version 4.0.
He went on to explain that “in both of those cases, SAP hyped the use of the new server that would be better, but no.” The fact that the 4.0 release was 64-bit enabled sounded good on paper, but his customers were disappointed that not all servers can support the 64-bit infrastructure. “Both already had 3.1,” he added, “and because SAP was selling everybody on Web Intelligence, and no one was really paying attention to how that performed in comparison to the BEx suite of tools, they got burned quite a bit on that.”
Some customers are wary of the issues associated with an initial release like this and though interested in upgrading, may wait until the next release to make the move. “I was already talking to someone who’s waiting for SAP BusinessObjects 4.1. It was their past experience that the first-to-lead customers are guinea pigs, and they don’t want to be like that,” says Gupta. “But I also know there are customers who just can’t wait that long and might just go for 4.0. So we’ll have to see.”