After a long debate on SAP vs Oracle, SAP was chosen as the ERP for a Microsoft-centric organization. The following are the points used to build the business case for SAP:
SAP has depth of Features set and software functionality; SAP Functionality is hard to beat; (Gartner, Forrester, Customers, ERP Asia, ERPFacts.com, TEC – Technology Evaluation Center)
SAP as a brand carries weight as the company is a global leader and benefits from over four decades of building and supporting sophisticated business applications. SAP continues to focus its ERP applications on maximizing resources and reducing costs that are customized for businesses and industries. SAP has evolved its applications to have very deep industry focused solutions.
SAP has built much of this functionality in-house. SAP modules are well integrated in such a way as to provide speedy and accurate transaction and has excellent cross-module features.
SAP is a great financial tool that integrates all corporate operations. The organizations with SAP can find out where the money is being spent – instantly and real-time. Importing historical data into SAP is slightly difficult – and in that sense choosing the Financial year beginning is a good decision.
According to TEC, In FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT, BUDGETING, COSTING, AND BILLING – (that includes Budgeting and Transactions; Project Billing; Invoice Generation; Project Costing; Capital Assets; Resource Sharing; and others) – SAP as well as ORACLE score 100%.
SAP provides comprehensive software and solutions to help simplify transitions to global standards – IFRS or XBRL reporting – that help companies to increase transparency in their financial reporting as well as meet regulatory compliance.
Retrieving data from the ERP systems and formatting output has been reported as one of the most problematic areas by users. SAP has tremendous reporting capabilities, As one user points out “Name a report that you want, and a qualified configurer can build it for you.” SAP allows saving report as templates for reuse and sharing with other users. SAP provides thousands of built-in reports and Crystal Reports / BusinessObjects Edge can be used for creation of new reports.
SAP is highly rated when it comes to Software flexibility and extreme configurability – reports, look-up tables, interface, localization of process etc. are configurable (as against expensive customization); SAP architecture is incredibly strong with a process-centric focus and a foundation that operates in real time communication with enterprise wide business processes that is highly flexible. SAP can automate entire processes by maintaining clean master data and also providing huge flexibility on how you want to decide to automate or semi -automate processes.
Third Party Integration is a key differentiator for SAP; According to TEC, SAP scores 100% as against Oracle’s score of 75% in 3rd party integration.
SAP can be integrated easily to Microsoft Office Products. And this is very useful in companies that use Microsoft Excel heavily – to extract and analyze data. SAP provides native integration with Excel.
Gartner’s Magic Quadrant (Dec 2010) recognizes SAP as a market leader (one of the two products in that quadrant) for product-centric mid-market companies – in both its “ability to execute” and its “completeness of vision.”
According to ERPFacts.com, SAP tops the list of “top 10 ERP Softwares” (http://www.erpfacts.com/top-10-erp-software.htm).
Gartner says SAP is an ideal solution for companies at the middle andupper end of the SME scale. (whereas Oracle is in the Challenger);
From the perspective of global penetration, ability to scale, market share and commitment, SAP is the strongest solution in the Market. Compared to this, Oracle Roadmap – especially as it is moving towards Fusion (expected to be ready around 2013) is not clear.
The ease of use is an issue with Oracle ERP solution – and it doesn’t have good drag and drop across multiple windows (Source: ERPFacts). Customers in various forums complain that User Interface of Oracle is not very attractive. Customers have described that Oracle ERP UI as hard to use. Also the personalization of screen typically requires a person with IT skills (Source: Gartner);
In implementation duration, surveys show that Oracle has a slightly lower duration compared to SAP. But Oracle’s Referenced Customers pointed out that their accelerated implementation was too rapid and after go-live they had to redo various design solutions; Improved speed resulted in lower overall quality;
SAP is one of the broadest and deepest solutions in the market and its best practices and the fast start program reduce the effort needed for the early phases of an implementation. Customers also benefit fromthe extensive expertise of SAP’s partner network According to customers, SAP’s fast start program has proved its value – e.g., system configuration and easier installation.
SAP is continually working on reducing the overall complexity by delivering pre-packaged best practices. SAP’s new Easy Access menu is extremely functional, and features that to let you find a menu path from the transaction code! Now SAP has got more “helpful” help. New user interfaces makes ERP adoption and collaboration easier. Integration with productivity tools like Microsoft Office is progressing and expected to reduce the Overall complexity of SAP.
SAP offers a true, n-tier distributed architecture – with no dependence on any database. In Product technology factors that includes Synchronization and Replication, Implementation and Training, Technical Fit, Cross-module Features, – SAP scores 92.16% as against Oracle’s score of 76.10; (Source: TEC)
SAP offers a proprietary NetWeaver architecture as an SOA (Service Oriented) and XML foundation. SAP has excellent Workflow and business process automation capabilities. Gartner points out that SOA and BPM prove their value in packaged applications in the midmarket.
SAP UI is enhanced now which allows for integrated analytics and some Web 2.0 features. SAP also has good integration with SharePoint.
SAP enables everyone looking at the same information, real-time → numerous possibilities and opportunities to become better informed and more efficient →”higher return on information”.
The learning curve is the only drawback, and with proper planning a surmountable difficultly. SAP functionality and flexibility makes it worth the learning.
As one customer aptly puts it “SAP is the Ferrari of ERP systems and SAP demands that you train people to understand just how flexible and powerful it is.”]]>
The two factors that influenced the choice were:
The following are the factors the basis of the decision:
In the process of this decision making, collated details on SAP and associated products and sharing the same as individual blogs.]]>
Apple’s Steve Jobs “Thoughts on Flash” where he has stated that “Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content” seems to have revived interest on HTML5 and also debates on Flash vs. HTML5. It is true that HTML5 lets web developers create advanced graphics, typography, animations and transitions without relying on third party browser plug-ins (like Flash).
HTML5, though still not released, is being supported by most browsers (of course, not all features are handled consistently) and has attractive features making it worthwhile to be considered right now. HTML5 supports video streaming, multi-threading, direct communications using Web sockets, asynchronous processing etc. It is not just about Apple – Microsoft, Google, Mozilla etc. are committed to HTML5. Again it is not just Flash, HTML5 is capable of replacing technologies like Silverlight, Flex/AIR and JavaFX. Though there are debates about how each of them is better individually, the fact that HTML5 being a standard and supported by almost all browsers does make it attractive.
W3C recognized that HTML though used to describe a large variety of documents, was primarily designed for semantically describing scientific documents and is not adequate for “Web Applications”. Add the result is HTML5 that:
HTML5, the draft effort of which has started in 2004, is still in the draft stage and has drawn considerable jokes about its possible release date (original proposed recommendation of 2022). In Feb 2011, w3c finally announced that HTML5 release indeed has 2014 as the target. HTML5 aims at maintaining the openness of web technologies and reduce the need for proprietary presentation technology. HTML5 taking such a long time can be attributed to many factors – its history, scope, level of detail it aims at, inconsistencies in existing technologies and the need to be backward compatible etc. -detailed below.
HTML5 does have a broad scope and is intended to replace – DOM2HTML[Document Object Model Level 2 HTML Specification],HTML4,and XHTML1.
It is interesting to trace the history of HTML5 (which partially explains the long time it has taken). At a W3C workshop in 2004, Mozilla and Opera presented the principles that underline the HTML5 and was rejected with membership voting for developing XML-based replacements instead. Shortly after, Apple, Mozilla, and Opera jointly announced their intent to continue working on the effort under the umbrella of a new venue called the WHATWG – Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group. W3C showed interest in HTML5 in 2006 and in 2007 a working group was formed and later W3C published the specification under the W3C copyright, while WHATWG site kept a version with the less restrictive license. W3C points out that “HTML specification is not identical to what is published in the WHATWG site”.
One of WHATWG core principles is that specifications and implementations need to match even if this means changing the specification rather than the implementations, and that specifications need to be detailed enough that implementations can achieve complete interoperability without reverse-engineering each other.
HTML5 defines an HTML syntax that is compatible with HTML4 and XHTML1 documents published on the Web. But some attributes from HTML4 are no longer allowed in HTML5. HTML5 is backwards compatible, in the sense that user agents are required to support the older elements and attributes (no longer to be used by authors) and the specification defines how user agents should process them in legacy documents.
The following profound view from W3C is worth repeating: “It must be admitted that many aspects of HTML appear at first glance to be nonsensical and inconsistent. HTML, its supporting DOM APIs, as well as many of its supporting technologies, have been developed over a period of several decades by a wide array of people with different priorities who, in many cases, did not know of each other’s existence. Features have thus arisen from many sources, and have not always been designed in especially consistent ways. Furthermore, because of the unique characteristics of the Web, implementation bugs have often become de-facto, and now de-jure, standards, as content is often unintentionally written in ways that rely on them before they can be fixed.”
W3C points out that:
HTML5 is a massive effort involving 50 organizations, and more than 400 individuals from all over the world in the group, including designers, content authors, accessibility experts, and representatives from browser vendors, authoring tool vendors, telecoms, equipment manufacturers, and other IT companies.
HTML5 is targeted specifically at applications that would be expected to be used by users from disparate locations, with low CPU requirements (suitable for mobile and other hand-held devices). As Steve Jobs points out, WebKit – the open-source HTML5 rendering engine – is used in Safari Web Browser (used in all Apple products) as well in Google’s Android Browser and other Smart phones including Palm and Nokia.
HTML5 is expected to be used for applications including online purchasing systems, searching systems, games (especially multiplayer online games), public telephone books or address books, communications software (e-mail clients, instant messaging clients, discussion software), document editing software, etc.
IBM’s project Vulcan that represents the next generation of Lotus Notes, uses HTML5 along with web services, xPages, RESTful APIs to deliver collaboration across company boundaries.
Gartner’s refers to HTML5 as one with “The Power of Rich, the Ubiquity of Thin” and it clearly conveys the aim (and hopefully the reality) behind HTML5. HTML5 does have the potential to make a large impact and bridging the gap between “Rich UI applications aimed at desktop” and “Web applications that can be accessed from any device, anywhere”. Today it does seem to have hiccups, but it seems to have the commitment from major players in the field and can be expected to get past them and become mainstream.
I believe with Apple, Microsoft, Google, IBM supporting W3C’s HTML, Steve Jobs statement “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too)” would prove to be correct.]]>
Google has announced that it is discontinuing Google Health as a Service – that allowed users to store, manage and share health information at no charge – that was launched in 2008. Clearly these services come and go as per the convenience of the service provider and customers do accept this as part of the freebie mindset. The product will continue to operate as usual till January 1, 2012, after which the users will not have access to current features and not be able to enter, edit, or view data stored in your Google Health profiles.
As the reply to “Why Google Health is being discontinued?” Google says that “adoption of Google Health has been limited to specific groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. We haven’t found a way to translate this to widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people. Hence the difficult decision to discontinue”.
Google points out that the announcement is given well in advance and users have options to download or transfer their profile to another service. The users can download the data stored in Google Health, in a number of formats – profile records as ZIP, PDF, CCR, or CSV, and Notices as XML or HTML (http://www.google.com/support/health/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1241448). Download capability will be available till January 1, 2013.
Interestingly, for people who want to continue tracking their health profile online, Google’s response is to move to Microsoft Health Vault. In the coming weeks, Google will be providing the ability to directly transfer the health data to other services supporting Direct Project protocol – the emerging open standard for efficient health data exchange.
It is also highlighted that these download and transfer options as the proof for Google’s commitment to data liberation principles that aims at making it easy for the users to transfer their personal data in and out of Google’s services by building simple import and export functions. A liberated product is one which has built-in features that make it easy (and free) to remove your data from the product in the event that you’d like to take it elsewhere. It seems to come as handy when the service provider rather than you make the decision of taking it elsewhere (still it does go with the analogy of shifting the residence – only that the owner wants you to vacate!).
After Jan 2, 2013, all user data stored in Google Health will be destroyed systematically. Users can choose to delete their profile data before that, after downloading or transferring their profile. When the user requests for deletion of Google Health profile, deletion of all data begins immediately (can take around 24 Hrs or more to complete) and the user as well as anyone with whom the profile data has been shared would no longer have access. But the additional backup copies of deleted information may persist for up to 30 days before they’re totally purged from the system.
Details on how to transfer to Microsoft HealthVault is provided at http://www.google.com/support/health/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1347995 which mentions “Be aware that HealthVault may offer different privacy protections than the Google Health website, so make sure you’re comfortable with those protections before proceeding”.
In effect, Microsoft HealthVault is neither better nor worse – as you look at it – in terms of privacy.
Google says that the Google health is being retired because “it didn’t catch on the way we would have hoped, but did serve as influential models:” While Google’s privacy reputation (or lack of it) could be the main reason for the millions ignoring the Google Health Service, its failure is being attributed to the inherent conflict between privacy needs and features like automatic prescription refill, fixing doctor’s appointment and asking questions etc., and lack of such features and no tangible benefits to the users, targeted advertisements impacting privacy, doctor-patient relationship being dissimilar from the typical “social” solutions, health space being complex and counter-intuitive, and not enough motivation in terms of revenue for all parties involved.
Microsoft HealthVault has always had a lead over Google Health and it is attributed to the fact that Microsoft has a dedicated Health Solutions group with 500+ persons and putting huge investment into HealthVault enabling it to be ahead of Google from launch, to partners and features like allowing feed from biometric devices.
A good report that compares these health services and provides the guidelines for PHR (personal health record) is available at http://www.usercentric.com/publications/2009/01/05/user-centric-user-research-experts-develop-guidelines-personal-health-record/.]]>
Most NoSQL databases – like CouchDB, MongoDB, Hadoop, Redis – support MapReduce, the programming paradigm for parallel computing pioneered (and also patented!) by Google. Support for MapReduce by the traditional database products, is increasing every day. MapReduce is fast turning out to be the common factor between the traditional database products and the new NoSQL movement.
The possibility of applying the MapReduce model for large scale, fault tolerant computations in suitable applications in the enterprise context is being explored with keen interest. Hadoop is an open source implementation of the MapReduce model and is available on pre-packaged AMIs in the Amazon EC2 cloud platform.
Google points out that MapReduce is a powerful tool that can be applied for a variety of purposes including distributed grep, distributed sort, web link-graph reversal, term-vector per host, web access log stats, inverted index construction, document clustering, machine learning and statistical machine translation. A much longer list of MapReduce applications is available at http://www.dbms2.com/2008/08/26/known-applications-of-mapreduce/.
Traditional databases are providing MapReduce support in addition to the standard SQL interface. While the DBAs are expected to continue using SQL, more and more developers are using MapReduce instead of complex SQL queries. As Curt Monash, President of Monash Research points out “Companies that are integrating MapReduce and SQL are increasing its applicability and giving developers and DBAs the ability to work together on a common parallel data processing infrastructure”.
Considering that MapReduce excels in aggregation and computation, data warehousing and business intelligence are the first to adopt MapReduce. A very interesting article on how MapReduce is relevant to Data Warehousing products is available at http://www.dbms2.com/2008/08/26/why-mapreduce-matters-to-sql-data-warehousing/.
Greenplum, the leading data warehousing and analytics software is one of the early adopters of MapReduce in traditional database products. Greenplum’s parallel dataflow engine (the heart of the Greenplum database) can execute both MapReduce and SQLs. A primary benefit of the this capability is that customers can combine SQL queries and MapReduce programs into unified tasks that are executed in parallel across hundreds or thousands of cores. This combination of MapReduce for programmers and SQL for DBAs is much appreciated by the client who point out that with MapReduce it is now possible to replace complex SQL queries in a few line of Perl or Python code.
Aster Data, another leading data warehousing software provides in-database MapReduce also referred to as SQL/MR. Aster Data nCluster now includes a column data store with a unified SQL-MapReduce framework on a hybrid row and column massively parallel processing (MPP) database. Aster Data’s suite include more than 1,000 MapReduce-ready analytic functions that promises high performance analytics on large data volumes where data can be stored in either a row or column format. According to Aster Data, with hybrid row and column stores and SQL/MR support, the sky is really the limit for anyone to build powerful analytic apps.
IBM’s new portfolio of products, M2 (the enterprise data analysis platform), InfoSphere BigInSights (Visualization of Big Data) are powered by Hadoop MapReduce. IBM is also expected to improve Netezza by including Hadoop MapReduce distribution for the parallel processing of large amounts of information or complex data types on hardware clusters.
Oracle website provides a writeup at http://www.oracle.com/technetwork/database/features/bi-datawarehousing/twp-indatabase-mapreduce-128831.pdf on how to implement Map-Reduce Programs within the Oracle database using Parallel Pipelined Table Functions and parallel operations.
Microsoft research code named Dryad is investigating programming models for writing parallel and distributed programs to scale from a small cluster to a large data-center. According to Microsoft, Dryad is a general-purpose distributed computing engine, more flexible than MapReduce or Hadoop designed to simplify the task of implementing distributed applications on clusters of Windows computers.
Skynet is an open source Ruby implementation of Google’s MapReduce framework, created at Geni. Skynet is an adaptive, self-upgrading, fault-tolerant, and fully distributed system with no single point of failure.
FileMap provides file based MapReduce support. FileMap is a lightweight system, for applying unix-style file processing tools to large amounts of data stored in files.
Amazon Elastic MapReduce is a web service that enables businesses, researchers, data analysts, and developers to easily and cost-effectively process vast amounts of data. It utilizes a hosted Hadoop framework running on the web-scale infrastructure of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).
Disco is an open source distributed computing framework based on MapReduce paradigm. Disco includes tools to index billions of data points and query them in real-time. Disco can be installed on a laptop, cluster or cloud.
MapReduce is fast turning out to be the common skill to be had by most developers and irrespective of the database in your enterprise, there are various options by which the skill can be picked up and in the process a complex problem also sorted out.]]>
As mobile devices become sophisticated and the possibility of mobile adoption in Enterprises move to the next level, mobile operating systems gain importance. Mobile Operating systems are the operating systems that are present in Smartphones – Nokia Symbian OS, RIM Blackberry OS, Apple iPhone IOS, Windows mobile Phone OS, Google Andriod and Palm WebOS.
Mobile device manufacturers chose the Operating system that comes with their mobile devices – hopefully we can expect the industry to mature sufficient enough to allow mix and match – though not in the immediate future. The operating system determines the functions and features like track wheel, track ball, track pad, keyboard, WAP, application synchronization, email available on the device. The operating system also limits the third-party applications that can be used.
Mobile Operating Systems are typically derived from the standard operating systems – Linux, BSD, NextSTEP and Windows. Quite a few of these are closed source and proprietary. In the consumer space, Symbian OS has become the standard operating system and is licensed by more than 85% of the world’s smartphone manufacturers. MeeGo (unveiled in 2010 Mobile World Congress) from Nokia and Intel, Android from Google that are built on top of Linux are Open source.
With the success in the consumer space, most of these OS providers and manufacturers have been targeting Enterprise Mobile OS market and there has been a series of announcements in 2010 that shows tremendous momentum.
But Consumer space and Enterprise space requirement of mobiles are quite tangential to each other. Consumer targeted device is built for social interaction and entertainment is expected to be open, connecting, seamless integration with social networking sites.
Enterprises need a different class of mobile platform – that can provide improved security, reliability, and productivity, multi-tasking, centralized and remote management, enable compliance, and standard upgrade paths. Connectivity to email servers, preventing unauthorized access, controlling users from performing inappropriate actions, data encryption, preventing information leakage, ability to integrate with other Enterprise applications, ability to log activity and even retaining communications for compliance purposes are some of requirements that has to be addressed for Smartphones to move to Enterprise space. Vendors seem to be realizing this and are coming up with specific OS versions aimed at Enterprises.
RIM’s blackberry has already acquired a reputation and space for itself in employee’s mobile productivity in enterprises. BlackBerry Enterprise Servers – the middleware that is part of the BlackBerry wireless platform – connects to standard messaging and collaboration software including Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Domino, Novell Groupwise on enterprise networks. It also redirects emails and synchronization of information between servers, workstations and mobile devices. With the latest release BlackBerry Enterprise Server 5.0.2, RIM claims to have provided a more operational and cost efficient solution. It supports single sign-on (SSO), new security features including self-service option, and support for Microsoft Hyper-V server virtualization.
Google’s Android OS 2.0 version aimed at Enterprise did not have many takers and received lot of negative feedback even to the extent that Android is not ready for Enterprise and Google is not even in the right direction. But the latest Android OS 2.2 (known as FroYo) released is showing promise and even the detractors are suggesting a relook at it. Remote Management and configuration, improved security, support for Exchange servers are the highlights of this release. More Enterprise friendly factors are expected in the next release (known as Gingerbread) promised before the end of this year.
Microsoft has announced that Windows Embedded Handheld OS based on Windows Mobile 6.5 technology will come out later this year and in 2011, release of a new version based on Windows Embedded Compact 7 OS is planned. This OS promises to provide richer and immersive user experience, improved reliability and security features and backward compatibility with a clear upgrade path.
Apple claims that iPhone OS 4 enables enterprises to securely host and wirelessly distribute in-house applications to employees over Wi-Fi and 3G. Most people agree that Apple iPhone and Google Android are both on par – in terms of current features and the expected trend. But Apple’s locked down device with Apple’s tight control over the hardware, software and content may go against it as compared to the open-source model of Android.
With current releases having sufficient features to interest the Enterprises and promised released in the near future with much more enterprise-friendly OSes, the enterprise adoption of mobiles can be better accessed in the second half of next year.]]>