May 14, 2012  3:12 PM

What’s wrong with SAP BusinessObjects support?



Posted by: Todd Morrison

A new survey by the U.K. and Ireland SAP User Group finds some mixed news for SAP.  The adoption rate for SAP BusinessObjects is on the rise – but a third of the entire user base isn’t happy with the technical support it’s getting.

In a survey of roughly 100 SAP BusinessObjects customers, nearly a third of all customers said they thought that the technical support provided to them wasn’t as great as what they get from other vendors.

When asked what specifically did they have problems with, the biggest complaints were about the quality of SAP’s online support. Roughly 57% said they had problems with using SAP’s Service Market Place support portal.  A little over 60% said they had problems finding the support information they need.

Respondents cited other areas as well, though not the same levels of frustration. Roughly 11% said they were dissatisfied with the technical expertise of the support staff. Nearly 10% said they were unhappy with quality of engineer-based support.

While the survey didn’t get into what kinds of issues users needed help with, Craig Dale, chief executive, UK & Ireland SAP User Group, said at least some of the dissatisfaction may be coming from long-time BusinessObjects customers.

“One of the things that we’ve found is a common thread from the BusinessObjects user group, that they feel there’s been deterioration in the knowledge base that was there before,” Dale said.

The group has set up a working group to collaborate with SAP on ways BOBJ support can be improved, especially when it comes to the online portal.

“We’re working with SAP to ensure that knowledge base is back up to where it was before, and where it was perceived to be by BusinessObjects customers,” Dale said.

The good news for SAP is that the survey found an increase in the number of companies using SAP BusinessObjects. Roughly 22% of respondents said they were using the analytics software, compared with 7% about a year ago.

Dale said the increase is being driven by interest in BusinessObject 4.0, as well as by SAP shops that are upgrading their ERP system to ECC 6.0, which the survey also found is continuing to grow.

“The latest version of SAP has more integration with the BusinessObjects product set,” Dale said. Customers are looking at the latest technology, they’re looking at what’s out there for the whole landscape, and not the core suite.”

May 11, 2012  6:41 PM

Some BI questions for SAP SapphireNow



Posted by: Todd Morrison

We’ll no doubt have a clearer idea of where SAP is taking its customers on a range of fronts by the time Van Halen hits the stage at the conclusion of this year’s SapphireNow conference, from what mobile apps are in the offing, and where SAP is going with its cloud strategy, and a range of other issues.

But what might we learn about SAP’ business intelligence portfolio, specifically? I recently spoke with Gartner analyst Rita Sallam about some of the questions she’s looking to answer in Orlando.

Is SAP’s new predictive analytics application easy to use?

In the past, SAP customers wanting to use predictive analytics had to look to other vendors. That’s changed now with the introduction of SAP BusinessObjects Predictive Analysis, now in ramp-up.

Sallam said she’s interested in finding out more about the application, including how easy the application’s user interface is for business analysts using the software.

“Predictive analytics is that next wave where all organizations want to do more advanced analysis, but the limitation has been the [difficulty in using some of those applications],” she said. “One of the things we’re seeing vendors do is encapsulate some of that complexity into easier to use tools and applications.”  

How much tighter is the integration between SAP BusinessObjects and Business Warehouse?

Although BusinessObjects 4.0 has been out for a while, Sallam said she’s looking to hear from customers, specifically on SAP’s claims of tighter integration between BOBJ and SAP Business Warehouse (BW).

“One of the examples of that [tighter integration] is that SAP BusinessObjects tool sets can access the BEx (Business Explorer) API within BW directly,” Sallam said.

“Instead of having to create a universe within Web intelligence, to access a BEx query, which you had to do before, you can now actually expose the BEx query in the BusinessObjects query panel, without having to create that extra layer of metadata,” she said. “It’s a big potential improvement.”

What do customers who have migrated to BOBJ 4.0 have to say?

While customer feedback from companies that have migrated to BOBJ has largely been positive, Sallam said, there have been some accounts of customers having trouble with migrating the security provisions to the newer version.

“Some of those challenges are being addressed in Service Pack Three,” Sallam said. “I’d love to get with customers who have been in ramp up with Service Pack Three to see if in fact it’s addressed some of those challenges.”

How is Explorer 4.0 being received?

The new version of Business Explorer includes improvements in some user-defined calculations that add some basic dashboarding capabilities, according to Sallam.

“I’m interested in hearing how customers have received those capabilities, particularly if they’ve compared them to other data discovery tools, and how well they feel Explorer stacks up, given the enhancements,” she said.

Will the HANA picture get clearer?

Like a lot of people heading to Orlando, Sallam said she hopes to hear more about the HANA in-memory platform, how it’s being used by customers and what they’re getting out of the technology. And while it’s early, Sallam said she hoped to learn more about SAP customers running BW on HANA.

Either way, Sallam said she expects SAP to provide more details.  Just how much remains to be seen.

“I expect SAP will provide a lot of HANA customers because it’s just a huge area of focus for them,” Sallam said.  “I am hoping to see more mature, larger deployments, beyond proof-of-concept deployments.”


May 3, 2012  6:24 PM

SAP and Oracle get bloody over HANA and in-memory



Posted by: Todd Morrison

Who needs pay-per-view boxing when you can watch two of the world’s largest tech companies hold their own enterprise software version of Fight Club, with millions of dollars in future sales at stake?

SAP, which has typically jabbed Oracle not by name but with thinly-veiled references in the past, has decided to go toe-to-toe with Oracle over its claims about the cost and validity of SAP’s HANA in-memory database platform.

“Traditionally at SAP, we’ve taken the high road when it comes to responding to these claims, as nearly 100% of what Oracle says is inaccurate and designed with one thing in mind: To protect their established revenue base,” writes Steve Lucas, who oversees business analytics and database technologies at SAP, in a column addressing Oracle’s criticisms.

The most recent dust-up began, of course, with SAP’s assertion that it was looking to become the world’s number two database provider on the strength of its HANA and Sybase database products, besting other database providers like IBM and Microsoft in the process, and then breathing down Oracle’s neck.

Oracle, which has long since trivialized SAP’s in-memory plans (or tried to give the impression that it didn’t care), is now pushing back hard, writes InformationWeek’s Doug Henschen:

Executive VP Thomas Kurian took the slams a level deeper on Friday with a one-hour Webinar clearly intended to sow seeds of fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of would-be Hana customers. The session was billed as an Exalytics seminar, but each point set up a contrast with Hana. Kurian claimed, among other things, that SAP’s product costs five times to 50 times more than Exalytics and that it doesn’t support SQL (relational) or MDX (multidimensional) query languages, requiring apps to be rewritten to run on the new database.

That led to the near all-out counter response from SAP that included Lucas and SAP chief technical officer Vishal Sikka, writes PCWorld’s Chris Kanaracus. Sikka disputed Oracle’s claims that Exalytics was cheaper, and that HANA came up short on a number of points:

“These guys still keep saying HANA doesn’t scale out,” Sikka said. “That means one of two possibilities. They don’t want to believe it, or that they are just lying.”

Oracle also contended in the presentation that HANA doesn’t support unstructured data. This is inconceivable given that HANA is partly based on SAP’s TREX technology, an unstructured text search engine, Sikka said.

But as Dennis Howlett writes, the Exalytics vs. HANA in-memory database comparison isn’t exactly apples-to-apples:

HANA is not about the database at all. The database merely serves as one part of a much more sophisticated model that SAP is developing. It centers around the new kinds of application that would not be possible without HANA. HANA is therefore much more than a technical database, it is an entire stack designed to do two (basic) things:

1.                   Chop out layers of complexity in enterprise application landscapes

2.                   Serve as the foundation for any number of applications that developers can dream up.

When viewed in this way, SAP represents a far more potent threat to both Oracle and IBM than when seen only through the eyes of the database argument, albeit the database element must be of genuine concern to its competitors.

SAP will no doubt use the upcoming Sapphire conference to once again try and knock down Oracle’s charges. Will all this back and forth clarify SAP’s claims about HANA, or confuse customers that may already be confused to begin with?


April 26, 2012  6:37 PM

SAP and the art of dashboarding Zen



Posted by: Jacquelyn Howard
dashboards, SAP BusinessObjects, SAP Zen, Xcelsius

By the end of 2012, SAP plans to deliver Zen, the code name for the new addition to the SAP BusinessObjects Analysis suite that allows users to create HTML5 apps and dashboards. Although Xcelsius (aka SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards), has mobile dashboard functionality, it requires Flash, leaving out iPad users, since the Apple iOS does not support Flash. HTML5 works across a wider variety of mobile devices.

In the recent “Most Important Xcelsius Webinar of 2012,” Mico Yuk of Everything Xcelsius noted that 82% of attendees were not familiar with SAP Zen, so here are some key facts:

  • SAP recommends that current Xcelsius users stick with Xcelsius, but suggests that those using Web Application Designer (WebAD) move to Zen. That said, SAP is not setting an end-of-life date for BEx just yet.
  • SAP plans to eventually merge Xcelsius and Zen, according to the roadmap SAP published last week. This is interesting, considering Xcelsius is geared towards business users who want to create dashboards and Zen appears to be aimed more at developers (SAP uses the term “architecture” for SAP Zen in its Statement of Direction).
  • By the end of 2012, mobile users should be able to access Xcelsius and Zen through an SAP BusinessObjects mobile app

Although SAP discussed SAP Zen (then as SAP BusinessObjects Analysis Edition for Application Design – a decidedly un-Zen-like name) back in October 2011, it recently received some new attention on Twitter. If you are attending SAPPHIRE and want to see Zen in action, you can get a peek at Zen demo pods. I plan to be there to take a peek. Will you?


April 18, 2012  7:08 PM

Are SAP customers in for a hard(er) sell?



Posted by: Todd Morrison

SAP is once again dealing with a high-level executive departure just before its marquee SapphireNow conference coming up next month in Orlando. This time, the news may highlight that SAP’s recent growth streak may be coming at the cost of customer satisfaction.

While it was widely assumed that SAP North America President Bob Courteau lost his job due to missing a quarterly company sales goal by 11%, a new report provides us some clues as to what went on at SAP, and that Courteau was happy to leave, at least according to one unnamed source.  As Business Insider writes, sales at SAP North America has been a stressful place to work these days under co-CEO Bill McDermott’s direction:

“It was mutual,” the source said. “Bob’s a sharp guy. This happened after a quarter. We missed our North American number by 11%. That’s the level of pressure we’re talking about. It’s such a short-term sales culture … gotta hit the number, gotta hit the number. We have so many people selling right now. The pressure to sell there is insane!”

SAP sales people are well compensated, so employees are not necessarily unhappy. But the constant message to grow revenue every quarter is starting to take its toll, particularly on customer relationships.

“The short-term focus on selling is pissing customers off. There’s so much pressure on them to buy and there just aren’t the big gigantic deals — that’s not happening any more,” the SAP insider said.

The article goes on to say that big Fortune 500 companies are being pressured to buy from SAP now, and focus on short-term goals, instead of bigger, longer-term deployments which take more time to put in place.

That’s pretty interesting stuff, if all true.  But it’s not the first time SAP has been accused of hardball selling tactics.  Last year Forrester analyst Duncan Jones wrote about how SAP’s focus on meeting ambitious financial targets forces aggressive sales tactics, which then angers its customers and works against the customers’ long-term interests.

“[SAP sales teams are] really driven by the sales incentives which focus on revenue recognition rather than customer value,” Jones told me.

So maybe the problem is getting bad – and about to get worse.  Last week, SAP announced its drive to become the second biggest database vendor on the market. While others are skeptical as to whether SAP can make that happen or not, you can bet that ambitious goal is already trickling down to its sales teams.


April 12, 2012  9:14 PM

SAP acquisition of Syclo needed to meet mobile app plans



Posted by: Jacquelyn Howard
SAP, Syclo

SAP’s announcement this week it is acquiring Syclo is the latest in a series of moves to build up its mobile application strategy. Syclo, which focuses on industries such as utilities, oil & gas, life sciences and manufacturing, has previously partnered with SAP to create mobile apps on the Sybase Unwired Platform (SUP) with its Syclo SMART Mobile Suite for SAP Systems.

Recent studies confirm that more and more companies are moving towards mobile applications. According to a 2011 Gartner report, mobile application development projects targeting smartphones and tablets will outnumber native PC projects by a ratio of 4-to-1 by 2015. In its “2012 Small and Medium Businesses Mobile Solutions Study,” the SMB Group noted that SMBs expect to spend 36% more in mobile applications.

The 2011 SearchSAP.com reader survey revealed that operational efficiency is the main driver for adopting mobile technology and at least two-thirds are interested in deploying mobile applications. The SMB Group study also noted that operational efficiency concerns were the main drivers, with working away from the office and better access to people and information for decision making revealed as the main benefits of mobile applications for SMBs.

The 2011 SearchSAP.com survey indicates operational efficiency is the main driver for adopting mobile technology.

The Syclo acquisition makes sense for SAP because of its plans to increase the number of mobile apps it offers to enterprises – and elsewhere. As part of its push to perhaps gain more customers, SAP has been dabbling in other areas, such as the collaboration app StreamWork (which doesn’t require the user to have an SAP system) and Recalls Plus, a consumer-level app targeted at new parents that alerts them to recalls on children’s products. To create all the apps it – and its customers – would like, it’s going to need help. I wouldn’t be surprised to see other acquisitions and partnerships in the next year or so.


March 29, 2012  1:23 PM

Gartner Magic Quadrant: SAP again a leader in CPM software



Posted by: Todd Morrison

This year’s Gartner Magic Quadrant report named SAP as a leader in the corporate performance management (CPM) software market along with IBM and perennial adversary Oracle.

Overall, Gartner gives SAP high marks for executing on its portfolio roadmap, delivering promised integrations with the assorted CPM applications now in its portfolio, as well as integration with SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse and SAP BusinessObjects business intelligence. The report also applauds SAP for continuing to integrate its CPM and Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) applications.

SAP also has a series of industry-specific planning applications for the public sector, healthcare and banking. Gartner notes that SAP is planning on a HANA-enabled version of SAP BusinessObjects Planning and Consolidation (BPC).

What about the downsides?

Despite the credit Gartner says SAP deserves for executing on its roadmap on a number of fronts, a lot of users are still confused about the role that some of SAP’s acquired products are going to play going forward, including the SAP BusinessObjects Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) applications. Some of these questions have become clearer with the new version of EPM 10, according to Gartner.  EPM has also helped integrate these different applications under one consistent UI.

The report adds many customers are disappointed that SAP is moving away from its strategic enterprise management (SEM) software, an older application that SAP BPC essentially replaces, even though SAP has committed to supporting the application until 2020.

Satisfaction over support and maintenance for SAP CPM is also weak, according to the report, especially for initial and add-on implementation consulting and support.


March 23, 2012  3:31 PM

Are botched integrations that widespread?



Posted by: Todd Morrison

Two software deployment case studies that were recently posted on SearchSAP.com shared a common thread. The companies dumped their previous system thanks largely to botched data integrations. In both cases, they blamed the implementation partner for at least some of their problems.

In one case, it was Indigo Books and Music, the Amazon.com of Canada, which had a number of faulty connections between its existing warehouse management system and its ERP before switching to SAP Extended Warehouse Management. Indigo had been using a best of breed warehouse management system for eight years, but it had outlasted its usefulness, according to Sumit Oberai, Indigo’s chief information officer:

“It was a bad implementation,” he said. “There were a lot of data issues, integration issues. Even though it supposedly had a certified connector to SAP, [we had an] an inventory accuracy rate that simply wasn’t acceptable.”

Those “disconnects” created an endless number of headaches — inventory recalculations, out-of-stocks, not ordering enough inventory or ordering too much, according to Oberai. Those problems have been solved with the current deployment of SAP EWM.

For Novus International, a manufacturer of animal and livestock food additives, having to go back and fix SAP Business Warehouse before recently deploying SAP Supply Chain Performance Management, cost the company roughly $200,000.

“The integrator that delivered it, it was a piece of crap.  They did a shoddy job, so we had to go back and fix a lot of it,” Alex Pierroutsakos, the company’s director of enterprise systems and optimization, said.

“The wiring was wrong, custom tables were not brought forward, [there was a problem with] anything that wasn’t standard,” Pierroutsakos said. “Basically the data wasn’t harmonized.”

Neither company’s situation is a total surprise, according to Ethan Jewett, a consultant with the German consultancy Business & Decision. There are always going to be bugs, no matter how good the programmer or implementation partner is.

Because of that, it’s critical to test all aspects of integration, according to Jewett.

“It’s a lot of work and it takes discipline on both the part of the customer and the systems integrator. But not doing this sort of testing is a lot more expensive,” he said. “If you don’t have tests in place to catch these bugs, then you’ll always end up with an integration that is broken in some way, often severely.”


March 21, 2012  4:03 PM

SAP BusinessObjects plays Moneyball



Posted by: Jacquelyn Howard
SAP BusinessObjects

Have you seen Moneyball, the film about how Billy Beane introduced a new level of baseball analytics to the Oakland A’s? In the film, Jonah Hill’s character is a whiz at creating programs that helped the Oakland A’s GM find value in players who otherwise were ignored (hello, Scott Hatteberg).

What does this have to do with SAP? Jump ahead ten years or so to the MLB demonstration I saw at the recent SAP Run Better event in New York. Oscar Fernandez, Senior Manager of Application Development and Business  for the MLB Office of the Commissioner, gave a tour of how MLB is using customized SAP BusinessObjects 4.0 applications to pinpoint anything from what type of injury a player is most likely to experience (hamstring strain) to the release point of Roy Halliday’s pitches over time (it’s dropping).

The program, called Player Information Application Plus (PIA+) incorporates SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and Dashboards (aka Xcelsius) for data visualizations; Crystal Reports  for financial reporting ; SAP Business Objects Data Services for ETL and SAP BusinessObjects Information Steward for data governance.

But what’s really interesting is the amount of information the systems provide and how users can manipulate the data to fit different scenarios. While users see a simplified UI offering them options, on the back end are the Web Intelligence queries familiar to BusinessObjects users.

 Oscar Fernandez shows how SAP BusinessObjects helps pitching coaches with mock matchups

Oscar Fernandez shows how SAP BusinessObjects helps pitching coaches with mock matchups

In an example that spoke to this Red Sox fan, Fernandez brought up a dashboard that compared Jon Lester and Josh Beckett – I could easily see how comparable the two pitchers are, despite a big difference in salary.

What was even more intriguing was how in the future, you might see iPads deployed to umpires for instant replay calls – something Fernandez noted “a pitcher in Detroit” would have liked to have had in place during the 2011 season. I can’t say that I’d be a fan of bringing iPads and other smart devices into the dugout, but it is remarkable to see an idea that was in its infancy in 2002 come to fruition in 2012.


March 20, 2012  6:47 PM

SAP’s IT education courses get high marks from IDC



Posted by: Todd Morrison

SAP is doing a few things right when it comes to its IT education courses, according to a new report by IDC.

While most vendors offer training on a wide range of applications, SAP has distinguished itself by being one of the few that provides training even for software that’s still in beta-testing mode, according to the report. Training users on beta software allows the company to fix bugs and flaws in the training process as well as the software itself, according to the consulting firm.

IDC compliments SAP on the introduction of SAP Workforce Performance Builder, which helps companies create, deploy, and track employee training. It also commends SAP for improvements to its SAP BusinessObjects Knowledge Acceleration tool, which provide training on a number of BOBJ products, and SAP User Experience Management, a third-party tool which helps companies gauge how well employees are using the SAP software and using that feedback to help tailor customized training.

So what should SAP be doing better? For one thing the company needs to continue working on “life-cycle training,” according to the report.

“SAP’s focus on understanding and responding to the life cycle of training needs of its clients is increasing — from familiarization and implementation training to user training, advance user training, and finally to upgrade or gap training. The life-cycle concept can help assure customers that their training needs will be appropriately addressed as their needs and uses of the supported products evolve over time.”

Better search capabilities within the training modules would be another:

“While search capability is improving, the keyword search extends out neither to the broader SAP nor to the support-specific sites. Additionally, its keyword searching allows for only a single keyword — leaving much of the “finding” to the user. If users know they are looking for a specific course, this may be acceptable, but if they are trying to answer a particular support question and search the main site or support sites, the appropriate course or curriculum is never offered as a solution. This is a common problem for training vendors and represents a disconnect between training offerings and the problems users are trying to solve.”


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