SAP unveils on-demand BI tool for the mass market

SAP AG (Nasdaq: SAP) launched the SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand offering that is hosted and designed specifically for the everyday user with zero business intelligence training, along with the slogan: “Instant insight for the rest of us.”

The casual user has been an underserved area of the BI market and a “big” goal for the Germany-based software vendor in the last several years, said Marge Breya, SAP executive vice-president. “So many users today don’t have access to the information they need to do their jobs,” said Breya.

Since the target market is masses, SAP Canada has adopted a volume strategy through channel partners.

Subsidiary channel chief Conrad Mandala told CDN that BusinessObjects is another important enabler and enables SAP to go after a different type of organization than the company was use-to in the past. “They have an important tool in BI along with governance, GRC and a partner ecosystem that was always ready to deliver the software,” Mandala said.

The goal for SAP Canada will be to have 40 per cent of the revenue from BusinessObjects through the indirect channel, he added.

The new offering lets users access data housed both on-premise and in the cloud, including from Salesforce’s CRM. Other functionality include Business Objects Explorer software for data visualization from any data source and a guided workflow to help casual users with the processing of accessing, exploring, visualizing and sharing data. Crystal Reports is also integrated. “All within a suite and a very common look and feel,” said Breya.

The company, she said, has been making steady progress and learning quite a lot from the market in this area, with the goal of raising penetration and adoption of BI to casual users to a rate of 70 to 80 per cent in the next several years.

Breya said the new version addresses trends emerged in the last four years like the need for simplicity; the right tool for the right job; easy on the end user via on-demand; peace of mind for the IT department knowing that data is being shared securely; and modest cost.

David Meyer, SAP senior vice-president, said the on-demand offering lets customers leverage their existing investments in on-premise Business Objects tools. “It brings that together safely and securely, in a way that IT will respect, with anybody you need to work with in this boundary-less Web system,” said Meyer.

The platform will be updated monthly as a result of user suggestions, collected from a feedback tab baked into the system, that are then subject to user votes. “As we bring this capability, we are going to watch how you work, listen to you as you work and put in the features you need to help you work faster and more completely,” said Meyer.

The offering is likely for those users sitting behind computers and not necessarily frontline customer-facing employees, said Dan Vessett, vice-president of business intelligence with IDC Ltd.

But the while the BI industry is not a new one, there has historically been a focus on power users, leaving everyone else to rely on spreadsheets, said Vessett. “It’s a message to all vendors, including SAP, that there are more users that require BI functionality and can benefit from BI solutions than just the analysts,” he said.

The on-demand aspect, said Vesset, does reflect customers’ preference to take a phased approach to cloud adoption. IDC calculates that cloud represents less than three per cent of the BI market, but that is expected to grow three times faster than the overall BI space, reaching five per cent in the next five years. “It still is small, but I think that is where the market is moving in terms of how the technology is being acquired,” said Vesset.

But there is still very little wholesale migration from on-premise to on-demand, as customers choose to deploy by department or by project, said Vesset. The trend plays rather well for SAP because while the vast majority of its revenue will stem from on-premise sales, it can also offer on-demand for those who want it, said Vesset.

The new functionality in the offering is good for the partner community, which will benefit from the extended capabilities and more industry-specific content, said Meyer. “Having a platform that you can embed in your product as easily as you can embed a YouTube video is very compelling,” he said.

One partner, Waltham, Mass.-based Oco Inc., which sells and deploys pre-built analytics, has a customer who wants to extend BI usage with third-party data for a better view of the business. Anil Chitkara, Oco’s senior vice-president of market development, said this offering should help the customer do that, as well as allow Oco to target new customers who might have been reluctant in the past to get into BI.

Another partner, Portland, Ore.-based Jive Software, offers social software built atop SAP’s Business Objects On-Demand to give customers like Nike and T-Mobile insight into community activity. “Data visualization and exploration are great for line-of-business executives who are really trying to get a feed on what’s happening inside of these Jive-powered communities,” said Chris Morace, senior vice-president of products at Jive Software.

Earlier this month, amid news of the resignation of CEO Leo Apotheker, SAP said it wanted to build a “happier” company and renewed its commitment to building trust with customers, employees and partners.

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