Friday, May 15, 2009

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Is New Star at 20th U.S. SAPPHIRE

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer Is New Star at 20th U.S. SAPPHIRE
Friday, May 15, 2009
Bruce Richardson

If my calculations are correct, last week’s SAPPHIRE was the 20th that SAP has hosted in the United States. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the first one, which I recall as a small event held in New Jersey.

In viewing my reports from many of the recent SAPPHIREs, I noticed that I usually opened with the same complaint: SAP spends a small fortune hosting an event for 10,000+ of its largest customers and prospects, but neglects to try to sell anything during the keynotes.

I’m happy to report that co-CEO Leo Apotheker used most of his hour-long opening slot to sell, sell, sell. The most exciting new product is SAP BusinessObjects Explorer. SAP customers and partners may know it as Polestar.

The new Explorer allows customers to load and manipulate enormous volumes of data in memory, where it can be accessed instantly. At the press conference, one executive from Molson Coors said she loaded 900 million records. Searches across all of the records took less than three seconds. She was so impressed that she compared the velocity to that of the Space Shuttle launch she had witnessed the night before.

She taught her business users how to use the software after only a “five-minute WebEx training.” For her, the primary benefit is the ability to reduce the time needed to make a decision from one day to one hour.

Similar results were reported by an executive at Sara Lee. He said he loaded 290 million to 300 million rows of production data into Explorer. He deployed the software in three days and gave it to business users without providing any training. They took to it immediately.

Both agreed that with traditional tools, you may spend half your life on performance tuning. Given the speed of Explorer, there is no need for tuning.

What can you explore with Explorer?

One of the criticisms I had of Polestar and SAP’s Business Intelligence Accelerator was that they lacked applications or templates. Okay, so I can load a billion records, but what can I do with it?

While neither customer went into too much detail as to how the product is actually used, it’s not too hard to imagine businesspeople deploying the tool to instantly calculate customer profitability by product or region, compare forecasts to actual results, or argue for or against various SKU rationalization proposals based on data, not instinct.

In a meeting with SAP Business Objects’ CEO John Schwarz, I told him that I thought Explorer would make a great platform for third-party applications like Jonova’s business planning software. Imagine having the power and data needed to simulate the impact of moving to direct store delivery or to load point-of-sale (POS) and demand data from thousands of retail points and plan real-time replenishment strategies based on balancing costs and demand. If you can model it, you can make it happen. Of course, this would involve publishing the application programming interfaces. I’m not sure where that fits on the roadmap.

Clouds and SaaS

While none of the SAP executives talked specifically about a cloud version, I found an interesting set of PDF slides and a preview of “Explorer in the cloud” on the SAP Developer Network. The latter is available at

Mr. Apotheker’s keynote also featured one slide on SaaS. For large enterprises, SAP currently supports CRM, strategic sourcing, business intelligence, and carbon management. The latter comes from the acquisition of ClearStandards on the eve of SAPPHIRE. In the soon timeframe, SAP promised human capital management and expense management.

As you might imagine, we had a lot of questions. We were hoping to talk to SAP’s John Wookey during SAPPHIRE, but couldn’t get our schedules to mesh. Look for more next Monday.

SAP Business ByDesign: “Go on the offensive big time” in 2010

Jim Shepherd and I went to the exhibit floor to test-drive SAP Business ByDesign, SAP’s first entry into ERP as a service. The company has capped usage to 80 or so companies as it works on guaranteeing sub-second responses to transaction-intensive processes, improving the ease-of-use, adding more functionality, and figuring out how to make money in SaaS.

In my one-on-one meeting with Mr. Apotheker, he told me that if all goes well with the next release, SAP “will go on the offensive big time in 2010.” That should coincide with when he expects the economy to recovery.

He also said that SAP planned to sell Business ByDesign back into the customer base. The challenge has been the customers’ expectation that it will have all of the global functionality needed.

Two new topics for SAPPHIRE ’10?

In keeping with our tradition of offering unsolicited advice, here are two ideas for the next SAPPHIRE: the redesign or replacement of NetWeaver and a new holistic focus on marketing SAP services and support.

The idea that NetWeaver may need a refresh won’t create headlines. As one executive told me, “The time of the fridge is over.” The fridge is a reference to the refrigerator-like look of the NetWeaver product set. Over the next 12 months, SAP will likely embrace more third-party products such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM WebSphere, and other application servers and integration products.

SAP will also need to get more aggressive on mobility. While I love my BlackBerry, it’s not the only smartphone. The company will also need to add a lot more capability around presence or location-based applications: Where are my people, and what’s the best way to reach them? Should I use IM, e-mail, phone, videoconferencing, or call the pro shop and ask them to find their golf cart?

While no application company seems to do a good job of selling and marketing their services and support offerings, the problem seems especially acute at SAP. One of Mr. Apotheker’s first moves when he assumes the sole CEO role on Tuesday should be to announce the search for a marketing executive responsible for all of SAP’s service and support offerings.

Maybe it’s me, but the service and support offerings seem to consist of pieces: Solution Manager, Value Engineering, Enterprise Support, MaxAttention, Run SAP, SDN, product documentation, consulting, implementation support, and the like. Someone needs to tie all of the offerings together in a clear, consistent package, and get customers to use them. We continue to be astonished by the large number of SAP customers that don’t use Solution Manager, Value Engineering, or SDN.

As if the job wasn’t daunting enough, the new person should also be responsible for making sure that the support tools are easy to use, and not be content that they are good enough.

Selling services and support will become increasing important as more of the lifecycle management burden falls on SAP. Many large customers will likely come to see SAP as their enterprise architect even in heterogeneous environments.

What do you think?

Will we see a battle royale emerge between SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and Oracle Exadata in the database appliance market? How do you rate SAP’s odds for success in SaaS? Is it serious about on demand? Can it displace best of breed? If you were redesigning the NetWeaver fridge, which features would you add or drop?

As always, I welcome your feedback and ideas— Please visit my blog at

© Copyright 2009 by AMR Research, Inc.

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