Land and Expand

Expanding user adoption by learning from the experts.

Land and Expand binoculars and mapMuch has been made of the “land and expand” sales strategies of data discovery vendors Tableau and Qlik. First, “land” a single license of desktop software in the middle of a data-starved organization like accounting. Then “expand” by selling additional desktop licenses to curious co-workers, eventually spreading to multiple departments then roping in IT to adopt a server or cloud-based solution. Beautiful.

But did you know that it’s possible to use a land and expand strategy with your existing enterprise BI solution?

This article won’t help you decide if your organization should invest in data discovery tools. But I hope it will provide inspiration and ideas for extracting additional value from existing investments. Here are some practical ways that your Business Intelligence Competency Center (BICC) can increase user adoption of existing enterprise business intelligence.

Make it Easy to Get Started

Take a look at the homepages of SAP Lumira, Qlik, and Tableau. Go ahead— take a look. I’ll wait.

Did you see how easy it is to download the software? All three vendors provide a “free download” link in the top right corner of their web sites. You can achieve the same goal by creating or enhancing a BICC portal on your corporate intranet such as Microsoft SharePoint. There are typically two tasks users must accomplish:

  • granting BI platform access to an existing user’s ID
  • installing any client software such as the Web Intelligence Rich Client, Live Office, or Analysis for Microsoft Office

Many organizations have been reluctant to distribute desktop software such as the Web Intelligence Rich Client. But as its name indicates, it is a richer experience (without the annoying Java warnings, too). Whether a software installation is requested by a service ticket or downloaded from a server, be sure to provide easy-to-follow instructions for getting software on your BICC portal.

Give Away Free Samples

The second thing that data discovery vendors do really well is provide sample content. Make sure that all users (for SAP BI, the Everyone group) can access a folder of curated sample content. Ideally, this sample content should use corporate universes but could also use eFashion. Make sure that the samples are generic (don’t reveal sensitive information) and perform quickly by using only small data sets.

Give Away Free Tutorials

Data discovery tools typically feature free tutorials that can be accessed from inside the software itself or from the company web site. But using inexpensive tools such as tools such as Camtasia or ScreenFlow, you can go one step further by creating tutorials that use your organization’s data instead of sample data. SAP has done a fantastic job of describing how to create free tutorials— just look at their Learn BI web site for inspiration.

Your BICC portal should also include one or more pages that list the universes or BEx queries available in the BI platform. In addition to the semantic layer name, include a brief description (cut and paste from the universe parameters), the business user point of contact, the technical point of contact, and directions for requesting access to the information.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the SAP Learn BI site. Don’t be afraid to start small and build out a larger set of tutorials.

Give Away Free Webinars

In addition to static tutorials, hold repeating monthly or quarterly webinars. Check out this tweet from Qlik.

 

You should certainly record webinars and post the “best” one to your BICC portal. But I would encourage you to routinely (perhaps quarterly?) give live webinars because it’s a way to make the human connection with your user community. Their questions will provide valuable insight into how you can continuously improve your training materials, universes, and standard reports. Share presentation responsibilities throughout the BICC giving everyone on the team an opportunity to refine their presentation skills, even if they only handle 5 or 10 minutes of a larger presentation.

Be sure to collect data from your attendees such as name, department, job title and email address. Follow up with a quick email thanking them for their participation.

Reach Out to First-Time Casual Users

If you’ve ever downloaded a free version of a data discovery tool, you’ve seen the vendor’s CRM back-end in action. Via automation and an inside sales force, users who have downloaded the software are periodically contacted, asked if they need help, and reminded of free resources. Tools such as EV Technologies’ Sherlock can help you identify new users. Being able to cross-reference a user ID to an email address or phone number is key here. New users can also be identified by studying access requests submitted to the help desk.

Know Your Influencers

Desktop data discovery tools succeed not only because they create valuable content, but the person using it becomes a passionate evangelist for the product. In most organizations, these folks are known as “power users” and are sometimes noted as such in the BI security structure. However, just being labeled a power user doesn’t necessarily mean that you are one. Once again, tools such as EV Technologies’ Sherlock can help you identify power users by their actual activity, not just their designation in a security group (although Sherlock can do both). Look for users that create and share a large amount of content. Because power users tend to push boundaries, it can also be helpful to look at the number and type of service requests users submit to the help desk.

Monitor Key Metrics and Refine Strategy

In all cases, user activity generates data. Data can be refined into key metrics. And key metrics can be monitored to refine BICC strategy. Look for insight from the SAP BusinessObjects auditor database, usage metrics from your BICC portal, usage metrics from a self-service download site or document management system, and help desk tickets. All of these sources are capable of providing data, but most will need additional additional refinement to reveal insights. Try to budget projects around these untapped data sources as part of your BICC’s annual planning.

Does it take too long to gain access to the enterprise BI platform? Does Brenda take too long to approve access requests? Is installing software a help desk fiasco? Address pain points and continually refine your BICC strategy.

Conclusion

Does your organization need a data discovery tool? Maybe.

Does your organization already own a data discovery tool due to the land-and-expand vigilance of their vendors? Highly likely.

Is there still untapped potential in your existing enterprise business intelligence platform? A distinct possibility.

I hope this article has given you some ideas to tap that latent potential.  Some of these topics are explored in my 2010 ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference presentations, KPIs for Business Intelligence.

Please integrate the integrated enterprise BI platform

New BI functionality adds complexity to patch cycles.

Earlier this week, SAP hosted one of their ongoing SAP Analytics Innovation Community calls for Self-Service BI and SAP Lumira, hosted by my fellow Diversified Semantic Layer contributors Jamie Oswald and Josh Fletcher with presentations by SAP’s Jayne Landry, Olivier Duvelleroy, and Aaron Graber (see Nic Smith’s official wrap-up article). The SAP Lumira roadmap is a combination of here now, coming soon, and coming sometime (I think the rumored SAP Lumira Desktop for Mac OS X falls in the latter category). But the big news (from my perspective) was the announcement that Lumira Server, currently in ramp-up and soon to be generally available, will be included in the BI Suite license. Lumira Server is built on SAP’s HANA platform and will offer us a glimpse into what I believe is SAP’s future-state BI platform (see related article, Thoughts on BI 5.0).

Lumira In-Memory Add-on to BOE in Service Marketplace

Allowing early adopters to get a preview of the future is smart marketing on SAP’s part. But I, like many SAP BI practitioners, must live in the present with the current platform. Let’s consider the upgrade from BI 4.0 to BI 4.1, which consists of- at a minimum- two components. A base installation or upgrade of the BI 4.1 platform, for example BI 4.1 SP2 and possibly a patch, such as the now-available BI 4.1 Patch 2.2. A similar patching strategy is required on the desktop, where you might have the BI 4.1 platform client tools (Web Intelligence, Information Design Tool, etc.), Dashboards, Crystal Reports 2013, and Crystal Reports for Enterprise.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_01

But what if you are using Explorer? Now there are four moving parts: the BI 4.1 platform, the separate Explorer 4.1 installation, and a patch for each.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_02

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer has been a separate installation since its debut as Polestar on the XI R2 platform. But I had hoped that BI 4.0 would integrate its installation with the rest of the platform. Because Explorer retains its Adobe Flash foundation, no doubt SAP has decided to defer tight integration with the BI platform until an HTML5-based successor is available, which unfortunately wasn’t the case when BI 4.1 shipped last year.

Using Design Studio? SAP Design Studio is the current successor to BEx Web Application Designer and eventual successor for Xcelsius/Dashboards. You’ll need to install the Design Studio server components, which are also an add-on to the BI platform. To make things more interesting, Design Studio has its own product life cycle with unique versioning, product availability matrix, and documentation because it is capable of generating stand-alone applications that aren’t strictly tied to the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform. So today you’ll have the Design Studio 1.2 server components and possibly a service pack, as Design Studio tends to be patched to maintain compatibility with SAP HANA’s latest patch levels. So far, my experience is that the Design Studio server components installer is particularly lethargic. And don’t forget to patch the Design Studio client application.

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_03

Based on what I heard this week, the diagram below is my approximation of what is involved to run SAP Lumira Server as part of your environment (sidenote – Microsoft Visio does a terrible job with color selection when exporting JPG and PNG files).

SAP_BusinessObjects_Patch_Strategy_04

There will be a separate plug-in for the BI 4.1 environment (and eventually a patch, I presume) and the platform software and a patch for the SAP Lumira server. As with Design Studio, I would expect software availability on both sides to not be based on the BI 4.1 patching schedule. With new releases of SAP Lumira Desktop approximately every 6 weeks, the odds of needing to patch your environment to take advantage of new features (similar for what we already do with SAP Mobile BI and SAP HANA) are high. UPDATE: SAP is revising their BI4 + Lumira Integration Strategy (see related SAP Community Network article, Planned Native Integration of Lumira into BI Platform Details).

SAP’s recent work to support parallel node patching is helpful. You’ll want to download Foroohar Rafiei’s Patching Strategies and Best Practices + Parallel Patching guide from the SAP Community Network (SCN).

But can I gently suggest that there are simply too many moving parts here?

SAP Lumira is part of SAP’s response to desktop data discovery competitors like Tableau and Qlik. But another part of SAP’s response is the message that “those vendors do not have a true Enterprise BI solution”. I’m speculating that we’ll eventually get an HTML 5 version of Explorer + Lumira in a blender that will eliminate some of the current pieces. But it is extremely inconvenient that SAP has placed platform integration on customer shoulders instead of integrating the pieces in-house. Until they do, line-of-business users are going to continue to perceive IT’s lack of agility in platform support as further reasons to head to the cloud, with or without SAP as the vendor of choice. Even if SAP can quickly port existing BI apps like Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence to the HANA-based Lumira Server platform (heck- if they’re even planning to- we simply don’t know right now), I believe many customers will remain with the current BI 4.x platform, as they did with Desktop Intelligence, for many years to come.

For now, BI administrators should carefully estimate their BI 4.1 upgrade estimates based on the number of nodes and number of software components.

This article barely scratches the surface of this week’s Self Service BI and SAP Lumira webcast. What are your impressions?

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.1.11 for iOS

Explorer for iOS gets a minor update.

SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.1.11 for iOS appeared in the iTunes store last week.  The app received iOS 7 compatability back in September and October with the releases of 4.1.9 and 4.1.10. The release notes in the iTunes App Store indicate only a single change for 4.1.11:

  • Technical improvements for iOS 5.1 only

The Explorer app (along with the recently updated Mobile BI 5.0.13 app) now has a new “flat design” icon for iOS 7 according to the latest What’s New in SAP BusinessObjects Explorer for iPhone/iPad User Guide from the SAP Help Portal . I find it curious that SAP bothered to make fixes for iOS 5.1 rather than raising the minimum OS requirement to iOS 6 as the Mobile BI app does.

Organizations on the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.1 platform no longer require this stand-alone app, as Explorer functionality is included in Mobile BI. However, it’s nice to see that SAP is maintaining this app for organizations still on XI 3.1 or BI 4.0.

Bracing For Impact

Watching the data discovery vendors compete with the enterprise BI heavyweights.

Bracing for Impact

Last week, Fredrik Tunvall, an analyst with Ovum, published some analysis entitled Tableau Goes Beyond Visual Discovery. I’d quote from the article, but apparently Ovum doesn’t appreciate that kind of publicity.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, Ovum (an Informa business).

Yikes.

Mr. Tunvall correctly describes the current BI market as having two “factions”. On one side are the traditional enterprise BI vendors such as IBM (Cognos), Oracle, SAS and SAP (sorry Microstrategy, no mention for you by Tunvall). On the other side are data discovery vendors like Tableau and Qlik. The conventional wisdom is that data discovery vendors like Tableau are going to have to “brace for impact”- to broaden their offerings to compete effectively with the enterprise BI vendors. While I believe that Tableau and Qlik offerings will continue to gain new capabilities- some of which will encroach further into the enterprise BI space- I do not believe that there is a single- nor traditional- path to “enterprise BI nirvana”  for data discovery vendors to follow to grow in size and influence.

The Impact of Data Discovery on the Enterprise BI Market

There are two key messages from data discovery marketing. First, we know that you really love Microsoft Excel. And second, you’re not very fond of your IT department. Even vendors such as SAP have picked up on these two points in their messaging for their own year-old data discovery tool, SAP Lumira (formerly known as SAP Visual Intelligence). Side note- apparently focus groups held a higher opinion of Crystal Reports than BusinessObjects (see ad below)?

SAP Lumira - Love It 600

Data discovery tools are desktop tools, not the web-based tools that IT departments prefer (hence their aversion to deploying existing desktop tools like SAP Web Intelligence Rich Client and Live Office). The main point about data discovery is that Fred in accounting can get the CFO’s corporate card and purchase a single desktop license without IT even knowing about it. Fred first heard about the tool from Susan, an accountant at another local company. The attractiveness of the tool begins long before Fred even launches the program for the first time- it begins with the buying experience. Word spreads at the water cooler that Fred has a cool new tool on his desktop and soon everybody wants their own copy. The data discovery vendors call this their “land and expand” sales strategy. Need to collaborate? Easy, the data discovery vendors also have cloud solutions that can be purchased and deployed, once again without corporate IT. Want to throw a bone to IT? OK, we may have an enterprise product that we can chat about.

While conventional wisdom may show that data discovery vendors need to grow up, or even be acquired by the enterprise vendors, existing users are happy with the status quo. User frustration with the enterprise BI platforms and the IT departments that deploy them is driving the adoption of data discovery tools. But the situation isn’t unique to the BI market.

We’ve already seen a similar scenario play out in the smartphone industry.

The Smartphone Industry

Before 2007, Blackberry was the king of the smartphone market. With it’s physical keyboard, secure messaging, and easy-to-use email, Blackberry was beloved by corporate IT and users alike. When the first Apple iPhone went on sale, it was roundly criticized as unsuitable for the enterprise. Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft with its competing Windows CE smartphone platform (later abandoned for the similarly named but incompatible Windows Phone) had this to say about the first iPhone.

“It doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard”

Microsoft CEO Ballmer Laughs at Apple iPhone
Mac Daily News
January 17, 2007

As the iPhone platform matured, Blackberry remained the corporate favorite, but Apple was the upstart preferred by consumers. Today, one of these companies is for sale, the other one is (sometimes) the most valuable company in the world. A recent BusinessWeek interview with senior Apple executives didn’t mention Blackberry. Not once. Instead, Apple CEO Tim Cook indicates that there’s room for the smartphone market for two different strategies- the one favored by Apple and the one favored by mostly makers of Android devices.

“There’s always a large junk part of the market,” he says. “We’re not in the junk business.” The upper end of the industry justifies its higher prices with greater value. “There’s a segment of the market that really wants a product that does a lot for them, and I want to compete like crazy for those customers,” he says. “I’m not going to lose sleep over that other market, because it’s just not who we are. Fortunately, both of these markets are so big, and there’s so many people that care and want a great experience from their phone or their tablet, that Apple can have a really good business.”

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Apple Chiefs Discuss Strategy, Market Share—and the New iPhones
Bloomberg BusinessWeek
September 19, 2013

Apple became the dominant enterprise smartphone by adopting enterprise-friendly features but by also providing new capabilities never before seen in a mobile phone. An iPhone is a better smartphone, not a better Blackberry.

The Grocery Industry

We’ve also seen upstart companies succeed against established competitors in other non-technology industries such as the grocery industry. In the United States, Target has become an established retailer of groceries against the “establishment”, primarily Kroger and Walmart. While Target has a small number of Super Target stores that compete in size and scale with similar large formats by Kroger and Walmart, Target’s real success has been introducing grocery items to its smaller, traditional department stores (see Target press release Target Completes More Than 100 Store Remodels in March to Expand Fresh Food Selection). These stores only carry 10,000 square feet of groceries compared to the average Kroger store of 67,000 square feet (see Kroger web site). Nobody would suggest that Target is going to eliminate its competitors with a limited selection. But Target has filled its 10,000 square feet with the low-hanging fruit of the grocery industry- milk, bread, and non-perishable items. Target will be successful in increasing the average transaction size and average number of monthly visits from its existing customer base. Over time it will slowly pull away revenue opportunities from its more sizable competitors.

Let’s be clear. Target is not trying to match Wal-Mart in food. Target doesn’t want to be a grocery supercenter… It’s more about convenience than offering a place where a family can do all its weekly grocery shopping, says Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates, a retail consulting and investment banking firm in New York.

How Target is gaining on Wal-Mart
MSN Money
November 16, 2011

And consider Whole Foods Market. I was unable to locate statistics about the percentage of their customers that exclusively shop at Whole Foods and forsake the traditional retailers. But notice how Whole Foods Market describes themselves to their shareholders. As you can see from this excerpt from their 2012 annual report, they’re creating a successful business in the grocery industry without following the traditional grocery playbook.

Each of our stores is designed to fit the size and configuration of the particular location and to reflect the community in which it is located. We strive to transform food shopping from a chore into a dynamic experience by building and operating stores with a lively, inspirational atmosphere, mission-oriented décor, well-trained team members, an exciting product mix that emphasizes healthy eating and our high quality standards, ever-changing selections, samples, open kitchens, scratch bakeries, hand-stacked produce, and prepared foods stations. We also incorporate many environmentally sustainable aspects into our store design, and many stores have bicycle parking racks and electric vehicle charging stations. Our stores typically include sit-down eating areas, customer comment boards and customer service booths. In addition, some stores offer special services such as chair massage, personal shopping and home delivery. Others offer sit-down wine bars and tap rooms featuring local and/or craft beer and wine, creating a destination for customer gathering. We believe our stores play a unique role as a third place, besides the home and office, where people can gather, interact and learn while at the same time discovering the many joys of eating and sharing food [emphasis mine].

Whole Foods Market 2012 Annual Report

Also, Whole Foods Market, despite efforts at broadening its target audience, isn’t the supermarket for everybody. By design.

In selecting store locations, we use an internally developed model to analyze potential sites based on various criteria such as education levels, population density and income levels within certain drive times.

Whole Foods Market 2012 Annual Report

Tableau and Qlik do not need to be the “supermarket for everybody” like existing enterprise BI platforms. Like Target and Whole Foods, they can pick and choose where to focus without taking on the heft of the large tool sets of the enterprise BI vendors.

Conclusion

As we see in the example of Apple, sometimes an innovator disrupts a market and either eliminates (Blackberry) or marginalizes (Microsoft) previously established players. In the example of Target and Whole Foods, we see innovators that create a successful business model that bears some similarity to the established players like Kroger and Walmart but is successful because of their unique differences that the established players cannot or will not embrace.

Am I saying that Tableau and Qlik will wane in influence as customers expect them to behave like established players? No. Am I saying that SAP Lumira has no chance of success against Tableau and Qlik? No. Each of these vendors- even the traditional, enterprise BI vendors- must use its unique capabilities to deliver solutions customers want. In some cases, they’ll compete for the same customers. In other cases, they’ll find new customers that cannot be reached with traditional products or traditional sales and marketing techniques.

But I’m definitely not saying that Tableau and Qlik have to abandon their unique culture and product offerings and become like “the other guys”. If you haven’t noticed lately, the established enterprise BI vendors are the ones that have strapped on their crash helmets, not the data discovery vendors.

For Further Reading

Family Planning

SAP could use a little family planning with its data visualization offerings.

UPDATE 06/11/2013: SAP Visual Intelligence was rebranded in May 2013 as SAP Lumira, but most of these points remain valid.  I’ll revisit this topic when the new Mobile BI 5.0 app is released later this year.

Coke. Diet Coke. Coke Zero. Cherry Coke. These are all members of the Coca-Cola product family. Well, of course there’s the oddball Tab.

SAP Visual Intelligence. SAP Predictive Analysis. Both members of the SAP BusinessObjects Explorer family, which includes Explorer for the web and Explorer for iOS.

Excuse me?

With its proliferation of product names, the Explorer story is difficult to get right the first time. And many people can’t tell the story without breaking into a smirk when they say “Polestar”. But seriously, there’s a bit of branding confusion going on here.

And the confusion isn’t just in the branding.

Take SAP Visual Intelligence, affectionately known as “Visi”. It was launched at the May 2012 SAPPHIRE conference, but the news was lost in that event’s SuccessFactors love fest. It didn’t help that SAP Visual Intelligence 1.0 only worked with SAP HANA. Even though support for other data sources was “coming soon” (and as of this writing, built into its latest versions), customers only heard “Visual Intelligence, HANA, blah, blah, blah.” The product is introducing new functionality at a blistering (and highly commendable) rate- SAP is currently shipping SAP Visual Intelligence 1.0.7- but customers can have difficulty wrapping their heads around the current state of the product. SAP is also trying to have it both ways, omitting the BusinessObjects brand to show that Visual Intelligence is a stand-alone product ala Tableau. But still stressing that it’s tied to the SAP BusinessObjects platform, with the ability of SAP Visual Intelligence 1.0.4 and higher to export data sets to Explorer (and therefore to the Explorer mobile app as well).

And take Explorer. Explorer came to the 4.0 platform without any new features (Exploration Views were not introduced until Feature Pack 3- see related article, Future Pack 3), unless its inability to consume legacy UNV universes is a feature. Explorer 4.0 only supports UNX universes generated by the Information Design Tool. And forget about OLAP universes, Mr. Bradbourne.

The Diversified Semantic Layer opined in a recent podcast that Explorer Gets No Love. User adoption of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer has grown at a slower than desired rate since its introduction.

IMG_4170

I found it curious that last November’s ASUG webcast, What is coming in BusinessObjects BI 4.1, did not mention what is coming to Explorer 4.1. Or Visual Intelligence. Or Predictive Analysis. So something is coming, but what could it be? On March 13, 2013, SAP product manager Mani Srinivasan will share some of the details in an ASUG webcast, What’s New in Explorer 4.1 / Visual Intelligence. Here’s what I’m hoping to see in his PowerPoint deck.

Unified Branding. Just like Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, and Coke Zero, these products should fly under a single banner. SAP sales reps, partners, and customers would all benefit from an easier story to tell. My guess is that the product banner would be “Visual Intelligence” – Visual Intelligence Desktop, Visual Intelligence Desktop with Predictive Analysis, Visual Intelligence Web (currently Explorer) and Visual Intelligence Mobile (currently Explorer for iOS). UPDATE: Of course we all know now that the single banner for branding is SAP Lumira (see related article, Goodbye SAP Visual Intelligence, Hello SAP Lumira).

Reduced Dependence on Adobe Flash. Adobe Flash provides the visual pizazz for data exploration for Explorer in a web browser. However, there are many portions of the Explorer web product where Adobe Flash offers no value-add.  These elements should be redesigned without Adobe Flash.

CMC-based Administration. Most of the administration of Explorer occurs in the Adobe Flash-based Explorer application, inside of the user-facing BI Launchpad instead of the administrator-facing Central Management Console (CMC). Administrators should be able to right-click on an Information Space or Exploration View from the CMC and perform common tasks such as copy, move, schedule, and delete. An improved version would relocate administrative features, particularly around scheduling, to the CMC. Scheduling of information spaces should share features already available to Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence, particularly the ability to respond to events.

Tighter Integration with BI Launchpad. Explorer 4.0 made some much needed steps in the right direction, but additional integration is necessary. As with the CMC, common functions should be possible by right-clicking.

Query Panel Feature Parity with Web Intelligence. The current Explorer query panel does not have all of the functionality of its Web Intelligence cousin. A “view SQL” button, anyone? This feature gap should be closed starting with BI 4.1 and continuing through subsequent releases. And if it is possible to redesign the Explorer query panel without Adobe Flash, SAP should do so.

Improved Semantic Layer Support. I must admit, I’ve been disappointed with the rate of maturity of the Information Design Tool since its launch. It still needs some additional usability features and refinement that would accelerate customers’ ability to port their universes from UNV to UNX format. And Explorer 4.1 should allow Mark Bradbourne to build UNX-bassed Information Spaces on OLAP data sources. Lastly, I understand SAP’s desire to steer customers to the new UNX format. But if SAP Visual Intelligence was able to add classic UNV support, Explorer should add it as well. That’s what being a family is all about.

UPDATE 06/11/2013: SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.1, now in ramp-up, adds UNV support to Explorer. Classic UNV support was also quietly reintroduced in BI 4.0 via SP6 (see related article, Hacking SAP BusinessObjects Explorer 4.0).

Will there be Explorer integration with Mobile BI? Or something else?

Explorer was SAP’s first mobile BI application. So color me surprised that Dashboards 4.0 and Design Studio have been integrated into the Mobile BI app and Explorer is still stand-alone. But, the vendor landscape has changed. Perhaps SAP has a different strategy in mind? Perhaps Explorer will remain separate. Here’s why.

I recently attended The Tableau Experience road show (see related article, The Tableau Experience) and was impressed by the simplicity of the product line. Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, Tableau Public (cloud) and Tableau Mobile. If Visual Intelligence represents SAP’s response to Tableau Desktop, what about the rest of Tableau’s offering?

Visual Intelligence Mobile is simple – just rebrand the Explorer app. Done. Problem solved.

Visual Intelligence Cloud is also pretty simple – most of the plumbing is already in SAP’s On Demand offerings.

But what about SAP Visual Intelligence Server to go head-to-head with Tableau server? All SAP needs to do here is simplify and repackage the existing BI 4.0 platform. A hypothetical SAP Visual Intelligence Server could be fashioned by combining the CMS + iFRS/oFRS (input and output file repository servers) + Explorer servers (master, index, search, explorer) + Adaptive Processing Server + Adaptive Job server. And voila. A new departmental visualization product to complement SAP Crystal Server and SAP BusinessObjects Edge.

UPDATE 06/11/2013: SAP has announced that SAP Mobile BI 5.0 will fold Explorer functionality into a single app for all content types, so I was wrong on this point (see related article, SAP BusinessObjects Mobile BI 5.0). No standalone Explorer/Visual Intelligence/Lumira mobile app. At least not yet.

Conclusion

I’ve been sharing my enthusiasm for Explorer since my first Explorer presentation at the 2009 GBN conference. A business intelligence tool for casual users that requires almost no training. SAP’s dashboarding tool for business users (see related article, Thoughts on Xcelsius).  Based on this recent post on SCN by Saskia Battersby, General Manager of BI in Solution Management at SAP, I believe we will see some of the enhancements I am proposing introduced with BI 4.1 and BI 4.2 later this year:

“Over time you can expect to see these tools to become more integrated (in both naming and capabilities) as well see a dramatic evolution in providing superior visual analysis which will serve as a foundation for a next generation of self-service BI.”

Saskia Battersby, SAP’s Self-Service BI Solution

I continue to be enthusiastic about Explorer and am hopeful that 2013 is the year that SAP takes Explorer to the next plateau of data visualization.

What are your thoughts on the future of Explorer, Visual Intelligence (now Lumira), and Predictive Analysis?

Resources

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0 The Complete Reference, Third Edition

The best published resource for universe design with the Information Design Tool.

Cindi Howson BusinessObjects Complete Reference Third EditionI started using BusinessObjects in February 2003.  As a newbie, I was so grateful that Business Objects: The Complete Reference was published later that year. According to Amazon.com, I purchased the book on August 21, 2003. I always kept the copy handy until I replaced it with Business Objects XI Release 2: The Complete Reference.  McGraw Hill did not publish an edition for XI 3.0/XI 3.1, but Cindi Howson and co-author Elizabeth Newbould have returned with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference, Third Edition.

SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference is a book that almost did not get published- Ms. Howson provides the back story on her blog (see The Never Ending Story).  The SAP BusinessObjects product portfolio is substantially larger than the one that was covered in the first edition nearly 10 years ago, which creates challenges for any author. From the book’s introduction, “The Complete Reference brand does not imply the complete SAP BusinessObjects product line, but rather, a complete reference for certain modules… We have tried to focus the content of the book primarily on what business application designers, business analysts, and power users need to know. Software engineers and system administrators were not the intended audience for this book”. The 752-page book is organized into four parts: Getting Ready for Business Intelligence (three chapters), Universes and the Information Design Tool (twelve chapters), Reporting and Analysis (seven chapters), and Dashboards and More (six chapters).

While the book is excellent from start to finish, what really sets it apart are twelve chapters devoted to the Information Design Tool, the semantic layer design tool that replaces the classic Designer tool (now known on the BI 4.0 platform as the Universe Design Tool). SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.0: The Complete Reference is currently the best published resource for universe design with the Information Design Tool. My favorite chapter is chapter 13, Design Principles: Where to Put the Intelligence, which helps the reader understand the tradeoffs between placing intelligence in the database, the universe, or the report. The book also covers lifecycle management (known on the BI 4.0 platform as Promotion Management and Version Management), use of the project synchronization features for team-based development, and maintaining and monitoring the universe after it has gone into production.

I’ve been well served by having Cindi Howson’s books on my shelf for the past decade. If you’re a business application designer, business analyst, or power user working with the BI 4.0 platform, you’ll appreciate having this book. It’s available in paperback form or on the major ebook platforms (Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Apple iBook).

Resources

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from McGraw-Hill, the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I am also an unpaid contributing expert for the BI Scorecard.

Top 10 SAP Analytics Stories of 2012

What were the top 10 SAP Analytics news stories of 2012?

Diversified Semantic Layer

Join Diversified Semantic Layer hosts Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald, and Eric Vallo along with contributors Josh Fletcher, Clint Vosloo and myself in this end-of-year podcast to count down the top 10 SAP Analytics news stories of 2012.