Can SAP Innovate Like Tesla?

SAP needs a Falcon rocket that can land on the barge of its BI platform.

SAP innovation evangelist Timo Elliott tweeted a reply to my article “Can SAP BusinessObjects Lumira 2.0 Move Out of Fourth Place?

The Tesla analogy has been used before, back when SAP briefly described Lumira Server as a Tesla and its BI platform as a Porsche 911 (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again). But Timo is making an excellent point.

Tesla did not achieved success by trying to copy a competitor and build a better Cadillac. Although entire books have been written about Tesla and its charismatic founder Elon Musk, I believe we can distill Tesla’s success down to two reasons. First, there’s unwavering commitment to a goal that seems crazy at first glance. And second, there’s a charismatic, unorthodox leader that rallies bright talent toward achieving that goal.

Whether it’s luxury cars with “insanity mode” or reusable rocket boosters that land on barges, Elon Musk has a knack for obtaining the unobtainable.

I still believe that Lumira has a firm place in SAP’s analytics arsenal. But can SAP’s BI platform support a crazy, radical idea that (most likely) will come via acquisition? And can SAP’s culture handle the charismatic- and possibly volatile- leader that will come with that radical idea?

SAP needs a Falcon rocket that can land on the barge of its BI platform.

A company that I’ve started watching with keen interest is ThoughtSpot. ThoughtSpot appears to be what SAP BusinessObjects Explorer would be if SAP had continued to innovate with it rather than abandon it to a yet-unrealized bullet point on the Lumira product roadmap (see related article, The Road Unexplored: Alternatives to SAP BusinessObjects Explorer). But there are certainly other startups out there tinkering with crazy ideas on the fringes of the analytics marketplace.

Yes, Timo, I believe SAP can be the Tesla of analytics. But not on Lumira’s merits alone.

What crazy idea do you think SAP needs to bring to its analytics platform?

Always a SAP TechEd Bridesmaid…

Never a SAP TechEd bride. Maybe next year?

SAP TechEd bridesmaid ©iStock.com/cadelyn

A few weeks ago, I received a personal invitation from Steve Lucas to attend SAP TechEd and d-code in Las Vegas.

SAP TechEd Letter from Steve Lucas

Oh, I know it was just an email marketing campaign. But I really felt like Steve was speaking directly to me as I read his message. Immediately after SAP’s acquisition of BusinessObjects, I heard second-hand that it wasn’t the best venue to get information about SAP analytics. But the situation has improved over the years. And besides, it’s an opportunity to catch up with old friends.

Not only did I not see Mark Bradbourne last year, but I also missed the opportunity to meet Josh Fletcher, who flew over from Australia to present at the conference. This year, Andrew Fox from itelligence UK is presenting about SAP Lumira at this year’s TechEd. Most of the sessions are led by SAP employees, so it’s a real honor to get selected to present.

 

 

I’ve never met Josh or Andrew in person, but I’ve met them through social media and consider them friends (UPDATE: I got to meet Andrew Fox in Paris in May 2015). And great sources of information for professional growth (see related article, What Does the Fox Say).

I’m still not really sure what goes on at SAP TechEd, other than copious amounts of alcohol consumption. But the SAP TechEd && dcode web site insists that there is lots of technical education. Someday I hope to be invited to SAP TechEd as a technology blogger and cover the event with a journalist’s perspective. I’d like to see what it’s all about and share the story with my readers, many of which probably never get to go either. But for now, SAP TechEd is a fraternity I cannot pledge into.

And that makes me sad.

SAP TechEd && dcode is happening later this month in Las Vegas, Nevada. Are you going to SAP TechEd? Be sure to introduce yourself to Andrew Fox and get his autograph on one of the limited edition itelligence UK “I heard what the Fox said at SAP TechEd” t-shirts. And tell him that Dallas says “hello”.

SAP Analytics Future Vision and Strategy

The future of SAP Analytics, from 30,000 feet

SAP Analytics Future Vision and Strategy

Yesterday, Steve Lucas and his management team of Michael Reh, Christian Rodatus, Shekhar Iyer, Jack Miller and Jayne Landry laid out SAP’s future vision and strategy for SAP analytics. While many participants- including myself- were hoping for detailed roadmaps for their favorite BI tools, Steve’s team described in broad terms where SAP is heading and took questions from the audience posed by hosts Mico Yuk and Ryan Goodman. Steve promised that we would learn more at next month’s ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference and SAP TechEd the month after in Las Vegas.

Pieter Hendrikx has an excellent live blog of the presentation and you can follow the discussion on Twitter using the #AllAccessAnalytics hashtag.

And David Taylor has provided analysis and commentary about the event on his Trusted BI blog.

New Directions for SAP Analytics?

Steve Lucas prepares to share the future of SAP Analytics.

Steve Lucas, SAP Vice President

A couple of weeks ago, SAP made some analytics news in a Venture Beat article by Sean Ludwig. In the article, Steve Lucas, President of SAP Platform Solutions ended all speculation with the following remark,

“We aren’t going to buy Tableau. There’s no need to buy an overvalued software company.”

Steve Lucas, President, SAP Platform Solutions
July 30, 2013 Venture Beat article

Regardless of whether one finds recent IPO darling Tableau overvalued (see stock quote for $DATA on Yahoo Finance), I believe that the existence of SAP Lumira (formerly SAP Visual Intelligence) alone is proof enough that SAP has no current intention to inquire Tableau. But I do wonder if the catalyst for SAP Lumira’s development was Tableau’s rejection of a pre-IPO and pre-Visual Intelligence offer from SAP.

SAP not interested in overvalued Tableau

The Venture Beat article had several other insightful quotes from Steve Lucas.

“HANA is not just a database”

No, it is not. Although SAP HANA was first positioned as a “game changing” in-memory database platform, it is evolving into an application platform that we’ll continue to see as the foundation of new product offerings- both on-premise and in-cloud- from SAP. It’s not unreasonable to imagine a future version of the SAP analytics platform powered by HANA rather than simply supporting it as a data source.

“SAP needs to set its sights on new directions in analytics. We’re going to make life miserable for our competitors.”

I’ve said before that I view SAP Lumira as a response to Tableau and to a lesser extent Qlik and Tibco Spotfire.  While interesting, I don’t find it particularly “new”. Also, many customers who have looked at Lumira say that it shows promise but is still behind in maturity compared to Tableau. Will Lumira be the “new direction” in analytics or will it be something as-of-yet unseen by the general public?

“Business intelligence is our birthright,” Lucas said. “You can’t walk away from 60,000 customers.”

Maybe you can’t walk away from them, but they can walk away from you. For classic BusinessObjects customers, the transition to SAP’s ownership of the platform and the introduction of SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 could have been smoother (see related article, Are You Better Off?).

“This is the beginning of a new era for SAP as we shift our focus from the analytics tools of the past to looking toward the future,” Lucas said on a final note. “We’re shifting the company away from what we had 15 years ago.”

Hmmm…  What did we have 15 years ago?  Crystal Reports? SAP BusinessObjects Desktop Intelligence? SAP Business Warehouse (BW)? All of the above?  After spending the last decade converting hundreds or thousands of Desktop Intelligence reports to Web Intelligence, will customers be asked to convert them again to something else? The anonymous CEO of cubicle 36 had this to say on Twitter.

Rumor is that SAP BusinessObjects is a dead product

I do not know if SAP BusinessObjects is indeed a dead product, but I can understand why customers may feel that way.

Steve Lucas has a long and distinguished tenure with BusinessObjects and now SAP. I have tremendous respect for him and am very pleased that he is leading the analytics charge at SAP. His keynotes are always engaging and he frequently says things that tend to make the SAP executives sitting in the front row squirm a bit. And who can forget the skinny jeans or necktie cutting demos?  But seriously. Tomorrow, Steve Lucas will be speaking with Mico Yuk about the future of SAP Analytics on an “All Access Analytics” webcast (formerly “All Access SAP” – a curious rebranding). You can learn more and register on a bright new shiny website, AllAccessAnalyics.com.

What do you think Steve Lucas will announce tomorrow?

Dell Loves SAP HANA. Really.

SAP HANA not only solves Big Data challenges, but Big PR Nightmares, too.

Dell tells WSJ SAP HANA has scalability issues

This week, the Wall Street Journal posted a blog with a catchy title about SAP HANA (see Wall Street Journal article, Dell Says SAP’s HANA Has ‘Scalability Issues’). I imagine that the article was clearly posted above the urinals in the executive mens room at Oracle.

But [Dell CIO] Ms. Karaboutis said during an interview that, “we’re not in production yet [because of] some scalability issues.” She said HANA may not have been as robust as it needed to be when it was introduced to the market, and while SAP marketed it as being able to parse data from a variety of sources, the system struggled to do that. “That’s one of the reasons it took so long to implement,” she said, and is “why it’s taken so long” for Dell executives to get those needed insights about customers. But she added that she still thinks SAP has “a great product.”

What made the article even more entertaining is that Dell is one of the hardware partners for SAP HANA. Maybe the Dell hardware, and not the SAP software, isn’t scaling? Hmmm??? Perhaps Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis thought she was speaking off-the-record- a mistake recently made by Barbara Morgan, communications director for the ever-entertaining NYC mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner (see New York Daily News article, Anthony Weiner’s spokeswoman trashes intern Olivia Nuzzi in profanity-laced rant).

The Wall Street Journal article clearly got things buzzing at SAP, where Steve Lucas, SAP’s president of platform solutions, undoubtedly reached for the blue hotline to the Dell CIO office.

Blue Telephone

Yesterday, Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis posted  A Look at SAP HANA Inside Dell IT on the Dell web site. Without mentioning the Wall Street Journal article, she addressed the scalability issue with these remarks:

We have architected a model for scaling SAP HANA that we believe will keep pace with the demand of our users in sales operations and services.  To date we’ve been working in a single-node environment, and we will expand with the new architecture to a multi-node environment which we believe will lead to a successful launch.  We will leverage Dell’s recently launched scale-out solutions for our Active Infrastructure platform and rapid deployment services as we conduct these project deployments.

So if one Dell server isn’t enough, it doesn’t hurt to add a few more.  Wall Street Journal editor Michael Hickens back-pedalled from the “scalability issue” in his original piece (see Wall Street Journal article The Morning Download: ‘Scalability Issues’ Delayed SAP’s HANA at Dell) but still put the blame on SAP and other software vendors for “promising quick and seamless implementations”.

 It took six months for Dell Inc . to get HANA, SAP AG ‘s analytic software platform, running in a production environment, Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis told CIO Journal during an interview. Six months may not seem excessive for getting a large software project up and running, but time, especially for Dell these days, is of the essence.

The trouble isn’t so much with a six-month runway as with vendors’ penchant for promising quick and seamless implementations.

It’s rarely quite that simple, and vendors would be doing everyone a favor if they owned up to that.

The Wall Street Journal would be doing everyone a favor by avoiding a similar temptation- creating sensational headlines that take a single remark out of context. Andi Karaboutis concluded her blog with the following promise.

These are just a few of the exciting solutions and projects we have going on with SAP.  We look forward to sharing more about partnership at SAP TechEd, Oct. 21-25 in Las Vegas.

No doubt SAP TechEd attendees will be able to grab some cute “Dell Loves SAP HANA” teddy bear swag at the Dell booth.

  • Follow SAP’s Steve Lucas on Twitter
  • Follow Dell CIO Andi Karaboutis on Twitter
  • Follow Wall Street Journal editor Michael Hickens on Twitter
  • You’ll excuse me if I don’t provide a link to Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account

What do you think of Dell’s SAP HANA project?

Time to put the SAP Support Portal on HANA?

The SAP Support Portal is not feeling well.

The SAP Support Portal has been having a bad day.  A really bad day.  Bad enough for SAP to post the following message:

SAP Support Portal Not Feeling Well

The SAP Support Portal is currently experiencing stability and performance issues. We are working on resolving these problems.

Perhaps it’s time to run the SAP Support Portal on SAP HANA?

Dandelions and Documentation

I saw the dandelion and I knew hope wasn’t lost.

I saw the dandelion and I knew hope wasn’t lost.
Katniss in The Hunger Games

If you have recently downloaded documentation from the SAP Help Portal, you may have noticed that the newest documents feature an attractive cover with a dandelion blowing in the wind.

SAP Dandelion Cover

Dandelions are interesting plants, classified on Wikipedia (see related article, Dandelions) as both beneficial and noxious. They have both culinary and medicinal uses. In the popular book, The Hunger Games, the dandelion represents hope.

As a child, I enjoyed blowing dandelion seeds into the wind. But as an adult, I have less favorable impressions. I now spend time, effort, and chemicals to remove dandelions from my lawn.

What are your impressions of dandelions? And why do you think SAP chose one for its cover photograph?

Brand New Day

The Twitter handles, they are a-changin’.

Have you heard this song before?

How many of you people out there
Been hurt in some kind of love affair
And how many times do you swear that you’ll never love [an analytics vendor] again?

How many lonely, sleepless nights
How many lies, how many fights
And why would you want to put yourself through all that again?

Lyrics from Sting’s 1999 hit Brand New Day? Or the pitch from that Tableau salesperson that keeps calling? No matter.

SAP Analytics Square 600

Today is April 22, the big day that the BusinessObjects twitter feed transforms into SAP Analytics (see related SCN article, @BusinessObjects Twitter Handle Changing to @SAPAnalytics on April 22. Sure, you can still tweet about BusinessObjects and use the #BOBJ hashtag, but clearly the times are a-changin’.

Twitter isn’t the only place where SAP’s BusinessObjects brand is no longer to be found. The signs hanging from trade show ceilings were pulled down a couple of years ago (see related article, Whistling Past the Brand Graveyard with BusinessObjects). The BusinessObjects brand was booted from the menus of the SAP Service Marketplace and removed from Enterprise Information Management (EIM) products like Data Services last year (read Understanding the Recent Branding Changes for Analytics Solutions from SAP from the SAP Analytics Blog). And if you’ve installed the latest Support Pack 5 for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the BusinessObjects brand has been removed from the Windows Start menu.

Due to their popularity and familiarity, some brands continue to live- even after an acquisition. You can still find Jif peanut butter and Folgers coffee in United States supermarkets even though those brands were acquired by Smuckers several years ago. But you can no longer take a ValuJet flight to Florida for your summer holiday. It seems like Crystal Reports is here to stay, although SAP- like the BusinessObjects company it acquired in 2008- still struggles with how to apply the “Crystal” brand to other products. And don’t even think about touching NetWeaver’s brand!

BusinessObjects is an unusual brand because it both describes a software company that no longer exists as well as a product that still does. If you assume BusinessObjects is merely a company name, it makes total sense that customers should embrace the idea that SAP is now the company that provides their software. However, if you assume BusinessObjects is a product name, phasing it out becomes more complicated.

At the organizations that I consult with, “SAP” isn’t just a vendor. It’s shorthand for “the system that runs our company”. It’s “what we enter data into”. In contrast, BusinessObjects is “our reporting platform” or “our BI tool”. It’s “what we get data out of”. It even has cute pet names like “BO” and “BOB-J”. See the difference? As a consultant, I follow SAP’s branding moves closely- it’s part of my job. But what about the millions of users who only have a casual relationship with the BI platform? If the SAP brand is applied to everything, which words- that can be repeated in polite company- will these casual business users use to refer to the SAP analytics suite while distinguishing it from the business suite?

Regardless of the branding strategy or its coherence, that is the question that I hope SAP’s product marketing professionals will ponder. Preferably over a hot cup of Smuckers coffee.

Related Articles

What future do you see for the BusinessObjects brand? Will it be dumped next month at SAP SAPPHIRE for the upcoming BI 4.1 release? Dropped whenever BI 5.0 arrives? Or live on but in a limited role?

Less Magic in the Gartner Magic Quadrant

Is SAP getting crowded out of Gartner’s Business Intelligence leaders quadrant?

Here is the 2012 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms published in February 2012.

gartner-mq-2012

 

And here is the 2013 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms published in February 2013.

gartner-mq-2013

 

There are some obvious trends, which are clearly visualized on the Gartner Magic Quadrant Over Time, courtesy of Tableau.  Tableau and Tibco are, rightly so, making a big deal of their first appearance in the leaders quadrant. But it looks like one vendor in particular needs a sprinkle of magic fairy dust before it’s “leader” status turns into a “visionary” pumpkin.

With so many vendors ordained as leaders, SAP Mentor Jamie Oswald wonders if analysts like Gartner still have a relevant place in the customer buying decision (see Jamie’s article Modern Magic).

What do you think about the crowded field of leaders in the 2013 Gartner Magic Quadrant?

Are You Better Off?

Are SAP BusinessObjects customers better off than they were four years ago?

It’s election season in the United States.  Thousands of red, white, and blue balloons have dropped from the ceilings of the recently concluded Republican and Democratic conventions.  Now it’s time for the final sprint of campaign speeches, baby kissing, debates, and (sigh) incessant negative campaign ads before the November 6, 2012 election.

This week, hundreds of SAP BusinessObjects professionals will gather at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida for our own sort of political convention – the annual ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference.  It’s been four years since SAP acquired Business Objects on January 22, 2008 and the question many attendees will be asking themselves is this one:

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

It’s certainly not an easy question.

The relationship between SAP and many of its traditional BusinessObjects customers is “it’s complicated”.  It got off to a rocky start with a clumsy transition to SAP support, layoffs in the BusinessObjects sales and support teams, the dismantling of the Business Intelligence University, and a lengthy development cycle for SAP’s flagship business intelligence offering— SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0.

Many of these customers have been sitting on the sidelines of the 4.0 upgrade with concerns over product stability, support for legacy technologies such as Desktop Intelligence, a decline in the quality of education materials, and the general perception that most of the exciting features on the 4.0 platform are exclusively for SAP’s traditional ERP customers.  Customers have also been checking out offerings from SAP’s smaller and nimbler business intelligence rivals.  SAP seems to be hedging its bets by continuing to update the XI 3.1 platform for new features such as mobility, but many innovations require a brave leap to 4.0.

There’s plenty to like in the BI 4.0 suite. And there’s plenty of upside in the SAP acquisition, having a product owner with deep pockets to invest in technologies like mobile analytics and SAP HANA (read Greg Myers’ upbeat assessment, The World Is Changing).  On Tuesday afternoon, I’ll be part of a panel discussion with SAP Mentors and Diversified Semantic Layer hosts Greg Myers, Jamie Oswald and Eric Vallo entitled “SAP BusinessObjects BI4: How to Make the Magic Happen“.  We’re looking forward to answering customer questions and hearing their concerns.

Follow hashtag #SBOUC on Twitter to follow developments from the conference.

The slogan on the conference PowerPoint templates is “Business Intelligence for a Passionate Community,” which is no understatement.  I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, signing copies of the new SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence 4.0 book from SAP Press, participating in the Developer Wars with my fellow SAP Press authors (Jim Brogden, Gabe Orthous, and Heather Sinkwitz), presenting two breakout sessions, and hanging out in EV Technologies‘ booth 102 with my awesome coworkers. It’s going to be a busy and exciting week.

But just like American voters, attendees at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference will have the question “Am I better off than I was four years ago?” echoing in their minds as they hear the keynotes, attend breakout sessions, investigate hands-on demos, and wander through the partner showcase.  Whether it’s audibly spoken, it is the question that many customers will be asking.

And I hope SAP tackles the question head-on.

Is your business intelligence program better off than it was four years ago?  Continue the conversation in the comments section.