Things Can Only Get Better

The roadmap of the SAP BusinessObjects platform makes me scared. But I won’t stop and falter. Here’s what Howard Jones taught me about SAP analytics strategy. And growing older.

Earlier this year, my wife and I got to see Howard Jones in concert from the second row. The last time I saw him in concert was way back in 1989, so I was grateful for the opportunity.

I discovered Howard Jones in my teen years. His groundbreaking use of synthesizers as a “one-man band” was a big inspiration for me. After all, there are so many guitar heroes but so few piano heroes. He was definitely mine. Known for the positive messages in his lyrics, Howard expressed my thoughts when SAP announced revisions to its analytics roadmap just a few days after the concert (see related article, Everything Must Change).

And do you feel scared? I do!
But I won’t stop and falter.

Change can definitely be scary. And sadly, you can’t stop it. Just like you can’t stop having birthdays.

I’m grateful to artists like Howard Jones because at age 63, he’s not only riding his past success like No One Is To Blame. He continues to tour and create new music like the autographed Engage CD that I picked up at the concert. His success doesn’t magically wipe away the rampant ageism that is in modern IT. But it does give me hope as I grow older.

Howard Jones Engage CD with autographed cover

Treating today as though it was the last, the final show
Get to sixty and feel no regret
It may take a little time a lonely path, an uphill climb
Success or failure will not alter it

Don’t be fooled by what you see. And don’t be fooled by what you hear- especially from Microstrategy. They posted this FUD gem during SAPPHIRE last month.

Things have actually gotten better during the past few months. SAP has moderated its tone when messaging its analytics customers, committing to delivering SAP BusinessObjects 4.3 in 2019 (see related SAP blog by Mike Flannagan, SAP Customers Champion the Intelligent Enterprise with SAP Analytics Innovations). And SAP is making smaller batches of improvements in the forthcoming SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP6, expected later this month. In his aptly-named song Those Who Move Clouds, Howard Jones sings:

I wish that I could offer you a chance to change direction.
But you know that pathways must be followed to near destruction.

Sadly, “You can look at the SAP analytics roadmap, but you can’t change it” doesn’t rhyme. But I’ll continue to work on that. In the meantime, this old dog is committing himself to learn new tricks with SAP Analytics Cloud, SAP Cloud Platform, SAP HANA, and even non-SAP technologies. Because things can only get better.

In the meantime, don’t crack up. Bend your brain. See both sides. Throw off your mental chains. And don’t always look at the rain.

Related Reading

#askSAP and You Shall Receive

Three takeaways from this week’s #askSAP webcast for its analytics roadmap.

This Tuesday, Apple unveiled its new iPhone and Watch. While I wouldn’t consider it an unveiling- as most of the details were previously disclosed- SAP provided an #askSAP webcast to elaborate on its analytics roadmap (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again) and respond directly to questions posed by its customers. I caught three key messages from the #askSAP webcast.

We’re Listening

When I hear Jayne Landry speak, either directly or through her blogs, she always conveys the message that “we’re listening”. While we may quibble about the speed and direction of SAP analytics, I do believe that SAP is sincerely listening to its analytics customers more than they have in the past. Further evidence of this listening is Ty Miller’s news that SAP including Lumira Server as part of the BI platform license and creating a limited-use lower-cost HANA license to facilitate that. Even more shocking was Ty’s admission that SAP is looking at providing web access to Lumira visualizations without the need for HANA. If true, this is a welcome break from the HANA Everywhere messaging (see Steve Lucas’ SAP Insider article, SAP HANA Everywhere). I’m still confused on details and timeframes, but am looking forward to hearing more first-hand at this month’s ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

We’re Simplifying

Bill McDermott’s message of Run Simple is taking root throughout SAP, including analytics. Folding together tools for the analyst persona like Analysis, Live Office, Explorer and Lumira makes a lot of sense. So does keeping Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence largely intact. As a big Explorer fan, the news of its functionality moving to Lumira (and therefore HANA) makes me nervous, but I’m curious to see how Explorer’s road map might change in light of Lumira w/o HANA (see previous paragraph). Sure, we all wish things would move along faster (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again), but I have no doubt that SAP executives agree with customers on this point.

We’d Really Rather You Didn’t Buy Those Other Smartwatches Analytics Tools

I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about why Apple announced a product (the Apple Watch) that won’t be available until 2015. I came up with two reasons. First, Apple wants to give developers plenty of lead time to support the watch with their apps. Second, and I believe more important than the first, Apple wants to suck the oxygen out of the smartwatch room. “Don’t even think of buying an Android watch for Christmas because we’ll have you covered in 2015.” (Fast Company came up with three theories).

SAP employed a similar strategy to Apple’s this week. At first, I wondered why SAP would schedule the webcast on a day where any news was likely to get buried under the deluge of Apple coverage. But September 9 was also the day of Tableau CEO Christian Chabot’s keynote from the Tableau Customer Conference as well as their financial analyst day (I still haven’t watched either presentation but hope to get caught up over the weekend). It’s no coincidence that SAP planned their webcast on the same day as Tableau’s keynote (and that Tableau was the only competitor mentioned by name in Steve Lucas’ latest blog post). It’s year-end budgeting time. And SAP would be eternally grateful if customers based their desktop data visualization strategy around Lumira. And keep those pesky land-and-expand Tableau desktop licenses out of the capital budgets because it isn’t the enterprise standard application dictated by corporate IT (remember those guys?).

The roadmap made clear which direction the SAP Big Data bus is headed in. But what remains unclear is when it will arrive with shipping software. No doubt we’ll be hearing more at the ASUG SAP BusinessObjects User Conference and throughout the rest of 2014.

What did you take away from the #askSAP webcast? Be sure to place your vote for which 80’s hit captures your reaction to the #askSAP webcast for BI Strategy and Direction?

For Further Reading

WebiJavaGeddon, One Year Later

Remember WebiJavaGeddon?

It seems like just yesterday, but it’s actually been one year since we weathered the Web Intelligence certificate expiration crisis, better known as WebiJavaGeddon (see related article, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste). I wrote something a year ago and it seems to be worth repeating, ahead of SAP’s BI Strategy and Direction Webcast next Tuesday (see related article, The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again).

If SAP had any doubts…, it should now be acutely aware that Web Intelligence is of profound importance to many of its business intelligence customers. And while customers and partners are grateful for innovations like SAP HANA and Lumira, we still need SAP to be passionately committed to what they probably refer to as “legacy” tools.

What are your memories of WebiJavaGeddon?

The Future of the SAP BI Platform, Again

Are SAP BI customers ready to trade in the Porsche 911 for a Tesla?

Red Porsche 911

Yesterday I installed the latest updates from Microsoft on my Windows 8.1 laptop. Originally promised as Windows 8.1 Update 2 with a revised start menu, Microsoft stripped the release down to just a few new features, holding back the best stuff for next year’s release of what everyone expects to be Windows 9 Windows 10 (see related Computer World article, Pointless Windows 8.1 Update 2 shows Microsoft has given up on Windows 8). New features are always welcome, no matter how small. But Microsoft seems to be struggling to achieve the annual OS updates that Apple has been delivering for the past several years, including this year’s forthcoming iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite (see related article from The Verge, The 22 most important things Apple announced at WWDC 2014).

SAP has also had difficulty finding a definitive cadence with its updates to the SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence platform. After the much-delayed BI 4.0 and nice but feature-lite BI 4.1, 2014 was supposed to be the year of the rumored BI 4.2. But instead, it’s been the year of integration of SAP Lumira and SAP Lumira Server (and therefore SAP HANA) into the existing BI 4.1 release. The integration kit between the two BI platforms was shown earlier this year at SAP SAPPHIRE in Orlando, with the SAP BI4 platform described as a classic Porsche 911 and the Lumira Server platform described as a cutting-edge Tesla. But the integration kit is still in ramp-up awaiting general availability.

Tesla Motors Black

There’s no BI 4.2 on the 2014 release calendar (see related SAP BusinessObjects Maintenance Schedule Calendar). In fact, even the year-end release of BI 4.1 SP5 has recently disappeared from the calendar, no doubt a casualty of SAP transitioning BI 4 platform development to Bangalore as all-things-Lumira takes center stage in SAP offices around the globe. So it looks like SAP BusinessObjects users will end 2014 with two versions of Crystal Reports, two semantic layer designers (the Universe Design Tool and the Information Design Tool), three versions of Web Intelligence (Java, HTML, and Rich Client), two dashboarding tools (Xcelsius/Dashboards and Design Studio), Explorer effectively marooned on an Adobe Flash desert island, and now two BI platforms- the classic SAP BI4 platform and the new HANA-based Lumira Server platform. And no point release to the BI4 platform to continue progress on shrinking functionality gaps.

Yesterday, SAP announced a new BI Strategy and Direction webcast for September 9, 2014. SAP executive Jayne Landry along with Ty Miller, Blair Wheadon, and even my friend, co-worker, and SAP Mentor Greg Myers will discuss the future of SAP’s BI initiatives. You can post questions to Twitter using the #askSAP hashtag (see Jayne Landry’s blog, Unleash Your Collective Insight, and register for the webcast). September 9 is also the rumored date for Apple to announce it’s latest iPhone and iPad models, although it’s latest iOS 8 and OS X Mavericks will continue to support a large number of Apple customers with older devices.

At least we’ll see how much gas is left in the Porsche 911 tank.

Further Reading

Is your organization going to trade in its Porsche 911 for a HANA-powered Tesla? What are your thoughts on the future of the SAP BI platform?

SAP Analytics Roadmaps: What’s New and What’s Next?

SAP has updated its analytics roadmaps.

Everybody likes roadmaps. Today is old news, tell us about tomorrow and how long we’ll have to wait for it. Last month, SAP updated its product roadmaps for analytic solutions. While the roadmaps are helpful, they’re never as detailed as we like, but with good reason from SAP’s point of view. Or any vendor for that matter. Blogger John Gruber neatly summarized the vendor position in a recent post about his Vesper app for iOS (see related Daring Fireball blog, Vesper: What’s New and What’s Next).

Our policy, like that of many companies, is not to comment on future plans or work in progress. There are many good reasons that companies as big as Apple and as small as one-person shows adhere to such a policy. One reason is to keep attention focused on what is already available. Another is that keeping your mouth shut about work in progress is a way to implicitly under-promise and over-deliver. When a company says “We plan to ship X in the next three months” and it turns out to take six months, customers are naturally disappointed.

When you say what’s coming next, people naturally want to know when. And when you tell them how long you think it will take, you’re giving them a guess, but to the customer it feels like a promise. And at heart, we’re all optimists about how long our work will take. In short, talking about work in progress and future plans is often a recipe for disappointing your customers.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball

You can access the updated SAP BusinessObjects roadmap by visiting the SAP Service Marketplace road map landing page (S-ID required), clicking on Product and Solution Roadmaps then clicking on Analytics. With any luck, no thanks to the SAP Service Marketplace’s horrible bookmarking capabilities (which according to its roadmap will soon be updated in a sweeping redesign), you will end up on a page like this one.

SAP Roadmaps for Analytics

 

I have no doubt that SAP product planners also want to know “when can we ship?”, but it’s not always easy to pinpoint when a rough prototype can blossom into a fully polished product. While the roadmaps are short on specific release dates, it’s clear that SAP analytics customers are going to see some interesting innovations and updates in 2014.

I’ll have more to say in future articles about specific items in the new roadmaps. But for now, take a moment to locate and download them yourself. Please share any questions or comments you have about the new roadmaps in the comments section below.

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.

The Future of SAP Dashboards

Analysis of SAP’s long-anticipated statement of direction (SOD) for dashboards

On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, the space shuttle Discovery made its historic final flight. Seeing images of Discovery flying over the US capitol piggybacked to its specially modified Boeing 747 gave me (and I’m sure many others) a profound admiration for NASA and its shuttle program. But it also left me wondering about the American space program’s future, worrying if its glory days are behind rather than ahead.

Space Shuttle Discovery Final Flight

On the same day, with unintentional irony, SAP posted an article on SCN about its long-anticipated statement of direction (SOD) for dashboards. The SOD served as a lead-in to yesterday’s popular ALL ACCESS to SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards (Xcelsius) webinar (see Pieter Hendrikx‘s live blog of the webinar). SAP speakers Mani Gill, Ty Miller, Jason Rose, Ian Mayor, Scott Leaver, and Mani Srinivasan were joined by Xcelsius Guru Mico Yuk for a brief presentation followed by a live Q&A session. The prepared content mostly recapped what was introduced in the SOD document, leaving most of the session for Q&A. Most of the conversation centered around three topics:

  • What is going to happen to Xcelsius/Dashboards
  • What is going to happen to SAP BEx Web Application Designer?
  • What is Zen and wasn’t it called SAP BusinessObjects Analysis, edition for Application Design last year?
But the SOD reveals much more information and is definitely a must-read for all SAP BusinessObjects and SAP Netweaver BW customers. I’d like to make three observations about SAP’s statement of direction on dashboards.

Two Types of Users

First, conversations about Xcelsius/Dashboards and SAP BEx Web Application Designer are primarily held by one group of people: developers. In the SOD, SAP describes two broad categories of data visualization: professionally authored and self-service. These two broad categories have long existed in BI. We often use them to compare and contrast Crystal Reports with Web Intelligence (although enterprise reporting vs. ad-hoc query and analysis is another method of comparison).

SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and Zen [UPDATE: which shipped as SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio] are focused on the needs of “power users and IT”, which was probably the majority of attendees on the webcast. Zen is intended to be “a new, unified technology stack” that will begin life primarily intended as the successor to SAP BEx Web Application Designer (focused on SAP data sources like BW and HANA) and evolving into a successor for Xcelsius/Dashboards (focused on a broader set of data sources) as well.

But what about self-service dashboards? “In the future, exploration views (a functionality of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer) [introduced with SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.0 Feature Pack 3] will become the preferred technology for building self-service BI applications.” And although Web Intelligence is not mentioned, its evolution in BI 4.0 continues to blur the line between “query and analysis” and “dashboard”. And from an end-user perspective, SAP will eventually deliver Exploration Views and Web Intelligence in a single mobile app, rather than the two apps that are required today.

Although a frequent criticism of SAP is that there are “too many BI tools”, I am glad to see SAP continue to recognize that these two broad categories of users require different tools.

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

Second, Tom Petty, a well-known business intelligence industry analyst, had the following to say about SAP’s Dashboard Statement of Direction:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

SAP’s Statement of Direction outlines three phases. We’ll see the fruits of phase one go into ramp-up in late 2012, but the latter phases will take us into 2013 and probably 2014. That’s a long time to wait. Users of SAP BEX Web Application Designer will be able to use the inaugural edition of Zen. But for the foreseeable future, existing Xcelsius/Dashboard Design customers can continue using the product, extend it with some useful partner solutions, and hope for a fairly routine migration path (see related article, Between an Xcelsius Rock and Dashboard Design Hard Place).

The SOD is developed from the traditional “enterprise software company” cookbook, with emphasis on “protecting existing investments” and merging tools from different lineages into a unified whole. This is what “good” enterprise software companies do. But these typical assumptions mean that we must wait patiently for the results. I can’t help but wonder (aloud on the latest Diversified Semantic Layer podcast, State of the Dashboard Take 2) if a better strategy would be assembling a team of genius developers and building something completely new, without the baggage of existing products. Customers would get a groundbreaking mobile-first tool faster and be less likely to hear the siren song of other vendors like Tableau, Tibco, and QlikTech, and the like.

I recognize that I don’t know how to run a large enterprise software company and don’t understand their traditions. But neither do the young minds creating new data visualization start-up companies. AOL or Yahoo could have built Facebook but didn’t. Kodak or Polaroid could have built Instagram but didn’t. HP or Dell could have built the Apple iPad but didn’t. History is replete with tales of innovation and disintermediation- of David outsmarting Goliath. (See New York Times columnist Nick Bilton’s article, Disruptions: Innovation Isn’t Easy, Especially Midstream)

But perhaps SAP intends to surprise us with the efforts of a secret development team toiling away in an unlikely location like Hilo, Hawaii? [UPDATE: Hilo was the code name for SAP Visual Intelligence, later renamed SAP Lumira]

Xcelsius really is the new Desktop Intelligence

Lastly, this week’s events cemented for me (but not for the SAP panelists) that Xcelsius really is the new Desktop Intelligence (see related article Thoughts on Xcelsius). Yes, I’m fully aware that this analogy is short-hand for all kinds of negative imagery. But there is positive imagery that is worth remembering. Let’s not forget that with Desktop Intelligence, both Business Objects (the company) and SAP that purchased it, the vendor was committed to protecting existing investments and providing a migration path via tools like the Report Conversion Tool. Customers were grateful for the amount of time that Desktop Intelligence continued to be supported. But I’m sure that many at SAP wished they could have stopped support sooner. One reason for the long retirement period was it took Web Intelligence, the successor, many years to reach an adequate level of functionality to replace its predecessor. The reason Desktop Intelligence had a retirement in the first place wasn’t because the tool lost its usefulness. SAP could certainly modernize it if they wanted to (see my almost-plausible April 1 Hell Freezes Over article). Desktop Intelligence was retired because a majority of its users lost interest in desktop applications in favor of web applications. Now those same customers are shifting attention from the web to the mobile device. So we shouldn’t blame the vendor when we, the customers, are making their products obsolete.

Like Desktop Intelligence before it, some customers will continue to use Xcelsius and Dashboard Design well beyond the official end of support. But as a career professional, I’m labeling it as “the new Desktop Intelligence” as a reminder that I need to prioritize learning new skills.

Conclusion

SAP did a good job in authoring the SOD and responding to live Q&A. The effort was necessary and time well spent. And after the webcast I’m looking forward to SAPPHIRE even more. But even with all of the clear answers, I’m unsure. Unsettled. Perhaps it’s because Xcelsius can’t figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Or maybe it’s because I’m the one who can’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

Business Intelligence is supposed to be about fact-based decision making. But today, it’s about emotion as well.

What’s your reaction to the SAP BusinessObjects Dashboarding Strategy and Statement of Direction and the ALL ACCESS SAP webinar?

Additional Resources

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