If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

SAP, if you love your BI platform users, it’s time to set them free.

BusinessObjects Rainbow Logo

In 1985, Sting stunned the world with Dream of the Blue Turtles, his first solo album after breaking up with The Police. The “hybrid” recording wasn’t jazzy enough for jazz purists nor rocky enough for fans of The Police. But his ambitious effort to combine rock-and-roll with jazz musicians Omar Hakim, Darryl Jones, Kenny Kirkland, Branford Marsalis, Dolette McDonald, and Janice Pendarvis yielded several hit singles and insured that Sting would be a relevant artist for the next several decades.

“If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” was the first single released from Dream of the Blue Turtles.

It’s clear from current product roadmaps that SAP’s hybrid approach to analytics is to place all future analytics innovation into SAP Analytics Cloud while keeping the on-premise BI platform, its universe semantic layer, and its Crystal Reports and Web Intelligence document formats at arms length with reduced levels of future investment. SAP’s analytics strategy makes sense if you run most or all of your business with SAP applications, whether it’s the on-premise business suite or cloud applications like Ariba, Concur, Fieldglass, and SuccessFactors. The strategy makes less sense the more non-SAP applications power your organization. And as anticipated, the strategy makes the least sense to customers whose only SAP product is the on-premise SAP BusinessObjects BI platform.

But instead of winners and losers, what if SAP’s analytics strategy was changed so everyone became a winner? Let’s explore some ideas.

Universes Everywhere

In the age of Qlik and Tableau, a third-party market has sprung up to provide universe-based data to non-SAP tools. In a curious arrangement, these vendors have LLC’ed themselves to be annoying to SAP product managers without being financially lucrative enough to attract the interest of SAP’s legal department.

No offense to their creators who are fulfilling a market need. But these products should not need to exist. SAP itself should provide the best universe support to both its own analytics tools and beyond – let’s call it “Universes Everywhere”.

Back in 2014, a BusinessObjects Universe connector mysteriously showed up in Microsoft Power BI (see Microsoft’s related article, Power BI Connectivity to SAP BusinessObjects BI Now Generally Available). As mysteriously as it arrived, it then disappeared.

Update May 2016: SAP BO connectivity is no longer available.

With SAP Analytics Cloud restricting the universe to be on-premise, what does SAP have to lose by licensing universe support to Microsoft, Tableau, Qlik, or whoever wants it? Customers would be delighted, probably save for the extra cost of some kind of new BI platform license that legalizes such third-party tool support. Microstrategy adopted a similar approach this year, insuring that its customers are delighted enough to keep licensing Microstrategy’s core technology platform while using their data visualization tool of choice. (see related ZDNet article, Enterprise, self-service BI hook up: MicroStrategy releases connectors for Power BI, Tableau, Qlik).

Web Intelligence Explorer

As part of a renewed commitment to the universe semantic layer and innovation specifically targeted to the on-premise BI platform, SAP should commit developers to an updated version of the BI platform (4.3? 5.0?) with a new version of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer – one that does not rely on Adobe Flash- as its centerpiece. Keep in mind that Explorer without a Flash UI already exists – as SAP BusinessObjects Mobile for iOS. The Explorer web client should be written as tightly coupled to Fiori-fied Web Intelligence as architecturally possible and its Flash-based back-end should be ported to the Fiori-fied BI Admin Console that made its debut with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 SP5 (see related article, The Road Unexplored: A Future for SAP BusinessObjects Explorer). SAP customers shouldn’t have to look to other vendors to find the next generation of search-based data discovery (see related article, The Road Unexplored: Alternatives to SAP BusinessObjects Explorer).

If SAP Won’t Invest It Should Divest

It’s perfectly understandable that SAP Analytics Cloud is tightly coupled to SAP’s business applications. What’s less clear is why perfectly good software used by thousands of customers has to die on the vine rather than succeed on its own terms. Even webOS– originally developed by Palm to compete with Apple’s iOS- was given a second life powering LG televisions and appliances. It’s even been open sourced (see related Verge article, webOS ready to move beyond TVs, says LG). If universe technology is no longer a strategic fit to SAP, it should be liberated as open source or put up for sale on the open market. SAP acquired BusinessObjects for approximately €5 billion in 2008 (see SAP’s press release, SAP to Acquire Business Objects in Friendly Takeover). I’m confident SAP could get a good return on its decade-old investment and create favorable terms to OEM the software from its new owner until its current hybrid BI strategy is fully realized in the cloud.

SAP, if you love your classic BusinessObjects customers, set them free!

Should SAP continue to invest in the universe semantic layer? Should it put the technology up for sale? Or open source it? I would love to hear your thoughts on how ALL of SAP’s current analytics customers can have a happy ending.

What we learned from 31 releases of SAP Lumira

Baskin-Robbins, the ice cream retailer, has gotten a lot of mileage from its “Thirty-Onederful Flavors” slogan. What is less clear is how SAP fared after thirty-one releases of its Lumira data discovery software.

Ben at Baskin Robbins 31 Wonderful Flavors

Baskin-Robbins, the ice cream retailer, has gotten a lot of mileage from its “Thirty-Onederful Flavors” slogan over the years, referring to the 31 flavors of ice cream you can find in their shops.  What is less clear is how SAP fared after thirty-one releases of its Lumira 1.x data visualization software. After 31 releases of version 1, customers spent 2016 waiting for SAP to marry Lumira and Design Studio together as Lumira Discovery and Lumira Designer, respectively. Then we spent 2017 waiting for SAP to resolve the infamous compiler issue and ship Lumira 2.1 with additional stability, only to relegate Lumira Discovery to the dustbin of history in favor of SAP Analytics Cloud as the company’s standard bearer for data discovery (see related article, Everything Must Change).

SAP Analytics Cloud is receiving updates roughly every two weeks, which is even more frequent than the point releases of SAP Lumira 1.x we received around every six weeks. I believe that there are three lessons from SAP Lumira’s development that could improve customer appreciation and adoption of SAP Analytics Cloud.

Better to ship when ready, not when the trade show is scheduled.

SAP Lumira debuted in May 2012 as SAP Visual Intelligence at SAP’s annual SAPPHIRE user conference in Orlando, Florida (see Cindi Howson’s blog, SAP Releases Visual Intelligence, Innovates in BI). Many customers heard “it only works with SAP HANA” even though additional connectivity to other relational databases and universes appeared fairly quickly in future updates. Unfortunately, many customers held onto “it only works with HANA” long after it was no longer true and it took significant effort by SAP and its partners to educate its customers about the current state of the product.

Apple abandoned its trade show schedule several years ago with great success. Instead of its previous practice of introducing new products every January at a (now defunct) trade show called Macworld Expo, today Apple releases products throughout the calendar year when they are ready. I recognize this would be a huge marketing shift for SAP and it’s current “SAPPHIRE or TechEd” release schedule, as we will most likely see new SAP Analytics Cloud features demoed on this year’s SAPPHIRE stage.

I wonder if Lumira would have had a warmer introduction if it had been released a few months after SAPPHIRE but with a larger feature set?

Measure twice and cut once?

There’s always a trade-off when introducing a new feature into software. Do you wait until the feature is fully developed? Or do you deliver it gradually over multiple releases? In theory, agile development sounds great because we can get new features now and that they’ll be extended over time to be even more useful.

In practice, we’ve often been given a feature that is so limited that it has to be completely ripped and replaced with something else. Key examples here are SAP’s first attempts at adding universe and BEx connectivity to Lumira. In both cases, first attempts at connectivity were full of limitations. In the case of the universe connector (see related article, Squeezing the Entire Universe Into SAP Lumira), the universe panel didn’t have the user experience of universe panels in SAP’s well-established analytics products, missing many key features. These premature releases become opportunities for customers to conclude that a product still isn’t ready for prime time – a gut reaction that even clever marketing can find difficult to change later.

Integration vs. Add-Ons

Once Lumira went from being a stand-alone desktop tool to one that could be used with the BI platform via an add-on, Lumira’s frequent release schedule became even more frustrating to BI managers and IT directors. To SAP’s credit, each new release of the Lumira add-on for the BI platform introduced a “must have” feature. Unfortunately, most IT departments did not have the luxury of upgrading Lumira every time SAP delivered a new release.

To compound the problem, because Lumira continues to be an add-on and not an integrated component of the SAP BI platform, it adds hours of planning and installation time to what should be simple product patching. Now that Lumira is released on a similar quarterly schedule as the BI platform, it would make sense to finally integrate the two, save for the SAP’s recent roadmap changes. SAP has indicated that for 2018, SAP Analytics Cloud is the preferred solution for data discovery over SAP Lumira Discovery. And as of tomorrow (perhaps as early as this year’s SAPPHIRE?), SAP Analytics Cloud will eventually be the preferred solution over SAP Lumira Designer for dashboards and analytic applications.

Microsoft has a solution for Microsoft Office 365 that could work well if adopted by SAP Analytics Cloud. SAP provides connectivity to on-premise data sources via the SAP Analytics Cloud Agent. In many cases, a new version of SAP Analytics Cloud requires a new version of the agent to work properly. With SAP Analytics Cloud receiving updates every two weeks, this means BI administrators will spend a lot of time either updating the agent or explaining why SAP Analytics Cloud is “broken”. And in some cases, too many updates of a cloud-based product, especially its user experience, could cause frustrated users to wonder “Who Moved My Cheese“.

Microsoft provides three update “speeds” in its AutoUpdate feature for Microsoft Office 365. First, there is the traditional setting, which provides the least amount of change and the greatest amount of stability. Next, there are two variations of its Office Insider program, Slow and Fast.

Microsoft Office Auto Update for Mac

Although most SAP customers probably wouldn’t be a fan of an SAP Analytics Cloud Insider Fast setting, some early adopters and of course partners probably wouldn’t mind seeing new features before everyone else.

Microsoft Office Auto Update Disclaimer for Fast option

Since I do “mind a bit of risk using unsupported builds,” I keep my Microsoft Office Update set at Office Insider Slow. By providing a similar feature, SAP could allow its SAP Analytics Cloud customers to choose their desired rate of change. Some customers may want a cloud product that only receives significant changes on a quarterly or perhaps even semi-annual basis. Other customers will appreciate both the features and the BI platform risks of the current two-week cycle. And still other customers and partners may want to see features before they’re ready for prime time.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but I believe thirty-one public releases of SAP Lumira was too many for the SAP analytics community to pay attention to. And in some cases, agile development delivered a feature that was so problematic, it had to be completely redesigned in a future release. Lessons learned from SAP Lumira could help improve the perception and adoption of SAP Analytics Cloud. What do you think?

Everything Must Change

Like it or not, everything MUST change, including SAP’s analytics roadmap.

You’ve probably never heard of Benard Ighner. But in 1974 he penned a song entitled “Everything Must Change” which he performed on the Quincy Jones album Body Heat. Since then, the song has been widely covered by artists in the pop, jazz and R&B genres.

Everyone must change
Nothing stays the same.
The young become the old,
Mysteries do unfold.
‘Cause that’s the way of time
Nothing and no one goes unchanged.

Everything Must Change by Benard Ighner

Last month, SAP analytics executive Mike Flannagan published a February 7, 2018 blog that was a prelude to a February 15, 2018 #askSAP webinar. His blog was entitled A Deeper Look into SAP’s BI and Analytics Strategy and made two key points, one intentional and one not.

First, the intentional message was that SAP is focusing on one data discovery solution, SAP Analytics Cloud. This means that SAP Lumira Discovery- freshly released in 2017 after an extensive and lengthy redesign- will only see small maintenance releases during 2018 and 2019 while SAP Analytics Cloud will continue to be updated every two weeks. Many SAP analytics customers will be unaffected by this announcement, as they have settled on a best-in-breed analytics strategy with Tableau, Qlik, or Microsoft PowerBI as their tool of choice. There will be some disgruntled customers who bought into SAP Lumira, which does not have an automatic migration path to SAP Analytics Cloud.

Second, the unintentional message in Mike Flannagan’s blog was that SAP Analytics Cloud is becoming the primary analytics offering by SAP. Oh sure, the SAP BusinessObjects BI platform is still supported, but the goal is to loosely integrate it with SAP Analytics Cloud via the SAP Analytics Hub, another SAP Cloud Platform-based offering. A red flag for SAP BusinessObjects on-premise customers is this- “SAP has recently extended support for SAP BusinessObjects BI Platform 4.2 by two years”. This “great news” means that End of Mainstream Maintenance for BI 4.2 now occurs on 12/31/2022 and End of Priority One Support Phase now occurs on 12/31/2024.

SAP is to be commended for its current strategy of continuous innovation via support packs, which will continue into 2018 with SAP BusinessObjects BI 4.2 Support Pack 6 being released in the July 2018 time frame and Support Pack 7 being released in the December 2018 time frame. However, contrary to any “rumors” that you may have heard, there are no current plans for SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence 4.3. This is unfortunate, because there are significant innovations that need to come to the BI platform but won’t on a support pack budget. And according to SAP’s roadmap, the BI platform will become an innovation-free zone, as any cool and modern technology will only be added to SAP Analytics Cloud.

SAP’s new analytics strategy has significant impacts for its customers who love the on-premise (but also cloud-ready) BI platform. Its strategy even has significant impacts for analytics professionals such as myself who find themselves at a skills crossroads. The SAP BI platform isn’t quite dead (heck, Desktop Intelligence has been dead for years and many of you are still out there using it!), but it’s no longer a solid foundation for a career with analytics- SAP or otherwise. I’ll be exploring both of these angles in future blog posts.

Nothing and no one goes unchanged. But for now, enjoy a two-minute, heart-pounding arrangement of “Everything Must Change,” performed by the world-champion Blue Devils drum corps in their 2017 show, “Metamorph”.

Is your organization’s analytics strategy changing in response to SAP’s recent announcements? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Is SAP Mobile BI Ready for iOS 11?

Apple iOS 11 has been out less than a week but it’s already old news for SAP’s mobile analytics team.

Yes, yes it is!

After years of wondering if SAP Mobile BI is ready for iOS 10, iOS 8, iOS 7, iOS 6 (I must have forgotten to complain about delayed iOS 9 support), I can say that SAP has surprised its analytics users by getting Mobile BI to the app store before the official release of iOS 11 and getting its companion apps, SAP Roambi Analytics and SAP Analytics Cloud, into the Apple App Store just a few short days after iOS 11’s release.​

SAP Analytics Cloud
version 2.8.0
released September 23, 2017
Mobile BI 6.3 Icon SAP BusinessObjects Mobile
version 6.6.5
released September 16, 2017
SAP Roambi Analytics for iOS icon 2017 SAP Roambi Analytics
version 9.1.17
released September 21, 2017
SAP Roambi Flow Icon SAP Roambi Flow
version 9.1.18
released October 3, 2017

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile 6.6.5

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile 6.6.5 for iOS includes Lumira 2.0 compatibility and is the first version to support a new iOS version before it is released.

SAP gave its mobile BI users a surprise over the weekend by releasing SAP BusinessObjects Mobile 6.6.5 for iOS. Not only does it include support for SAP Lumira 2.0 SP02 (the GA release) but also includes support for iOS 11, which will be released to the general public this Tuesday, September 19, 2017. This is the first time that SAP has provided compatibility for a new version of iOS before its release.

SAP RoamBI Analytics , SAP RoamBI Flow, and SAP Analytics Cloud  don’t explicitly promise iOS 11 compatibility, so users of those apps will want to defer updating their iOS devices to iOS 11 until SAP has issued minor releases that explicitly promise iOS 11 compatibility.

SAP still keeps the stand-alone version of SAP BusinessObjects Explorer in the Apple App Store despite the fact that SAP BusinessObjects Mobile has supported Explorer content for many years and the app hasn’t been updated since 2013, which is nearly an eternity for mobile apps. It’s probably time for SAP to consider retiring the app.

SAP BusinessObjects Mobile 6.2.20 for Android was released on August 22, 2017 but lacks any Lumira compatibility at this time.

Lastly, iTunes 12.7 was released last week and no longer includes the App Store.

The new iTunes focuses on music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Apple release notes for iTunes 12.7

This means that you’ll have to use your iOS device and the updated App Store included in iOS 11 to review release history and release notes.

I recently recycled my old iPad 2 and replaced it with a new A9-powered iPad. I’ve already updated it with the latest SAP BusinessObjects Mobile app and eagerly plan install iOS 11 when it is released later this week. I intend to write soon about its new Lumira 2.0 features and delve into the growing Web Intelligence functionality gaps between the Mobile BI app and its browser-based cousins.

Good luck with your iOS 11 upgrade!

UPDATE: SAP Roambi Analytics 9.1.17 now available in Apple App Store with iOS 11 compatibility (September 22, 2017)

UPDATE: SAP Analytics Cloud 2.8.0 now available in Apple App Store with iOS 11 compatibility (September 23, 2017)

Thoughts on the SAP Digital Boardroom

There are some compelling things about the SAP Digital Boardroom and I’ve shared some observations from recent partner training on the SAP Community Network.

Last month, I attended the SAP BusinessObjects Cloud Pre-Sales Workshop at SAP’s Vancouver, BC office (see related SCN article). Approximately two dozen pre-sales professionals from various North American partners received intensive training on how to use SAP BusinessObjects Cloud. We also received a tour of the SAP Digital Boardroom, which is built on SAP BusinessObjects Cloud (which in turn is built on the SAP HANA Cloud platform, or HCP).

There are some compelling things about the SAP Digital Boardroom and I’ve shared some observations from the partner training on the SAP Community Network.

Read Thoughts on the SAP Digital Boardroom on the SAP Community Network.