Since SAP acquired Business Objects more than a year ago, the vendor's message has been clear to its SAP NetWeaver business intelligence (BI) customers -- start looking at SAP BusinessObjects.
Around this time last year, SAP released its post-acquisition BI product roadmap, which made clear that its Business Explorer (BEx) reporting product line would be phased out by 2016. SAP will continue to invest in the BI Accelerator and SAP Business Warehouse (BW), but the focus now will be on enhancing the Business Objects -- now known as SAP BusinessObjects -- front-end tools.
The roadmap may be clearly laid out and result in better BI software for end users. SAP BusinessObjects executive Jonathan Becher said SAP phased out BEx reporting tools "where SAP was less strong." But SAP NetWeaver BI customers are still figuring out how to get there.
"I think everybody can rest assured that the SAP BusinessObjects merger is proceeding very well. Business Objects is the front and center of all the new product versions. It's a very clear roadmap," said Boris Evelson, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "The bad news is that clients have to make very hard decisions."
Are SAP BI customers moving to SAP BusinessObjects?
At the time of the acquisition, SAP customers numbered more than 40,000 and Business Objects customers were in the high 30,000s, with about 5,000 overlapping between the two companies, Becher said. Since the acquisition, that 5,000 number has grown dramatically, he said, not specifying by how much.
A recent report by Gartner Research analyst Kurt Schlegel shows that SAP BI customers aren't in a hurry to move to SAP BusinessObjects, and most are still using the NetWeaver BI front-end analysis and reporting tools.
"Generally speaking, the majority of mature NetWeaver BI customers are loyal to SAP and the investments they made in the product," the report states. "However, they also are in no hurry to quickly adopt the Business Objects product roadmap."
This could be because the roadmap has left much of the customer base that installed NetWeaver BI tools disappointed, Forrester's Evelson said. After spending millions to install SAP BI tools, they're now being told they have to spend more to move to SAP BusinessObjects, he said. Gartner's research shows that SAP is charging as much as $2,000 to $3,000 per user to buy the Business Objects premium platform.
What's an SAP NetWeaver BI customer to do?
SAP customers now have to figure out what role SAP NetWeaver BI will play as their platform, and whether SAP BW will continue to be their main data warehouse, Evelson said.
Rather than migrate to SAP BusinessObjects tools, SAP recommends a side-by-side deployment -- phasing over to the SAP BusinessObjects tools from Web Application Designer and BEx report designer, according to an email response from Business Objects executive Franz Aman.
"SAP customers who use the BEx tools will continue to be supported," Aman said. "However, SAP does recommend [that] customers evaluate the SAP BusinessObjects portfolio, as those solutions will be the strategic direction for the company and any new features and requirements will be implemented in the SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions."
For example, deploying a hybrid option that uses the BEx Analyzer as the OLAP front-end and Crystal Reports for reporting is a good option, according to the Gartner report. Building reports in Crystal will reduce some of the efforts needed later to convert reports created in the BEx tools, the report states.
"This is an attractive option for SAP customers that know they will eventually embrace Business Objects as their NetWeaver BI front end but just are not ready to commit yet," the report states.
Those contemplating a full move to SAP BusinessObjects may choose to wait until the end of 2009, when SAP plans to significantly enhance the BEx Analyzer, an OLAP analysis tool, under the name Pioneer, Evelson said.
Customers can also wait until 2010, he said, when BusinessObjects plans to release a new version of its Business Objects platform that promises to bring together its front-end tools on the same infrastructure -- so that they can be used seamlessly with one another.
Still, some customers will contemplate a third party.
"I don't see any kind of mass exodus from the SAP BusinessObjects product line," Evelson said. "But clients are definitely looking at other tools."
Take, for instance, Garden City, N.Y.-based LifetimeBrands, which designs and develops brands like KitchenAid. It went looking for BI software shortly after SAP acquired Business Objects.
The company could never really get a good sense of what it would take to support Business Objects, according to Cliff Siegel, senior vice president of the global supply chain, and settled on QlikView. Siegel said they're waiting to see where SAP goes with its BI products, and right now, QlikView provides them easy access to the information they need.
"We have what we need with QlikView," he said. "I was kind of having a hard time understanding what it would take to support the BI infrastructure. I just couldn't connect the prices."
What's in store in 2009 and beyond?
Still, analysts don't doubt that the Business Objects tools are better than the BEx ones, and SAP is committed to enhancing them.
Within the next couple of months, SAP will release a product that combines Polestar, a Business Objects search tool, with the Business Warehouse Accelerator.
The vendor is also focusing on bringing tighter integration between what formerly was SAP technology and what was Business Objects technology. That includes more efforts like the integration of Crystal Reports into SAP Business One.
There will also be tighter integration among the BI; governance, risk and compliance (GRC); corporate performance management (CPM); and information management product lines, Becher said.
For instance, if the process is order-to-cash, BI and GRC can help determine whether the customer represents a higher risk or identify any trade restrictions to moving a product.
"Everywhere along that process dimension there's a need for that Business Objects portfolio," Becher said. "It's pushing more and more of those across the lines of business."
There are also plans for tighter integration between the NetWeaver platform and the Business Objects platform.
"It's probably safe to project that, over time, there will be tighter ties between NetWeaver and that platform," Becher said.