A move from SAP BEx tools to SAP BusinessObjects tools should be driven by where the new applications can fill gaps in functionality, not simply by the end of support, analysts say.
SAP has said that it will retire many of the Business Explorer (BEx) tools in seven years. But SAP NetWeaver BI/BW customers with no immediate demand beyond what BEx does for them now should stay the course, according to Boris Evelson, principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
"If there was such a huge demand for BEx to be continued -- if by the time this expires, there are still tens of thousands of BEx users out there -- [SAP will] want to offer support," Evelson said. "At the very least, people still have a lot of time and room. There's no immediate concern."
Shortly after SAP acquired BusinessObjects, the company announced its SAP BI roadmap and said it would phase out the BEx product line -- including the BEx Report Designer, the BEx Web Analyzer and Excel Analyzer, and Web Application Designer -- by 2016. In 2010, Web Application Designer clients can upgrade to Pioneer, which combines the BEx Analyzer and Voyager tools.
SAP wouldn't break out the number of customers it has using SAP BEx tools, or the number that have moved to SAP BusinessObjects ones, except to say they're getting good traction in the SAP installed base.
But most SAP NetWeaver BI customers are still in the planning stages, Evelson said, and are testing, prototyping and evaluating the SAP BusinessObjects tools. Many were already using both the NetWeaver BI tools and BusinessObjects tools prior to SAP's acquisition of the company more than a year ago.
"If anything, they're approaching this cautiously, and running both in parallel," Evelson said.
Budget concerns, and the size of the investment in the BEx tools, have many customers implementing SAP BusinessObjects tools in a more piecemeal manner, according to Franz Aman, SAP's vice president of intelligence platform marketing.
"They can't afford to throw everything out with the bath water," Aman said. "They're deploying nicely together in parallel."
At a recent IT forum in Boston, three of the four panelists had plans to standardize on SAP BusinessObjects, naming new functionality and its ability to integrate SAP and non-SAP data as the major reasons. But none had implemented the tools yet.
"Our goal for BusinessObjects was not only an incorporation of SAP and non-SAP data but to make the end users more self-reliant, rather than coming to IT every time they need a new report or a new query," said Day & Zimmermann CIO Anthony Bosco, who added that a Crystal Reports implementation has been stalled by budget concerns.
BEx is pretty limited in what it can do, Evelson said. It provides basic analytical functions, but nothing beyond that. It doesn't have a more formal reporting function or dashboarding.
Customers should look to Crystal Reports for core reporting, Web Intelligence and Desktop Intelligence for lightweight OLAP, and Xcelsius for dashboarding, he said. Business Explorer, SAP's new "Google-like" BI search tool, is also an asset. The product brings together search and navigation capabilities from SAP BusinessObjects with the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse Accelerator to help customers mine large data sets in a matter of seconds. The product will be available this summer.
"If a customer has found that BEx is limiting and needs to go beyond, [he] should look at the other BusinessObjects tools," Evelson said. "Luckily, BusinessObjects does have a very rich portfolio."
In that light, SAP has also made the move a little easier with some licensing changes instituted back in the spring.
The new model, which is consistent with SAP pricing, gives credit for user licenses, but users will still incur license fees in adopting the business intelligence platform, according to a Gartner Research report.
SAP customers can leverage existing Professional and Limited Professional SAP Application user licenses for accessing the View and Explore tier of SAP BusinessObjects. This allows users to access secure BI content, content from Microsoft Office and a mobile device, as well as view reports, analysis and dashboards.
But SAP customers will have to pay CPU license fees for the back-end package. They'll also pay more for additional users and upgrades to the second license tier, Design and Analyze, which includes designing reporting, ad hoc analysis and creating dashboards, performing OLAP analysis, and performing system administration functions, according to Gartner.
Customers can also freely swap licenses between tools, Aman said. For instance, if a company decides it needs more access to Crystal Reports than Xcelsius, it can use that tool without renegotiating with SAP for new licenses.
"I think we have the best licensing model in enterprise BI now," Aman said. "The customer's not paying for shelfware; the customer's paying for what [he's] using."